Cold Weather Preparation Tips for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

As you forge through the winter months, it is important to protect yourself, your family, and pets from dangerously cold conditions. The same is true for individuals with developmental disabilities—many of whom may be more vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Please be aware of the following safety measures that should be taken to protect individuals with developmental disabilities:

  • If possible, stay indoors or limit your amount of time outside as much as possible. YOU are the best judge in determining if it is safe or not to venture outdoors.
  • Individuals who are paralyzed, use a wheelchair or have a sensory disability should take extra measure to protect their hands, feet and other areas of the body that are particularly subject to frostbite. Be sure to dress in warm layers, including: hats, coats, scarves, thick or several pairs of socks, boots, and a blanket to cover your lap, if needed.
  • If possible, wear thermal gloves underneath mittens to keep your hands extra warm.
  • If you utilize any form of motor equipment, allow your vehicle to warm up before you get in it for proper functionality.
  • If you have a service dog or animal, be sure to keep them warm as well! Dress your dog in a coat or with foot covers, if possible. Also be sure to always have a blanket for the animal to rest on. Keep the animal indoors as much as possible.  A shivering animal may indicate the start of hypothermia.
  • Pneumatic tires provide better traction for wheelchairs on icy surfaces. Tires for dirt bikes (sold through bicycle shops) can be used as an alternative on icy surfaces.
  • Ramps should be cleared of ice by using sand or cat litter, as rock salt is poisonous to service animals. Rock salt can also be slippery for certain types of mobility aides.
  • Keep antifreeze away from your service dog and all other pets since it is deadly to animals. Antifreeze’s appealing smell and taste often tempt animals. Ensure that antifreeze is stored well away from your service dogs, pets, and children. Ensure antifreeze spills are completely cleaned up and leaks are immediately repaired.
  • Freezing rain will stick to canes, walkers, fore arm cuffs, and wheelchairs, making the metal parts slippery and cold to touch. Driving gloves which grip can be helpful.
  • When returning wheelchairs to vehicles, it is important to first remove the tires and shake the debris and ice off of them. The tire rims, and other metal parts that may have any salt or other de-icing chemicals on them need to be wiped off to avoid rust on the metal parts.
  • Prepare a back-up plan for loss of electricity if you use a ventilator or oxygen.
  • Keep phone numbers handy for family and friends to call for help if needed.
  • To prepare for an emergency, visit and register with the Special Needs Registry so medial agencies can communicate with you about emergency situations and preparation.
  • Be sure to always carry a fully charged cell phone with you in case of an emergency.
  • Freezing rain can stick to surfaces such as canes, walkers, forearm cuffs and wheelchairs. Use gripper driving gloves to keep your hands warm and to prevent slipping.
  • If you rely on home-delivered meals, always stock nonperishable food at home in case meal deliveries are suspended during an emergency.
  • If you receive dialysis or other medical treatments, find out your provider’s emergency plan, including where your back-up site is located.
  • If you rely on medical equipment that requires electric power, contact your medical supply company for information regarding a back-up power source such as a battery. Follow the manufacturer’s directions when installing the equipment and the battery back-up. If you use a portable generator for emergency power, follow the manufacturer’s directions for safe operation, and check with local fire and building officials for regulations governing generator and fuel use. Ask your utility company if the medical equipment qualifies you to be listed as a life-sustaining equipment customer. Dominion Power customers can call 1-888-667-3000, TTY 711 for more information.
  • If you rely on oxygen, talk to your vendor about emergency replacements.

The above information was provided by the following resources:

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