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Enhancing Response, Protecting Dignity: Disability Tips and Tools for First Responders

Enhancing Response, Protecting Dignity: Disability Tips and Tools for First Responders Conference

First responders sometimes face unpredictable challenges when assisting people with disabilities. Awareness, education, and training are needed to prepare responders to meet these challenges. There are currently no national standards in place for mandated training; different states and different jurisdictions have widely varying requirements. Unfortunately, many jurisdictions that do insist on in-depth training for first responders today do so because something went terribly wrong in the past.

The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council (WRHSAC) has been working with planners, first responders, and direct care providers over the last year to learn about issues and gaps related to responding to people with disabilities, those who suffer from addiction, and those who have other additional assistance needs. Research, surveys, and interviews were conducted to assess the status of available training and resources for first responders, and to develop a comprehensive picture of what additional resources are needed to support first responders in the optimal care of people with disabilities.

This unique conference is the culmination of this work and will provide first responders with tools and training to enhance their work with people with disabilities.  Registration is required. 

The conference will be held on at UMass Amherst on Wednesday, December 11, 2019. It is free and food will be provided.

The morning plenary sessions are designed to raise awareness and provide new insights. 

David Whalen, founder of First Responders Disability Awareness Training – the premier training program for first responders to best serve and respond to people with disabilities, is the conference keynote speaker. David has worked in the disability field his entire career. He is passionate about ensuring first responders have the best training available to provide services to people with a disability that enhance response and protect the dignity of the individual.

WRHSAC will also introduce the Tips for First Responders web-based tool. The Tips Tool is an accessible, quick, rich in content tool enabling first responders to readily find information and tips to enhance response. Topics covered include mobility impairment, cognitive disabilities, deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired, mental illness, autism and more. The tool is accessible via smartphones, computers or download.

The Pittsfield Police Department and the Brien Center of Berkshire County will be present to speak about the Embedded Mental Health Counselor program. This exciting approach pairs law enforcement and a mental health professional in the field to more immediately and effectively address the needs of persons experiencing mental health or emotional crisis.

In the afternoon, a condensed version of the First Responder Disability Awareness Training will be provided. This training is delivered in breakout sessions specific to disciplines. The training both sensitizes and educates first responders with the intent to effectively identify, address and respond to various disabilities they will encounter in their line of duty.

An afternoon breakout session will be held for each of the following disciplines: Law Enforcement, Fire/EMS, Dispatchers, and EMDs.

Course description:

  • Law Enforcement – The ability to respond to individuals with disabilities has posed varying challenges to officers across the country and high-profile cases have exposed the need for more involved awareness and education. As the population increases and more individuals are active in the community, the need to ensure accurate and appropriate response is critical. The Recognition-Identification-Approach-Interaction-Response Model will be introduced and exemplified in select disabilities.
  • Firefighter/EMS – While recognizing each discipline has unique roles in emergency response, the combined program will address outreach, fire safety planning, disabilities defined specific to fire, rescue, and medical needs. Communication barriers, means of egress, and other challenges will be discussed in line with the Recognition-Identification-Approach-Interaction-Response Model.
  • 9-1-1 Telecommunicators/Dispatcher – Being the first to respond, the telecommunicator can initiate a positive response if educated in disability awareness and provided the proper tools and resources. The presentation will introduce the three components within this content; understanding and response to speech disabilities, awareness of how disabilities present, and interface with first responders to address a positive outcome. The Americans with Disabilities Act, general effective communication and relay services will also be presented.
  • Emergency Management Director – Including people with disabilities and access and functional needs in emergency preparedness. Considerations include ADA compliance, breakdown of lawsuits to NYC, LA, and Oakland, accessibility/universal design, FEMA identified model, national advocacy organizations, and inclusive planning and active participation.

The conference is free and food will be provided.

5 Hours of OEMS credit is approved for this training.

Registration has closed for this event.

Please direct any questions to Raine Brown ( or Rachel Mason (