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Winter Preparedness and Safety Tips for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Jan 26, 2023

The winter months can be dangerous for everyone, but they can be particularly perilous for individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD). Plunging temperatures, rain, wind, snow, and ice often pose challenging conditions which could lead to illness and injuries. For individuals with I/DD – many of whom have compromised immune systems – helping them to stay safe and warm is essential.

If bad weather is predicted, avoid going out unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to brave the elements, then you must be prepared.

Dress Properly

  • Ensure winter clothes fit well and are in good repair. Clothing that’s too tight might restrict movement and make individuals feel the cold more.
  • Choose a pair of insulated gloves or mittens.
  • Make sure heads are covered. 40% of one’s body heat escapes through the top of the head, so a well-lined hat for individuals is a must.
  • Layer up and wear a scarf! A scarf not only protects the neck and throat but can also be pulled over the face for an extra layer of warmth.
  • Opt for sensible footwear such as thermal socks and waterproof, slip-proof boots.

Know the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite

With proper care and supervision, the risk of a weather-related incident occurring should remain minimal. Still, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of cold injuries.

Hypothermia happens when the body loses heat too quickly to compensate. Common symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, and apparent exhaustion.  If body temperature drops below 95˚ F, it is an emergency, and you must seek medical intervention immediately. Be sure to remove wet clothing and use blankets and dry clothing to keep the person warm.

Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to extreme cold for too long. Pain, redness, swelling, and numbness are the first signs, but these can progress quickly. Extremities will become numb, the skin may begin to look gray or yellow, and it might seem oddly firm or waxy. Frostbite can be particularly dangerous for individuals with limited mobility. If you witness anyone experiencing frostbite symptoms, dial 911 immediately.

Follow these CDC guidelines for more information on preventing and treating hypothermia and frostbite.

Stay One Step Ahead

In the event of a storm, have an emergency communications plan in place. Ensure individuals’ have an adequate supply of their medications and that your food pantries are fully stocked. Always make sure your sidewalks and driveways remain clear of ice and snow to prevent injuries. Emergency supplies are also a must, especially flashlights, batteries, first aid kits, and extra blankets.

For additional winter safety guidelines, visit the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) website:


Winter can be a wonderful time to be in New York City. With all the right precautions, individuals will remain safe, healthy, and prepared for any weather conditions. Winter safety truly starts at home.

To learn more about ILA’s programs and the high quality care that we provide to our Individuals, visit this link. Interested in supporting our essential programs and services? Visit ilaonline.org/support-ila to help make a difference for the wonderful Individuals who call ILA home.

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