First responders work to ease stress of emergencies for people with disabilities

RIVERWOODS, Ill. (WLS) -- Some local first responders are learning how best to handle emergencies involving people with special needs.

An emergency situation can cause distress for anyone, but people with certain disabilities may experience added stress when facing sirens and lights. One group is hoping to ease those tensions, starting at the kitchen table.

They are not preparing a gourmet meal, but this cooking class at the Center for Enriched Living is designed to teach a far more valuable lesson.

"The Center for Enriched Living is a social enrichment, continuing education center for people of all ages with developmental disabilities," said Harriet Oevy, executive director of the Center for Enriched Living.

Firefighters from north suburban Deerfield and Lincolnshire are working to become more familiar with disability issues.

"Often times, we're training doing EMS. We're training doing fire. How often do we train responding to an adult with a medical emergency that has special needs and often times we're not versed in handling that situation?" said Micah Montondo, Deerfield Fire Department.

It starts with friendly interaction, from crafting flowers to spiking a volleyball.

The experience also gives those with special needs a chance to interact with first responders in a non-threatening situation.

"I wasn't like too familiar with them, but like I'm getting like more comfortable like opening up with them," said Becky Rubinson, a member of the Center for Enriched Living.

But it's not all fun and games. The firefighters get structured classroom training in best practices for dealing with this population.

"When you call a first responder, there's lights flashing. There's usually the police. There's two fire trucks. There's an ambulance. There's all these people and commotion and folks with autism or sensory disorders, just general public, it's not a comfortable situation," said Melissa Juarez-Ehlers, Center for Enriched Living. "So their goal is to take control of the situation and they need to know that there's a way to take control of the situation without this aggressiveness."

The Center for Enriched Living wants to bring area police officers on-board to offer training to them as well.

To find out more about the organization and its on-going capital campaign, visit

Copyright © 2021 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.