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Crip hacks for making it through the heat

A dark skinned wheelchair user with long hair and a beanie sits at a small table, using their laptop to participate in a video meeting. The laptop screen is shown to their right, with the call being live captioned. The main speaker is a dark skinned person wearing a hijab and glasses, and 3 other participants are at the bottom of the screen, in smaller windows. In the bottom right corner, a yellow service dog bounds towards the wheelchair user.

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Crip Heat Hacks 


Please remember this is an “us” undertaking to support survival of people who are being left behind or whose needs aren’t considered in policies or heat advice material. So we welcome your ideas and we know none of these will work for everyone. Take what is useful to you and contact us to let us know if you think there is something you can add. 


Long before the heat hits: 


  • Obviously first and foremost is secure air conditioning if at all possible. 

  • If it is possible to purchase an air conditioner or upgrade your cooling, this is the time to order and install (or have it installed). If installation is an accessibility barrier consider asking neighbour or calling a local place of worship or your housing provider and asking if someone could assist you. 

  • If you can’t get an air conditioner but can either afford or are offered a dehumidifier and live in an area where the humidity is a factor, definitely get one. Humidity is a significant factor in heat stress on your body not just temperature. It interferes with the body’s ability to cool and it worsens some chronic lung conditions like asthma.

  • If it is possible to purchase an air purifier, do so. Remember that air quality often drops when the temperature goes up.

  • If possible consider buying wrist supports that allow for gel pack inserts which you can freeze. Even if you don’t normally use or need wrist supports cold on hands is a good cooling device. 

  • Cooling Vests are not cheap but might be worth asking if they can be covered by government equipment funding in your area.

  • For wheelchair users and people who are in bed, the things we are reclining or sitting on can trap heat (foam is an insulator) and make us hotter.  If we sweat, they can become moist and create a microclimate that not only makes it harder for our bodies to cool but also can have consequences for our skin. 

  • Disposable or reusable soaker pads can be used and changed regularly to help keep the skin dry. 

  • We’ve never tried it and can’t endorse it one way or another but there is a backrest that claims to provide cooling for manual wheelchair users. Again, cost will be a factor and would require finding funding sources for. 

  • Keeping the sunlight and heat outside from coming in can help reduce the temperature inside. If it is possible - accessibility-wise and affordability-wise - consider changing your window coverings to help you stay cool. If you are DIY type person - or know one - here are some instructions for making window quilts

  • If you are someone for whom installing curtains or blinds is not inaccessible, consider offering to help your disabled and/or elder neighbours to change their. If you like to sew perhaps you could offer to make someone else a window quilt for their home. 

  • If it is possible to purchase an air conditioner or upgrade your cooling, this is the time to order and install (or have it installed). If installation is an accessibility barrier consider asking neighbour or calling a local place of worship or your housing provider and asking if someone could assist you. 

  • If it is possible to purchase an air purifier, do so. Remember that air quality often drops when the temperature goes up.

  • If possible consider buying wrist supports that allow for gel pack inserts which you can freeze. Even if you don’t normally use or need or use wrist supports, cold on hands is a good cooling device. 

  • Complete the Me And Heat worksheet. Start creating a list of emergency contacts who might be able to: call or drop by and do a Reach-In; help you prepare or stock up on supplies; be a place where you could stay that is cooler for a few days; drive you to see a doctor or to the hospital in an emergency. This last point is important depending on where you live. In some places slow ambulance response times have resulted in people dying while waiting for hours for an ambulance transport.. 

  • But a kiddie pool to use inside. This tip comes from this article, and it is worth noting this person had someone who was non-disabled and not heat sensitive to help fill and keep the water in the pool cool. 

  • If not a kiddie pool then a basin can be helpful to have on hand. 

  • A kitchen hose attachment will allow you to spray yourself with water directly from the tap. This might be helpful if you find showers (which are often recommended in the heat), tiring or if you are prone to fainting due to blood pressure or other reasons (because your risk may be greater for doing so in the heat). 

  • Order and stock up on gel packs, water bottles (if it is possible to have multiple all the better),, a jug you can mark up or that comes pre-marked. 

  • If you are interested in organizing a community Reach-In program, start now. 

  • If possible buy a thermometer. The weather reports will tell you the temperature outside. Indoor temperatures can be considerably higher.

  • Stock up on washcloths or cut up old towels. This is a good use of towels that have become thread-bare or worn out in some places. 

  • If possible to switch during periods of heat, consider buying some cloth diapers for babies or reusable incontinence briefs if you wear them. You do need to balance this with the extra exertion that will be required to launder them. 

  • If you live in a multi-family complex (apartment building) that has a common room, you might want to work with neighbours and landlord or housing operator to establish a cooling room. 

  • These rooms should be set up for comfort and include places for people to sleep, screens for privacy and recliner chairs. 

  • When you ‘shop’ (whether at a store or via sorting through bins or donation tables), stock up on light in colour and lightweight fabric, loose fitting clothing. 

  • Consider purchasing a cooler or coolers. If you are in bed more during the heat (or always) a mini cooler beside your bed can help keep gel packs and drinks cool. 

  • A large wheeled cooler can be used for reach-ins with neighbours or to bring water bottles, sports drinks or cooling cloths to unhoused people in your area. 

  • But a spray bottle for misting yourself in front of a fan.

  • Buy a fan - or fans - if you can. 


Right before it gets hot:


  • Do as much as you can to prepare before the heat hits and make it as easy as possible for you to stay hydrated and safe. Don’t wait. 

  • You’ve been warned that there are hot days ahead, now is the time to prepare. 

  • Review your Me and Heat sheet. Is your information and that of your emergency list up to date? Can you check in and make sure they will be around and still available to help? 

  • Windows: If you haven’t been able to install coverings that help keep heat out, or even if you have and you want to add another layer, you could duct tape some mylar thermal (commonly known as emergency blankets) sheets over windows. 

  • It’s not too late to buy that kiddie pool if you think it’s an option that might be helpful to you.

  • If you can, stock up on some food that: doesn’t require cooking and is most suited for eating in the heat. Spicy foods encourage sweating which helps to cool the body. Unsurprisingly some of the best ideas for foods to eat during the heat come from places that are traditionally hot. High-calorie foods like ice cream can actually end up making you hotter in the long-run. 

  • At same time, those recommendations don’t consider dietary restrictions. So here is some advice for eating in heat if you have diabetes. 

  • If you can afford some sports drinks, electrolyte powder or popsicles, these are good to have on hand especially if you have a condition that can involve vomiting or diarrhea. Staying hydrated during heat waves can be challenging even without that extra fluid loss. 

  • If accessible to you to eat (meaning no allergens and not contrary to any dietary restrictions), having some salted crackers, pretzels, salted nuts on hand can also be a good idea. 

  • If you have an air conditioner or fan make sure it is in working condition and set up ready to go. 

  • If it is an accessible option for you find out about the locations of any cooling stations near you and if there is accessible transport for you to get there. 

  • If you have a freezer, whatever size it may be, make sure you have as much space in it as possible for storing and making ice, gel packs, popsicles, and anything else you might want to ‘freeze’ (like sheets?), water bottles (they are good to put next to you or on you and as they melt, you can drink them). 

  • Likewise make space in your fridge (if you have one), for cold drinks and grab and eat fruit and veggies (buy pre-cut or cut them up now and store in containers with water). 

  • If soft food is part of your diet you can store mini apple sauce or other pureed fruits in the fridge. 

  • Smoothies are a way to eat and drink so stocking up on frozen fruit and any veggies you might add, as well as milk or non-dairy drink and yogurt if you use it. 

  • Dampen and freeze some cloths in zip-loc bags. While frozen you can use them - with care to not directly apply to skin - to help cool at pulse points. As they melt you have a cold cloth to wipe yourself with. 

  • Make ice cubes and keep them in a bowl or container in the freezer ready to be used. 


During the heat:


We have no intention of pretending anything other than cooling or air conditioning will make this easy. These tips are literally intended to help you try to survive. Surviving heat and living with heat are not the same thing but until our policy makers decide to acknowledge this and create equitable access to this necessity, all we can hope for is not to die.


  • Water. Remember that the percentage varies but the human body is mostly water.  Water is essential for us to survive. Please read the sections on De(Hydration) and Thirst. Many things can impact how well our bodies are able to alert us to thirst so it’s important not to rely on that and develop other ways to ensure you are getting sufficient fluids. 

  • Not all drinks are created the same so here is a list of some of the best and worst for hydrating with. 

  • And remember keeping hydrated is not just important for survival but it’s a gift to your long-term health as well.

  • Eat small meals. Drink lots and regularly.

  • Keep the lights off when possible and avoid using appliances. Without cooling or air conditioning you are fighting for survival by degrees. Anything that adds heat is working against you.

  • If it cools in the evening and if the air quality allows, you can open doors and windows if that is an accessible option for you. You can also set up a fan to direct hot air out. 

  • During the day you can place a basin of ice in front of a fan so that it blows cooler air. You can also use zip ties to strap frozen bottles of water to the back of the fan for similar effect. 

  • Use a spray bottle to spritz yourself with water and let fan work to evaporate and aid in cooling you down. 

  • Rest whenever you can. Sleep is important for our body. If you have a balcony or safe way to sleep outdoors and it is cooler there and the air quality isn’t dangerous, that is an option to consider for sleeping.

A labelled diagram showing a silhouette of a thin dark skin person using purple forearm crutches. The labels read, “lowers cognitive functioning - mood, links to dementia”, “lowers immune response, more prone to colds”, “affects blood glucose control, risk of type 2 diabetes”, “risk of cardiovascular disease”, “vaccinations less effective”. Underneath the person, text reads “ways lack of sleep affects the body”.
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