In 2010, Craig Fugate wrote about Benilda Caixeta, “who was paralyzed from her shoulders down. [S]he was one of many residents of New Orleans, Louisiana, still trying to evacuate when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. But despite her repeated calls to the local transportation system that served people with disabilities, as well as to 911, help never arrived. She was found dead in her apartment several days later, floating next to her wheelchair.”
Mr. Fugate had both humanitarian and professional reasons to mourn Ms. Caixeta. At the time he wrote this CNN opinion piece, he was the director of FEMA.
He also wrote, “Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As we celebrate this historic law, which delivered civil rights to millions of Americans, we must also acknowledge how far we still have to go to live up to the law’s promise — especially when it comes to planning for disasters and protecting the vulnerable such as Benilda Caixeta.”
Among other things, Mr. Fugate mentioned that for both the Katrina and Hugo hurricanes, “many children and adults with disabilities were turned away from shelters. Blind and deaf residents did not have access to critical information about where to go or how to get assistance. Services that are required under ADA and other disability rights laws were not provided. And many disabled evacuees developed serious – but preventable – health conditions.”
Seven years later, we are celebrating the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and are watching Houston as it seems to slowly sink under the fury of Hurricane Harvey. We have also seen some inspirational scenes of “ordinary people” steering their canoes towards people in stress (some of whom were wheelchair users) and rescuing them.
But there was also an unbelievable news item yesterday about 18 stranded nursing home residents, sitting waist-deep in flood water. The owner’s son-in-law finally tweeted out a photo showing how alarming the situation had become, and everyone was saved. (It’s refreshing, for once, to see a positive tweet with a positive outcome!).
So we have made progress, but we still have a long way to go.
Below are the links to the above news stories.