It’s so easy to assume that “nothing can be done” for people with disabilities, especially in emergency situations. That makes it easy for those of us with disabilities to start believing that, too.
But there’s a lot that can in fact be done to prepare for emergencies, such as putting together supply kits, keeping vital phone numbers at the ready, regularly changing batteries for mobility devices or hearing aids, making sure your friends and family know how to contact you, etc.
As recently mentioned, the ADATA Center has tremendous amounts of information about all of this. They also have webinars and podcasts on the subject – all for free.
Check out the link below for more information. And be prepared!
Thank god it was just a false alarm in Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. Imagine getting a text message that a missle had been launched in your direction and was going to land in a matter of minutes!
Even though we knew how the story ended, it was hard not to feel for all of those people who were panicking, running and trying to find shelter. And I could not help wondering what I would do if I were in that situation. Because of my multiple sclerosis, I can’t run and can’t really walk without assistance. Where would I go, and would I be in danger of being pushed aside and possibly trampled by a panicky crowd?
It reminded me of the lengthy and downright surreal battle I had with my former employer over how I and other people with disabilities would be able to exit our building in the event of a fire.
I worked on the tenth floor, and several times a year we would suddenly get an announcement on the intercom, saying:
ATTENTION, ATTENTION. THERE IS A FIRE EMERENCY IN THE BUILDING. PLEASE EXIT THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY, USING THE STAIRS. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR.
Thankfully, they were all either false alarms or unannoud
nced drills. But they caused me to review our safety policy, which said that people who could not navigate the stairs should just stay in the stairwell and wait for either the “all clear” signal or for fire personnel to come and rescue us.
I had a lot of questions about this, such as: How do we stay in contact with others from inside the stairwell? How do we know that we will be safe from fire while we are in there? Are the walkie-talkies checked regularly to make sure the batteries are still working?
When I started asking these questions, I was first told that I would get answers. But in typical beaur7ocratic fashion, the facts got muddled and the blame started shifting, and I still didn’t know what to do. Eventually, my questions were answered. But this was because I played an active role in finding the answers and rewriting the policy accordingly. And although my employer and I never resolved our communication problems, at least I felt safer.
Even without these kinds of beaurocratic battles, it is easy for those of us with disabilities to fall into a kind of mailaise about the futility of trying to prepare for potential disasters. This can stem from a belief that we are powerless to help ourselves, or that we are already such a burden to people that we don’t want to cause more trouble in the event of an emergency. And as we know, herein begins the slippery slope of starting to believe that we are “lesser” beings and our safety is not as high a priority as it is for others.
We need to work hard to keep from falling into that way of thinking. The Red Cross and other agencies have a lot of information about how people with disabilities can and should plan for emergencies, just like everyone else. Do we have adequate food and water on hand? Do we have telephone numbers at the ready? Do we know who to contact about getting transportation, should that be necessary?
Below is a link to some of this information, and there is a lot more available.
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.
This morning, it looks like every national news channel is politely screaming at Texas residents to get out of the way of Hurricane Harvey. Reluctant reporters are trying to stay neutral as they ask some people why they are determined to defy the evacuation orders and “ride it out.” The answers are predictable: “I want to protect my family – animals – farm…”
I’m not about to judge the wisdom of these people and their decisions. But this situation does make me think about how I and other people with disabilities would fare if we had to suddenly evacuate because of a disaster (natural or man-made).
Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of information about this on the http://www.ada.gov website. I have attached two links that discuss the necessity of advanced planning — both on the part of cities and of those who might be the most vulnerable in an emergency.