DisBeat Highlights Top Emergency/Disaster Disability Inclusion Fixes


DisBeat Highlights Top Emergency/Disaster Disability Inclusion Fixes

In rapid response to current floods in Louisiana, wild land fires out west, and National Disaster Preparedness Month (September), DisBeat highlights top emergency and disaster solutions to ensure disability inclusivity in every community, nation-wide. These solutions are focused on individuals and communities. 

DisBeat also celebrates creation of the "Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies,” designed to provide an infrastructure for communication on best and worst practices, training opportunities and educational products for members, and will activate dialogue and relationships between disability stakeholders – the real experts - and emergency management organizations. As further explained by Marcie Roth, Director of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, “Under the leadership of Marcie Roth, FEMA and Portlight Strategies have an active memorandum of agreement to work together, and the launch of this new Partnership entity expands the input from key stakeholder groups guiding FEMA’s commitment to disability inclusive emergency management."

Paul Timmons, co-founder and chairman of the board of Portlight Strategies, added, “Much of inclusive, integrated emergency/disaster practice comes from old fashion community organizing and relationship building.”

Along with building relationships and community organizing, effective emergency response for people with disabilities requires staff that are disability savvy, and inclusion oriented.

In the current Louisiana flooding, a national disaster response organization brought in a retired health care professional to assist disabled flood survivors. While she thought herself to be an expert on disability, unfortunately her experience was entirely based in the antiquated “medical model” of disability, not the “social model.” That meant that as long as a person was “in a bed and got their medications,” she thought she didn't need to be concerned with whether or not they had a necessary wheelchair, or other important disability related equipment, because they could simply be moved to segregated nursing homes or hospitals and not in their own homes in their own communities.

Portlight Strategies, Inc. was able to ensure that Shari Myers, the new Red Cross Disability Integration Advisor, took over so that people with disabilities could get what they needed to stay in integrated shelters, and receive any needed services in the community with friends and family rather than in segregated settings. Myers has proven to be particularly adept at problem solving, and understands the principles and requirements for inclusive emergency management.

“Inclusive problem solving is based on communication between partners in the disability community and national, state, and local emergency responders, including Red Cross,” notes Timmons.

Tragically, that was not the case 11 years ago during Hurricane Katrina.

For days prior to Hurricane Katrina, Benilda Caixeta, paralyzed from her shoulders down, was desperately trying to evacuate to safe shelter. Despite days of repeated calls to the local transportation system that served people with disabilities, as well as to 911, no one came. She was found dead in her apartment several days after Katrina struck, floating next to her wheelchair. Thousands of people with disabilities were stranded during that storm and recovery effort because shelters, housing, transportation, and basic services were not accessible to people with disabilities.

Now, after 11 years of hard work, planning, policy and practice have positively changed inclusive emergency response in Louisiana, and nationally. FEMA now puts disability experts on the ground, with 25 of those experts deployed in the WV flooding, and 40 in LA flood disaster. In addition, FEMA meets with local and state disability partners daily and will soon have a deployable team of 285, most of the people having both disabilities and specific disability  inclusive emergency management expertise.

“Remember, these are disasters. There is always chaos with disasters, and so there will always be glitches,” explains Timmons, whose Portlight Strategies is a key national disability partner that works with FEMA, creating inclusive disaster management. “The difference is in the response to problems. Are issues fixed in accessible, inclusive ways that allow people with disabilities to stay in integrated settings?”

With September being National Disaster Preparedness Month, it’s the perfect time to become more involved with solutions that are doable on a community level. Portlight Strategies encourages these Top Emergency/Disaster Solutions that will fortify and complement the new Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies.”

4. Think globally, act locally to help make change from the bottom up. Get involved with your state and local emergency responders and Red Cross, and encourage others to do so. Make sure they have inclusive emergency/disaster plans. Volunteer, survey shelters to ensure they are accessible and inclusive for people with all types of disabilities.

3.  In addition to having your own Emergency Preparedness Kit and evacuation plans for you and your family, connect with others. Make sure you, and the friends and neighbors in your circle have transportation in case of evacuation, a safe place to stay, plus supports and services needed to live. Map places in your community where there are accessible shelters, hospitals, police, fire stations and and other emergency resources.

"Our whole neighborhood was evacuated last week due to a wildfire. As soon as friends and former co-workers learned about the fire in our area we were immediately contacted by many of them offering an accessible place to stay, or to help us get things out of the house, or anything else we needed. Having those personal community connections meant everything to us, and would have made all the difference if we had to be out of our home on short notice for an extended period," said Bob Liston, a wheelchair user from Missoula, Montana.

2.  Identify centers for independent living and other disability organizations that do emergency/disaster work in your community. Volunteer and work with them.

1. Serve on local and state disaster preparedness committees to make sure that policies and practices include everyone in the community.



Rooted in Rights video, The Right to Be Rescued: http://www.rootedinrights.org/righttoberescued/

Portlight Strategies, Inc.


Overview of FEMA Whole Communities System: 


Specific preparedness materials for older people, disabled people, pet owners, commuters, families, businesses


“We Prepare Every Day” (audio-described video)


Post Katrina Emergency/Disaster report by NCD, The National Council on Disability