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Hurricanes Highlight Needs of the Disabled

People with disabilities and the elderly are more likely to be injured or die during emergencies. (skeeze/Pixabay)
People with disabilities and the elderly are more likely to be injured or die during emergencies. (skeeze/Pixabay)
September 18, 2017

NEW YORK – Advocates for people with disabilities say the death of eight residents of a Florida nursing home that lost power shows the importance of better planning to help those with special needs during emergencies.

Seniors and people with disabilities face disproportionately increased risks of injury and death when storms, floods and other emergencies hit.

Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York, says without proper planning, things can go horribly wrong.

"We've seen people turned away at shelters, lack of effective interpretation for people who are deaf, people (who are) trapped watching the water rise around them because they couldn't evacuate on their own," she says.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a federal judge ordered New York City's Office of Emergency Management to implement changes necessary to accommodate people with disabilities.

In response, Dooha says, the city has taken steps to improve things such as shelter access, transportation, communication and canvassing to locate and help those unable to evacuate.

"These are key things we are still seeing with Irma, we are still seeing with Harvey, that absolutely have to be addressed," she stresses.

Dooha notes that the court ruling in New York not only highlighted the civil-rights violations in the failure to plan for people with special needs, it also provided a guide to fixing the problems.

"So there is a blueprint looking at policies and procedures to make sure that people with disabilities are included in every aspect of planning," Dooha adds.

When it comes to planning, she notes, the disability community has a saying: nothing about us without us.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY