In Emergencies, People With Disabilities Often An Afterthought
Serious barriers continue to jeopardize the well-being of people with disabilities in the wake of disasters and in other emergency situations, a new federal report finds.
Problems with emergency communications systems are rampant including everything from evacuation maps and websites that are inaccessible to alerts featuring language that is unclear for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The findings come in a report released this week by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency tasked with advising Congress and the president on disability issues.
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Many 911 systems are still unavailable by text, the report indicates, and both shelters and televised emergency announcements often lack sign-language interpreters for those who are deaf.
During Hurricane Sandy, for example, Carole Lazorisak who is deaf, was unable to hear megaphone announcements in her Staten Island, N.Y. neighborhood about evacuation help. Days later she found herself at a shelter where there were no signs or translation services to assist her, the report said.
“The concerns of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs in emergency situations are frequently overlooked, minimized or not even recognized until after the fact,” said Jeff Rosen, chair of the National Council on Disability.
The agency is recommending that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission work together to establish guidelines for local officials regarding communicating with people who have disabilities in emergency situations.
More oversight, training and collaboration with the disability community is also needed, the report indicated.