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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Disasters: Sorry But You Are Not Important

In the event of a a disaster people with a disability are screwed. This is a harsh fact of life. I think about this every time I fly on a plane. I know the odds of surviving a plane crash are remote at best. I know my odds are far longer than most people I fly with. I would need help getting off any plane that crashed and I have no doubt when faced with a life and death situation precious few people will stick around to help me. This includes the flight attendants whose job description theoretically includes helping me. I live with the knowledge that in event of a disaster no help with be forthcoming. I do not let this knowledge prevent me from getting on a plane or other means of mass transportation. What does bother me is that our government makes no pretense that is will help people with a disability in the event of a disaster. Disaster studies make for scary reading--truly troubling if you have a disability. We people with a disability are the very bottom of the priority list. We will be the last, and I mean the very last, people saved. Shoot, pets have a better chance at survival and rescue.

This week the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acknowledged what I already know--it cannot be expected to save people with a disability in the event of a natural disaster. Why is this the case? Marcie Roth, FEMA's senior advisor on disability issues says there is a lack of funds to do so. FEMA does have a plan in place though to evacuate, shelter, and supply people with a disability in case of a natural disaster. And who is in charge of this plan and what is the budget? One person is in charge and the budget is $150,00. So FEMA has a plan in theory and no ability to implement it. I feel so much safer! Of course, FEMA is also the government organization that in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina took three days to get water to the Superdome. Hence, my expectations, low to begin with, are really non existent now. The House Committee on Home Land security suggested FEMA create a registry--FEMA rejected this idea because it would give people with a disability a false sense of security. I translate this to mean no help with ever be forthcoming. No wonder I think my life has less value than others that can walk. FEMA has acknowledged this as have most disaster planners. My point is the next time people cluck about how we Americans are equal I suggest readers with a disability bring up disasters plan. They are proof positive our own government does not value our existence and lives. This is a fact of life I live with and don't like. It is not that I worry about disasters but rather the larger meaning of such plans and how they filter down into every day life.

5 comments:

Terena said...

wow... that is scary.

emma said...

This comes as no surprise to be honest, it just looks more shocking when your see the figures (seriously is that budget right $150,00.?)

I don't think a natural disaster is required either when it comes to "survival", the current budget disaster in Greece could leave PWD's homeless the way things are going (already without health care and education as it is). Not that there aren't already people with disabilities who are homeless all over the world...

On a side note.
I was was just reading a post of a friend of mine here,
http://www.care2.com/causes/civil-rights/blog/access-disability-rights-activists-in-action/
Noting in particular the public attitude towards disabled access legislation, thought you might want to take a look. (I'm not biased by mentioning this of course, even though the post mentions Greece:))

william Peace said...

Terena, Scary to a degree. What bothers me is the utter lack of effort. What is really scary are the hospital pandemic plans. There is no chance a person with a disability will receive treatment. The same goes for the elderly. Both populations are written off.

Emma, I suspect world wide people with disabilities are not a priority when a disaster strikes. I would also venture to guess economics and race are factors as well. I would not have thought this way until I saw FEMA's grossly inadequate response during Katrina.

Emily said...

Interesting, and I agree it is a huge problem. When I was Ms. Wheelchair Indiana last year, my platform was emergency preparedness for those with disabilities. The goal was to better prepare those with disabilities what happens in the midst of disaster, as well as instruct them on how they can better situate themselves beforehand.

A major issue out here was when the Department of Homeland Security considered sending those with disabilities to medical shelters or straight to hospitals. I guess this egregious discrimination is better than being turned away, period...

william Peace said...

Emily, How interesting you have made this a subject of interest. You sure have an uphill struggle. I tend to be pretty pessimistic with regard to disaster preparedness and disability. Personally I have no faith in our system or institutions in the event of a disaster. I would avoid hospitals and all other government assistance--I sincerely doubt my existence would be treated or valued.