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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hurricane Irene Highlights Inequality

Hurricane Irene blew into the New England area Saturday night or early Sunday morning. In comparison to others I fared well. No trees came down on my property. The only damaged trees were my favorites--two American Chestnuts. The only problem I had was a loss of power. The power went out at 3:30AM Sunday. The power did not come back on until late Thursday evening. Four full days without power sucks. No power means no water, flushing toilets or showers. By Thursday I was, how shall we say it, ripe. No computer too hence no work. What I experienced was a minor inconvenience. The last four days made me realize just how utterly dependent we are on electricity. I also realized how lucky I was--I did not need to evacuate my home and go to a hurricane shelter. If I had to do this I would have been in deep trouble. I cannot go to any shelter--I need a shelter that is accessible. By accessible I mean a building I can enter. I would need a bathroom I can get in and a cot I can transfer on. Pretty basic. Not so fast. It is not so basic.

Thanks to two excellent posts by Not Dead Yet on August 29 and 31, I was deeply troubled to learn, but hardly surprised, that many New York City shelters in low lying areas were not accessible. No mainstream media outlet, television news or newspaper, picked up this story. Two news outlets, Public News Service and NY1, did short stories. That was it. This shocks me. We had full media saturation about the hurricane that was damn near hysterical. The lack of accessible shelters has been detailed by Not Dead Yet. I urge readers to read what Stephen Drake, Susan Dooha and Paul Timmons wrote on August 29 and 31. Timmons has experience with disaster relief, Dooha is the Executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, and Drake is a research analyst at Not Dead Yet. These people know what they are talking about. Timmons and Dooha have tried to make access issues a concern for FEMA and VOAD. Much money has been spent, many meetings have been held and yet virtually nothing has been accomplished. This is what Dooha witnessed:

"I went to 6 shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens serving people in Red Hook, Fort Green, Long Island City and Lower Manhattan. I found: dangerous ramps leading to locked doors; food up flights of stairs that people with disabilities would not be able to climb; inaccessible bathrooms; cots that would be unusable by people using wheelchairs; lack of volunteers trained to deal with these issues; reliance on elevators (where they existed) that would go out in the event of a power outage; accessibility signage leading to locked doors; reliance on inaccessible transportation (school buses) etc."

The gross lack of access described by Dooha is not acceptable. Need I remind everyone of the disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina? And what about of 9/11? We have had ten years to prepare for a disaster and somehow shelters and transportation remain inaccessible. Timmons sourly noted: "The fact there's somebody in a wheelchair sitting in on the meetings makes everybody feel all warm and fuzzy. But almost always, any attention to people with disabilities stops there." There really is only one conclusion to be reached--in a very real and practical way the powers that be, FEMA and the Red Cross, do not value the lives of people with disabilities. We are expendable--and acceptable loss of life. To quote Timmons again "The Overlords of the emergency management community have shown to an indisputable certainty that they don't really care whether we live or die.
And ya know what? As I wrote that last line, it occurred to me: it's not entirely accurate. The reality is...they're actually trying to kill us."

Timmons words are inflammatory. I doubt FEMA is trying to kill us deliberately. Yet FEMAs total disregard to access will indeed lead to the deaths of people with disabilities. This has taken place in the past and based on what I have read is still very much a deadly problem--one that need not exist. But exist it does. Hence I live with the sober realization that if a natural disaster took place tomorrow I would be on my own. My odds of survival would be dim at best. This makes me angry and depressed. It is a not so subtle reminder I am far from equal to those that are bipedal.