Written by Jill Roamer, J.D.
The disabled population likely experiences an amplified sense of vulnerability during disastrous happenings. The compounded risks encountered by the disabled during a catastrophic event are a real, and very serious, concern. A 2019 Act focuses on this hinderance and will attempt to bridge the accessibility gap for disaster response and preparedness for those living with disabling conditions.
Congressional Response to Potential Disasters
Earlier this year, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Actwas signed into law. Building upon the 2006 Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, Congress introduced the new bill with a subset committee focused on disability inclusion. It addresses the important issue of how to ensure the elderly and disabled populations are best cared for in a disaster, whether it be a natural disaster, a public health emergency, or a man-made disaster. In addition to creating a committee focused on how to best care for those with a disability during a disaster, the Act also enables military trauma care providers to train their civilian counterparts, creates a regional system of trauma care centers, and increases funding for a program that enables the health care system to plan for and respond to medical surge events.
The National Advisory Committee on Individuals with Disabilities and Disasters focuses on disability accessibility and inclusion for disaster preparedness and response efforts. The committee refers to the ADA definition of disability and is armed with a variety of critical members, amongst which are a minimum of two members being “non-Federal health care professionals with expertise in disability accessibility” in disaster scenarios; at least two “representatives from State, local, Tribal, or territorial agencies with expertise in disaster… [scenarios] …for individuals with disabilities”; and no less than two members generally experienced in disaster preparedness and response for those with disabilities.
The committee enhances the previous law’s section on At-Risk Individuals. Its goal is to “align preparedness and response programs or activities to address similar, dual, or overlapping needs of children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities, and any challenges in preparing for and responding to such needs.” The committee intends to provide advice and tactics for state preparedness and response to disaster scenarios.
Effects of a Disability on Disaster Preparedness and Response
Historically, the disabled population has experienced compounded hardships in response to disastrous occurrences. Socioeconomic status, accessibility hurdles, and complex medical needs have prevented many from receiving adequate aid during disasters. Providing access to disaster response efforts for the disabled population – an estimated 19.4% in the United States – is a real concern.
Thoughtful consideration must be made regarding accessibility obstacles. Consider the following:
Consider, too, that disasters are bound to cause significant, and disabling, injuries to a variety of individuals in affected regions – subsequently causing an upsurge in the disabled population. The sudden onset of a disabling condition is likely unfathomably shocking. Imagine how terrified an able-bodied person might be if they were to suddenly become paralyzed during a hurricane. Not only are these newly disabled individuals trying to cope with their new circumstances, they are also fighting the real possibility that they may be unable to reach or access services rendering aid.
Tips for Those with Disabilities to Mitigate Disaster HurdlesWhat can seniors and those with disabilities do to mitigate the potential hurdles and pitfalls associated with a disaster?
The implementation of the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act is very important for our disabled population. Preparing for the unknown is a difficult endeavor, and all people should be included in the plan. The array of committee members strengthens the likelihood that all individuals will benefit from emergency preparedness and response efforts in the future, dread the thought, when or if disaster strikes.
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