November 13, 2019

Disability Rights and Dignity in Disasters

Aleksandra “Sasha” George and Erin Flannery Keith

One in four U.S. adults—61 million people—have a disability that impacts their ability to walk, breathe, communicate, hear, process information, and see. See Catherine A. Okoro et al., Prevalence of Disabilities and Health Care Access by Disability Status and Type Among AdultsUnited States, 2016, 67 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 882 (Aug. 17, 2018). People with disabilities may rely on mobility and communication devices and practices that environmental disasters can severely disrupt. Federal and local emergency responders may fail to anticipate the needs of disabled persons at times when there is no electricity, no gas, and no clear pathways to safety before, during, and after a climate change disaster. Climate change–enhanced storms and disasters are, devastatingly, giving governments increasingly frequent opportunities to deploy proactive emergency response plans. Municipalities and other government entities across the United States (including U.S. territories) should revisit these plans to ensure that they are inclusive of people with disabilities, including people of color with disabilities living in colonies.

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