Photo of Riley outside with her dog. Riley is wearing a gray sweater, and jeans. She is smiling and sitting in her Quantum Rehab Power Wheelchair. Her dog is happily laying on a picnic table next to her.

Where the Emergency Management Field Falls Short

September is National Preparedness Month. Preparedness is a term used to describe being prepared for a disaster, emergency, or life-changing event. Being prepared can save time, money, and lives. Unfortunately, the needs of individuals with disabilities are often left out of government emergency management plans. In addition, people with disabilities may not have the resources or funds to prepare for an emergency. This National Preparedness Month, I urge you to think, talk, and research about how the unjust barriers facing the disability community relate to their inability to prepare for emergencies.

The Cost

The average disabled person makes 66 cents to every dollar a nondisabled person makes. The difference is even more significant in women, BIPOC, and other minorities with disabilities. This income inequality creates a barrier to funding preparedness tools. Creating a two-week-ready supply of food and water is expensive. Saving money for an emergency is even harder, as many people on Social Security Disability Income are limited to the amount they can save.

The Access

Emergencies and disasters can create inhabitable living environments for people with disabilities. Shelters, tents, and large buildings used in disasters can be physically inaccessible, leaving those with mobility impairments unable to access the resources of a shelter or medical tent. Emergency materials like contact forms or paperwork are inaccessible to the blind and those with low vision. These types of barriers are not considered before a disaster, leaving people scrambling to find a solution in an already stressful environment.

The Knowledge

It is difficult to learn about disability-specific emergency preparedness. Organizations like the American Red Cross and F.E.M.A. have no public campaigns for accessible emergency preparedness. Finding educational resources is even more difficult for disabled individuals who do not live in the community. Care homes, assistive living, and adult foster homes are not required to educate their residents on their rights in an emergency and are not required to have backup power, food, water, or other preparedness tools.

The reality is one individual can only prepare for so much. Every victim in an emergency or disaster may need government assistance, medical care, financial help, rescue, or food. The emergency management field does not implement the needs of disabled individuals in their plans. Organizations with a platform such as F.E.M.A., state governments, the National Guard, and the American Red Cross need to use their power to make effective, tangible changes to their equipment, personnel, and policies.

Author: Riley Hurt