Equal Access in Times of Crisis: How Extreme Weather Events Impact People with Disabilities

Extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and severity. This results in great social and economic costs to people who are disabled, their families, and their communities. The National Council on Disability (NCD) has released a report titled The Impacts of Extreme Weather Events on People with Disabilities. The report focuses on how extreme weather events and environmental hazards have impacted people with disabilities in the U.S. and its territories over the last 20 years.

During a federally declared emergency, laws including the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) and the Rehab Act ensure people with disabilities have access to the same opportunities as people without disabilities. However, emergency planning still does not adequately provide equal access. Disability rights continue to be violated, and these key laws are not applied consistently. Additionally, federal agencies responsible for administering disaster recovery funding often lack the power to enforce federal disability laws. These laws ensure equitable outcomes for people with disabilities.

The report highlights several key recommendations:

  • Laws and Regulations: The Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies should appropriate funds and increase enforcement of federal disability laws.
  • Health Care: FEMA should appropriate funds solely for the purpose of advising emergency management agencies and state health departments. This would allow them to prepare for an increase in people with disabilities.
  • Housing: Congress should pass legislation to increase affordable housing, and require developers to use materials more resistant to extreme weather events.
  • Employment: The Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics should collaborate with the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research to study how disasters impact people with disabilities in terms of employment.
  • Education: Congress should pass legislation to combat special education and rural teacher shortages, and increase funds for special education teachers.
  • Emergency Management: The President should issue an executive order to update emergency management plans, including the integration of people with disabilities.

The NCD sheds light on the unique challenges faced by people with disabilities during extreme weather events. In order to improve disaster preparedness and response plans, it’s essential to recognize the disproportionate impact of extreme weather on this population. By improving emergency management and response plans, people with disabilities can receive equitable support and assistance during times of crisis.

For more information, check out resources in HSDL published by the National Council on Disability, and In Focus topic on Disaster Economics.

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