University College London
In emergencies people
with disabilities may
barriers, obstacles to
other barriers that
stop them from
and using the various
in the recovery period.
Disability means not only reduced mobility,
but also: paraplegia, quadriplegia,
deafness, blindness, mental retardation,
brain damage, stroke, age-related
infirmity, senility, Alzheimer's disease,
dependence on life-support machines,
A classification of the
forms of disability:
• Mobility problems
• Blind or partially sighted (use of guide dogs)
• Deafness and hearing impairment
• Difficulties of cognition,
communication and expression
• Medical problems
• Users of support systems for vital functions
• Intolerance of environmental
and chemical substances
• Psychiatric disturbances and panic attacks
• Infirmity associated with old age.
In earthquakes people in wheelchairs
cannot crawl under desks and tables.
People with sight or hearing problems
may be unable to recognise the signs
of danger or orders to evacuate.
• difficulties of movement
• orientation difficulties
• perception of hazards
• emergency response
• distance to be travelled
• passageways not wide enough
• presence of steps or other obstacles
• doors not wide enough.
Difficulties of movement:
• unsuitable lifts or ramps
People with disabilities who depend on
electrically-powered life-support equipment
may find themselves in difficulty if
there is no current during the emergency.
Moreover, emergency equipment must
be accessible to the disabled.
About 54 million Americans and
90 million Indians have disabilities.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, 155,000
residents of Biloxi (MS), Mobile (AL) e
New Orleans (LA) were registered disabled.
The problem of caring for the
needs of people with disabilities
in disaster is not insignificant:
According to recent studies in the USA:
• 19.3% of the U.S. population
suffers from some form of disability
• 80% of emergency managers have no
procedures for people with disabilities
• 57% of emergency managers do
not know how many people with
disabilities live in their areas
• only 27% of emergency managers
have taken a FEMA course on helping
people with disabilities in disasters.
In the World Trade
Center attacks, a
group of people with
disabilities waited in
a room on the 80th
floor for firemen
to evacuate them,
but the building
they could be saved.
Disasters and their aftermaths can put
people with disabilities more at
risk than the general population
and may create new barriers.
In emergencies it is easy not to recognise
the type of disability of a person and
thus offer the wrong kind of assistance.
People with disabilities need, not
only particular procedures, but
also special preparations and plans
to help them face disasters.
However: "in some ways, disabled people
who manage to live with a certain degree
of independence are more able to face
disaster than people who are not disabled.
They have a 'psychological advantage'..."
Douglas Lathrop 1994.
Mainstream Magazine, California.
Organisations that respond to disaster
are used to thinking in terms of
providing assistance to large groups
of people, and less about the special
needs of single individuals such as
people with disabilities. But they are,
in the fullest sense, part of society...
In emergency planning and
management the problem of
the needs of people with
disabilities has not been
sufficiently taken into
consideration, and their opinions
have not been listened to.
Typically, civil protection systems are
designed for people who are not disabled:
usually, evacuation plans require,
in some measure, the ability to
walk, drive, see and hear.
And so we find
that the evacuation centre
is not accessible...
These are some of the needs of people
with disabilities in major emergencies:
• personal care materials and equipment
• high dependence on essential services
(water, electricity, etc.)
• how to manage when there
is chaos or debris at home?
• transport and mobility
• evacuation and assistance with mobility
• resupply with essential goods
• how to ask for assistance
• the needs of guide dogs.
"In practice, empirical data on the
efficient and secure evacuation of people
with disabilities during emergencies
and crises do not exist."
Report: "Nobody Left Behind:
Investigating Disaster Preparedness
and Response for People with Disabilities"
There is a
lack of integration and co-operation
among organisations that represent
people with disabilities and those that
provide civil protection services.
In emergency planning
no single strategy is valid
for all types of disability.
In disasters assistance to people with
disabilities tends to merge with assistance
to other groups: ethnic minorities, single
mothers, people with special dietary
or medical needs, etc.
Some basic principles:
• preparation, training, exercising
• associations for people with
disabilities involved in civil
protection and emergency planning
• emergency communications
to be accessible and reliable
• procedures and services accessible
in normal times and emergencies
• involve the mass media in the
transmission of warnings to
people with disabilities.
FEMA suggest that wherever possible
people with disabilities should:
• gain understanding of hazards
present at work and at home
• create a personal support
network consisting of at
least 3 people for each site
• estimate their own capacity
to respond to an emergency
• wear a label or bracelet to identify
the form of their disability.
"Disabled people have been made more
vulnerable to natural hazards through historical
processes of exclusion and impoverishment.
As a consequence, their experience of disaster
may be more acute and long-standing than
non-disabled populations. These effects are
accentuated in poor communities throughout
the world where disabled people remain amongst
the poorest of the poor. Moreover, when
disaster strikes, disabled people encounter
inequities in access to shelter or relief and
are often excluded from full participation
in response and recovery."
Hemingway and Priestley 2006,
Review of Disability Studies (3), p. 64.
and after disaster
is not a problem:
it is a challenge
at which to excel.