Author: Linda Mastandrea
Disasters can be devastating for those who are left in the aftermath, but the effects are often amplified for people with disabilities. As the senior disability integration advisor to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, it is my responsibility to provide direct support and counsel on disability integration needs in support of response and recovery operations.
I am supported by more than 100 disability integration advisors who are on the ground in areas across the Caribbean, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, working with federal coordinating officers, interagency, and state, local, tribal, & territorial partners on strategies and tools to support disaster survivors from the disability community.
One agency cannot do it alone though, it requires the full support of everyone–from all levels of government, non-profit organizations and the private sector. Together, we are focused on anticipating and addressing the needs of survivors with disabilities.
During this hurricane season, we developed, and posted online, more than 30 informational videos that used American Sign Language and captioning to help deliver life safety information in an accessible way to the public before, during, and after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit.
Together with DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), FEMA developed and shared tips for effective communication that include civil rights guidance on communicating with persons with disabilities and other access and functional needs.
DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, FEMA, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) continue to participate in daily calls with national and local disability stakeholders, and public health stakeholders to anticipate and identify challenges, and mitigate needs to be addressed, such as replacing lost or damaged Durable Medical Equipment (DME), assistive technology, and access to services.
When we encounter incorrect or misleading information circulating, we also work with our partners to address the misinformation or rumors. For instance, when people with disabilities are hearing that service animals are not allowed in general population shelters, we work with our partners at Red Cross and elsewhere to correct the information and let people with service animals know they will be accepted in shelters.
This is just a small sampling of the efforts underway to help disaster survivors with disabilities and their families, and more will continue to be done as we work to address the ongoing recovery needs.
I take my responsibility as an advisor to this agency seriously. I look forward to applying my more than 30 years of experience working and training with people with disabilities, to leverage partnerships and resources that will help people with disabilities and other access and functional needs recover from the effects of disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
I am excited to work with all my partners to develop creative solutions to problems facing disaster survivors with disabilities. I recognize that some of those will be easy to accomplish, and others may take longer. But I am confident that together we will help people with disabilities and other access and functional needs recover sooner and return to independent, integrated living in their communities after disasters. I am proud to join this organization, and I am committed to continue to grow the good work already underway at FEMA.
Editor’s Note: For those interested, here is the blog translated into American Sign Language: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/141577
- Tips for Effective Communication
- Ready.gov: Making a Plan
- YouTube Playlist of Videos Translated into American Sign Language