Today is truly a reason to celebrate because it marks the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Twenty two years ago, we reached a turning point in our nation’s history when the civil rights of millions of Americans with disabilities were recognized and protected by law. Today, more than 56 million Americans benefit from this law.
Here at FEMA, we are committed to honoring and upholding the ADA. We are uncompromising in our dedication for the right to equal access before, during and after an emergency. Equal access gives everyone an opportunity to contribute their skills, knowledge and resources to strengthen their community.
Here is my vision of equal access:
- Equal access means that everyone participates in exercises that test the capability and procedures of a community in the event of an emergency or disaster.
- Equal access means that people have accessible transportation during an evacuation; restoring transportation accessibility after a disaster is simply a part of restoring the essential services needed by the whole community.
- Equal access means that people with disabilities have the tools and resources to maintain their health, safety and independence in a shelter.
- Because information has to be accessible to be actionable, equal access means that the whole community has access to effective communication including Sign Language interpreters, assistive listening devices, CART, materials in large print or Braille, TTY and video relay services; equal access also means receiving emergency alerts, warnings, and important messages in plain language.
- Equal access means meeting the accessible housing needs of disaster survivors and addressing the recovery needs of the whole community so that children with disabilities go back to school with their peers and adults with disabilities go back to work along with their co-workers.
- Equal access means that a career path in emergency management is as accessible to workers with disabilities as it is to workers without disabilities.
The anniversary of the passage of the ADA is a great opportunity to recommit to making sure that people with disabilities are ALWAYS included as a vital part of the planning team, and that the skills and knowledge of people with disabilities are fully recognized as integral to effective response, recovery and mitigation.
We know that when communities integrate the access and functional needs of individuals in all phases of emergency management, they strengthen their ability to prepare for and more quickly recover from natural and man-made disasters. Much progress has been made in the past 22 years, but we still have a long way to go to achieve the full inclusion that is at the heart of the ADA.
At FEMA, we have a growing workforce of disability integration specialists working across the country and a growing toolbox of resources to support states in meeting the disaster-related needs of children and adults with disabilities. Join us as we continue building bridges with disability advocacy and service organizations, engaging with state and local partners, training emergency managers, making improvements in disaster response, and advocating for including people with disabilities in whole community planning.
There are many ways to get involved, especially before a disaster occurs. The whole community can participate in programs and activities to make their families, homes and communities safer from risks and threats. Learn about some promising practices in disability inclusive emergency management from across the country by visiting www.fema.gov/about/odic and how you can get involved by going to FEMA’s Ready website at www.ready.gov/get-involved.