Even before Tropical Storm Isaac hit the Gulf coast, FEMA disability integration specialists from across the nation were preparing to travel to the areas that would be hardest hit. There, they would join other FEMA personnel and countless others from voluntary and community organizations, local, state, federal and tribal government, and the private sector who would answer the call to help the survivors of Isaac’s lingering and widespread deluge of rain and wind.
Right now, FEMA has seven Disability Integration Advisors serving in Louisiana and Mississippi. Their expertise is guiding the actions of the officials who lead FEMA’s response in areas hardest hit by Isaac. They are experts in disability inclusive emergency management who use their knowledge to prevent, address or solve problems for individuals with access and functional needs and their communities.
Our Disability Integration Advisors work with state and local government officials to coordinate and advise on issues such as:
- The availability of accessible transportation,
- Evacuations from nursing homes, group homes, assisted living facilities, and people served under state programs, such as mental health and developmental disability programs,
- Access to prescription medication,
- Access to medical, personal assistance services and durable medical equipment in shelters.
On a daily basis, they also address the need for access to effective communication such as remote and in-person sign language interpreting, captioning services, public lines in support of video phones and caption phones. In addition, they reach out specifically to the disability community in the affected area and facilitate collaboration with federal, state, local and Tribal government concerning evacuation, application for FEMA assistance, accessible messaging, and cleanup tips.
Often, advisors have the opportunity to talk with disaster survivors and help them firsthand. Linda Landers, one of our Disability Integration Specialists, is working in Louisiana where she recently helped a mother and her adult son who has a spinal cord injury. After several days without power, they were forced to make a decision to shelter in place or travel from Jefferson Parish to a shelter in Baton Rouge. When the family decided to shelter in place, Linda made sure that local emergency responders and emergency management were aware of their decision and knew how to contact them. Throughout the night and next day, Linda checked in with them to be sure they were not in danger. The power has since been restored and all are doing well.
Ongoing support for recovery
As FEMA and the states began setting up Disaster Recovery Centers, FEMA disability integration advisors assessed conditions to determine potential issues, such as physical accessibility so people using wheelchairs can easily enter a building or area. They also looked for equipment that ensures effective communication by people who have low vision or are blind and others who are hard of hearing or deaf when filing assistance claims in Disaster Recovery Centers.
Here's an example of some of the equipment that is available at a center:
FEMA’s Disability Integration Advisors will continue to ensure those with access and functional needs have equal access to the assistance and services available after Isaac. Visit our webpage to learn more.