On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. This landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of society such as the employment sector, state and local government programs, transportation, and in public accommodations. Americans who have physical, mobility, hearing, vision, speech, and cognitive, intellectual and mental health disabilities are given the same civil rights protections that are provided to all Americans regardless of sex, race, national origin, and religion. Much advancement has been made for achieving equal access and full inclusion for individuals with disabilities over the 24 years since the law was implemented, however, it is still important to review our progress to find issues that remain unresolved and new areas of opportunity for universal accessibility and reasonable accommodation across all of FEMA’s programs and services.
FEMA strives to ensure that individuals with and without disabilities are provided with equal access to the information and resources that they need in order to protect themselves and recover from unexpected emergencies and catastrophic events. Our agency particularly believes that integrating the access and functional needs of people with disabilities into emergency preparedness and disaster response, recovery and mitigation is essential to achieving effective emergency management.
Under Administrator Fugate’s leadership, FEMA established the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) which guides the agency’s commitment to achieving universally accessible, survivor centric, fully inclusive emergency management. This requires integrating the whole community inclusive of people with disabilities, people with access and functional needs, first responders, community partners and across government to achieve program, physical, and effective communication access throughout all FEMA programs, services, activities and functions before, during, and after disasters.
FEMA has made providing equal access to programs and services a priority under Administrator Fugate’s leadership, as required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Providing guidance and technical assistance on achieving physical, program and effective communication access, as required under the ADA have given the agency the opportunity to work extensively with state and local officials and disability community leaders to achieve compliance and expand access before, during and after disasters to more Americans, including older adults, people with injuries, children and families, people with limited English proficiency and others who also have access and functional needs . We have made much progress at FEMA, including:
- The FEMA 2014-2018 Strategic Plan was published just days ago. This road map for the future has achieved an important element of disability inclusion; Physical, program and effective communication access are explicitly “baked in” throughout the plan as key elements for achieving the goals and objectives outlined.
- Working closely with the Federal Communications Commission and the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to increase the awareness of providing equal access to early warning and alerts to millions of Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or blind, or who have low vision, intellectual disabilities or other access and functional needs. FEMA works with state and local officials in having all emergency information captioned and have an interpreter present on-screen to provide communication access.
- Providing access to effective communication, program and physical access in all disaster recovery center operations through the provision of assistive technology devices, and providing tools and technical assistance to achieve ADA compliance.
- Meeting accessibility for stakeholders, both internal and external through the provision of communication access and program and physical access throughout our expanded efforts to engage the whole community as partners in emergency management.
- Working with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Language Efficiency Group to develop actionable language contracts nation-wide to ensure communication access for foreign language or Limited English Proficiency, American Sign Language as well as other foreign sign languages, communication access realtime translation (CART) and video remote interpreting.
- The Disability Integration Advisor Cadre has grown from a good idea to a well prepared cadre of close to 70 subject matter experts who have deployed to more than 75 disasters.
- FEMA has released several training tools for disability inclusive emergency management. Notably, L197 “Integrating Access and Functional Needs into Emergency Planning,” a two-day, classroom-based course, and IS-368: Including People With Disabilities & Others With Access & Functional Needs in Disaster Operations, an on-line course available to anyone interested in disability inclusive emergency operations.
- ODIC is actively participating with the Federal Interagency Disability Policy Working Group along with disability community leaders from across the country, on a grand, nationwide celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one year from now. As plans unfold across the country, one good source of information is the ADA Legacy Project.
- The Ready Campaign and America’s PrepareAthon! are actively engaging an important community discussion. Join the discussion underway and help guide disability inclusive community-wide preparedness “Community Discussion: Making Preparedness & Disaster Relief Inclusive for People with Disabilities.”
Across the Federal government, there are several resources for information about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the ongoing work of the Administration. In addition to the work we are doing at FEMA, read the President’s Proclamation on the 24th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and visit www.ada.gov, www.disability.gov, www.access-board.gov and www.ncd.gov to learn more about the work underway across the Federal government to provide equal access to achieving the American Dream.