From the Disability Integration Advisor’s Office, DR-4085-NY
Hurricane Sandy, like all disasters, did not discriminate. Everyone in its path, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, disability status, and other characteristics, was at risk. But the effects on different groups of people were unequal. People with disabilities (more than 20 percent of the population according to the 2010 U.S. Census) and others with access and functional needs (another 30 percent or more) who were in Sandy’s path faced multiple barriers that limited their access to the resources and skills needed to prepare for, respond to and recover from Sandy.
We’ve already heard some of the most disturbing stories on the news - people using power wheelchairs and breathing machines, both requiring electricity to operate, who, when they lost power for several days, were in dire straits, dependent on the good will of friends, neighbors and strangers for their mobility and, in some cases, their survival. And people who are deaf, who did not receive warnings about Sandy before the hurricane struck, or information about how to obtain assistance after the disaster in accessible formats so that they were prevented from appropriately preparing beforehand and/or obtaining the help they were entitled to after Sandy affected their lives.
But there are many other stories we have not yet heard - about people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs who, even if not adequately prepared for Sandy, were able to obtain what they needed from FEMA and other governmental agencies and community organizations after the fact - what we would call promising practices - as well as other types of challenges that people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs faced in getting the assistance they needed before, during and after Sandy, from which FEMA and other emergency management organizations can learn and expand their work.
So how can we gather these stories? Enter Harilyn Rousso, a local hire with the Disability Integration Advisor Office at the Joint Field Office in Queens, who is a longtime community leader, social worker, psychotherapist, painter, writer and a woman with a disability. One of her roles is to collect stories from New York’s Sandy survivors who have various disabilities, and others who also have access and functional needs, in order to identify promising practices and remaining challenges from this broad, diverse group. She will also be gathering information on whether and how these survivors are planning for future disasters and what they see as their role in community emergency preparedness activities. The names and any identifying information will be confidential.
To contribute stories or contacts, you can reach Harilyn Rousso.