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FEMA Celebrates 32 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Office of Disability Integration and Coordination Acting Director Jason Lagria shares how the Americans with Disabilities Act has reinforced our commitment to serving people before, during and after disasters.

Not everyone prepares for or responds to disasters in the same way. Each person has unique needs to consider. FEMA is always working to improve our programs and ensure that they reach everyone, including people with disabilities. The non-discrimination principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reinforces our commitment to these efforts. This week, we celebrate 32 years of implementation of the ADA.

This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of public life. Under corresponding civil rights laws applicable to FEMA, this means making programs that are equitable. It means transforming emergency management so that it considers the needs of all.

Since the law’s passage, we have made many strives to reach these goals. As we have been presented with more challenges, these efforts have only increased. These efforts include:

  • The creation of the Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, which increased our agency’s capacity to serve people with disabilities and implement disability inclusion into our programs and policies.
  • Working with FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute and Center for Domestic Preparedness to increase campus access for students with disabilities. 
  • Holding panels to help make sure that vendors of showers, sheltering cots and portable bathrooms and laundry facilities met accessibility standards for people with disabilities in emergency shelters.
  • Engaging with state and local emergency managers nationwide to improve disaster services for people with disabilities. 
  • Creation of a page on Ready.gov that offers preparedness tips for people with disabilities. Information includes tips on creating a support network of family, friends and others who can help during an emergency, identifying an out-of-town contact and packing a go bag with items for your unique needs, such as extra medications or hearing aid batteries. There is also a social media toolkit for stakeholders to share preparedness messaging for people with disabilities in their communities.

Over the past two years, the FEMA workforce has responded to unique challenges and opportunities as every community across the nation was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the vaccine mission FEMA answered the call of the Biden Administration to advance diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal government by working with our partners to make sure people with disabilities could get vaccines in a safe, comfortable and accessible way.

Today we are focused on instilling equity as a foundation of emergency management by supporting a diversified workforce that reflects the communities we serve and is unified in our efforts to eliminate longstanding barriers in our programs. We are collaborating in steady state and active disaster response with our state, local, tribal and territorial partners to share promising practices for people with disabilities.

Working together within our communities, we are increasing awareness, training and engagement with them to create solutions that better enable people with visible and invisible disabilities to mobilize, communicate, comprehend and/or cope during disasters better.

As FEMA makes strides towards a more equitable approach to emergency management, it is important to reflect on the principles that have helped the agency move forward.  The ADA was the catalyst. On the anniversary of the ADA, we celebrate the creation of the law and our commitment to helping people with disabilities before, during and after disaster.

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