Dorian, Disaster Relief, and Disabled People

In her excellent and provocative post the other day, Melinda drew attention to a number of the political, social, and economic implications of and issues that surround “natural” disasters, including the ways that these disasters tie into climate change and the warming of the planet.

Melinda and her family have now evacuated. The last word from Melinda on Facebook indicated that they had gone to Tallahassee. As I was writing this post, I received an email from Melinda reassuring me that they are safe and letting me know that they will likely stay in Tallahassee until at least Thursday.

The lack of accessible shelters in times of disaster is one of the issues that Melinda mentioned in her post about hurricane preparations and the social disparities that these circumstances aggravate. You may remember recent news stories about disabled people and seniors abandoned in their private homes, hospitals, and nursing homes during floods and hurricanes.

Thus I want to draw attention to Portlight, a disaster-relief organization that is especially designed to provide services and shelter to disabled people and seniors. As the message on the Portlight website indicates, some disabled people have been turned away from Florida shelters over the past few days because they were deemed to be “too disabled.”

From the Portlight website:

Portlight and the Partnership are working around the clock to provide assistance to people with disabilities and disability organizations in the Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina as we all brace for Hurricane Dorian’s catastrophic impact over the next week and its aftermath for months and years to come.

We have been convening daily National Stakeholder Disaster Response Partners, including disability and disaster experts, community leaders, first responders, public health, government and non-government organizations and our allies for teleconferences, planning sessions, advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and state-led initiatives in Dorian’s path throughout each day.

Our Disaster Hotline, 1-800-626-4959, has been assisting callers with disabilities in Florida and South Carolina who have been trying to prepare for evacuation and sheltering but are learning that state plans are not in place to accommodate their disability, access, and functional needs.
Our Disability Assistance Response Team (DART) and our disability and medical equipment and supply resources are immediately available to all disaster impacted people with disabilities and disability organizations reaching out to us for assistance.

One of our newest partners is “242 Disability Organization” serving people with disabilities on the islands of Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Bimini and the other islands within the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. We are working together to assist Bahamians with disabilities and older adults throughout the catastrophic impact and aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.
We need your support more than ever!

Please support:
Our 24/7 Disaster Hotline
Deployment of our Disability Assistance Response Team to the Bahamas and Dorian impacted states who will need our immediate and sustained help

Urgent and unmet needs for disability supplies, equipment, and device distribution Direct Support to Local Disability Organizations Impacted by Disasters

National Disaster Response and Recovery Coordination

Among our Disaster Hotline Calls and urgent requests for assistance:

Several people with disabilities being turned away from Florida’s shelter registry system because they are “too disabled”. This includes a mom with a disability and her disabled child with a tracheotomy who are now being assisted to stay out of a hospital or long-term care facility if they need to evacuate from their home.

A man in South Carolina receiving hospice care at home was assured that the hospice care provider had an emergency plan. His family contacted our Hotline when they discovered that the provider doesn’t have a plan and they are under a mandatory evacuation order. Our South Carolina Team and our partners from Triton Relief are working with this family to meet their immediate evacuation needs.

Persistent advocacy has resulted in much more frequent use of qualified American Sign Language Interpreters visible alongside Governors during emergency press conferences. However, we have received several complaints that, despite persistent advocacy efforts, critical emergency weather information being shared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on their website and the websites of the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center are not accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Thus, their directives to “pay attention to the cone” and other lifesaving visual information is not accessible despite federal accessibility requirements. We are continuing our efforts to ensure that all disaster-impacted people with disabilities have equal access to actionable emergency information.

During disaster response, our role is to anticipate and identify problems people with disabilities are facing; engage stakeholders; share good practices; drive program and policy imperatives and civil rights protection to proactively prevent harm.

We are providing tools and resources to disaster-impacted people with disabilities, local disability organizations and other stakeholders to solve problems; maintain health, safety, independence; and prevent institutionalization.

Since Hurricane Harvey made landfall exactly 2 years ago, our Disaster Hotline has assisted over 5,000 disaster-impacted individuals, we have supported distribution of hundreds of thousands of medical supplies, equipment, and disability devices, direct assistance for local disability organizations and our community engagement initiatives continue to bring together stakeholders from every disaster impacted state and our local, state and national partners.

The assistance we provide would not be possible without the commitment of our partners and allies and the generosity of our donors. We are thankful for the many supporters from across the country who continue to pledge their support to our community, and we ask you once again to support our efforts to respond to the immediate needs of our neighbors impacted by disasters. You’ve been a big part of our organization’s fabric over the years. We can’t thank you enough for your support as a donor. Although we are relentless in pushing our communities and our government toward inclusive preparedness and disaster resilience every day, the frequency, intensity, and duration of disasters continue to grow, and our work is very far from over.

When communities are impacted by disasters, we are all impacted, and when disaster impacted people with disabilities are included in planning, response, and recovery, the whole community benefits. Your donation will have an immediate and substantial impact on disaster impacted individuals with disabilities, local disability organizations and the whole community.

For more information about Portlight, please go here:

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