Disaster Mitigation for Persons with Disabilities
This project bridges two of the Center's major areas of inquiry: communications policy in disaster relief and mitigation, and communications and disability policy and law. As part of the examination of communications in times of disaster, the Center has worked to promote the effective use of communications technologies and policies to inform the public and reduce suffering in the face of tragedy.
The proposed grant activities stimulate discussion of the issues and search for answers to problems. Although it is based on discussions with many people, it calls for much broader dialogue and research to address the nexus between communications policy and disaster relief for persons with disabilities. Grant-related information will be disseminated broadly in paper and web-based accessible formats.
The grant activities are designed to identify key issues concerning the needs of people with disabilities when disasters strike, develop effective strategies for resolving those issues, and build relationships among disaster mitigation organizations, the media, and disability organizations.
- Seven key principles will be examined.
- Accessible Disaster Facilities and Services
- Accessible Communications and Assistance Technologies
- Accessible, Effective and Reliable Rescue Communications
- Partnerships with the Media
- Partnerships with the Disability Community
- Disaster Preparation, Education, and Training
- Universal Design and Implementation Strategies
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center provides a neutral forum, open to diverse opinion, for assessing the impact of communications technologies and public policies. See disability.law.uiowa.edu. This proposal bridges two of the Program's major areas of inquiry: communications policy in disaster relief and mitigation, and communications and disability policy.
As part of the examination of communications in times of disaster, the Center has worked to promote the effective use of communications technologies and policies to inform the public and reduce suffering in the face of tragedy. Professor Blanck first explored the link between communications, disability policy, and disaster mitigation for persons with disabilities after the world learned of the disasters at Chernobyl and from Hurricane Andrew in Florida. In 1995, as a senior fellow for the Annenberg Foundation, Blanck published the report "Disaster Mitigation for Persons with Disabilities: Fostering a New Dialogue."
The overarching purpose of the present proposal, building on Blanck's work with Annenberg Foundation, the Red Cross, and the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, is to continue the commitment to using communications technology and policy to save lives and reduce human suffering in the face of disasters throughout the world, and to engage people with disabilities in this dialogue. In a timely article, Al Hunt wrote in the Wall Street Journal on October 18, 2001 (at A27): "[After the 9-11 tragedy], the disability community should be involved in crafting better emergency procedures, including for evacuating tall buildings. ... As the nation braces for strengthened security, there are big concerns for the disabled."
This proposed project will stimulate discussion of these issues and search for answers to problems. Based on discussions with many people after the 9-11 tragedy, the topic requires broader dialogue, research, and dissemination of information to address issues of communications policy and disaster relief for persons with disabilities.
Plan of Action
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center will advance the national debate on disaster mitigation for persons with disabilities and supplement and complement Blanck's Annenberg Report. This will be accomplished through one tele-conference and one web-based conference with blue-ribbon panelists to address and refine the issues. The project will be anchored by an independent research review of the subject matter
Anticipated Results and Objectives
Disasters change lives forever. For the millions of Americans with disabilities, and millions of other persons with disabilities living around the world, surviving a disaster can be the beginning of a greater struggle. Whether an individual with a disability requires electricity to power a respirator, life sustaining medication, mobility assistance, or post-disaster recovery services, relief organizations and rescue personnel must be prepared to address the needs of that individual in the hours and days following a disaster.
As experts have recognized, preparation and planning is the key to mitigating the impact of both disasters and disabilities. Yet, as commentators like Al Hunt have recognized after the 9-11 tragedy, the efforts of the response and rescue, disaster relief and disability communities have all too often failed to intersect. The simple, often low cost steps that save lives and reduce damage in the face of disasters have often overlooked the needs of people with disabilities. Similarly, efforts to accommodate disabled Americans frequently ignore disaster preparedness and response. As a result, too few disaster response officials are trained to deal effectively with people with disabilities, and few disabled Americans have the knowledge that could help them save their own lives.
The present project will aid leaders and experts within the disability community, members of relief organizations, media professionals, industry leaders, and local, state, and federal officials to further establish a cooperative relationship to address these shortcomings. The challenges ahead will be overcome only by dialogue among these and other groups.
As Annenberg senior fellow Blanck has written, that dialogue must, at a minimum, identify key issues concerning the needs of people with disabilities when disasters strike, develop effective strategies for resolving those issues, and build relationships and delineate responsibilities among disaster mitigation organizations, the media, and disabilities organizations.
At least seven key principles should guide that dialogue, and they will be examined through the present project.
- Accessible Disaster Facilities and Services. Communications technology is vital for people with disabilities during a disaster to help assess damage, collect information, and deploy supplies. Access to appropriate facilities must be monitored and made available to individuals with disabilities before, during, and after a disaster. This access also must be ensured for those who incur a disability as a result of a disaster. Appropriate planning and management of information related to architectural accessibility improves the provision of disaster services for persons with disabilities.
- Accessible Communications and Assistance. As communications technology and policy become more integral to disaster relief and mitigation, providing accessibility to the technology for people with disabilities becomes essential. People with hearing impairments may require interpreters, TDD communications, and signaling devices. Materials must be produced and presented on the world wide web, cassette tape, in large print or in alternate formats for people with visual impairments. People with cognitive impairments, such as those with developmental disabilities, Alzheimer's disease, or brain injury, require assistance to become familiar and cope with new surroundings and to minimize confusion factors. It is crucial that people with disabilities help develop accessible communications and reliable assistance technologies.
- Accessible, Effective and Reliable Rescue Communications. Accessible and reliable communications technology is critical to ensuring effective and competent field treatment of people with disabilities. Current satellite and cellular technology as well as personal communication networks permit communication in areas with a damaged or destroyed communication infrastructure. Communications technologies assist field personnel in rescue coordination, connect them with databases on optimal treatment for particular disabilities and help them track the allocation of post-disaster resources.
- Partnerships with the Media. Disaster preparedness for people with disabilities is critical in minimizing the impact of a disaster. The media -- in partnership with disability and governmental organizations -- should incorporate advisories into emergency broadcasts in formats accessible to people with disabilities. Such advisories alert the public, provide a mechanism for informing rescue personnel of individual medical conditions and impairments, and identify accessible emergency shelters. The creation and repetition of accessible media messages is critical for empowering people with disabilities to protect themselves from disasters.
- Partnerships with the Disability Community. Disability organizations must join with relief and rescue organizations and the media to educate and inform their constituents of disaster contingency and self-help plans. A nationwide awareness campaign should be devised and implemented to inform people with disabilities about necessary precautions for imminent disaster. In the event of a sudden disaster, such a program would minimize injury and facilitate rescue efforts.
- Disaster Preparation, Education, and Training. Communications technologies are crucial for educating the public about disaster preparedness and warning the people likely to be affected. Relief and rescue operations must have the appropriate medical equipment and training to address the needs of people with disabilities. Training must be provided, particularly to volunteers on how to support the independence and dignity of persons with disabilities in the aftermath of a disaster.
- Universal Design and Implementation Strategies. Designing and incorporating universal access into disaster relief plans is an inexpensive measure that can pay off handsomely. As accessible communications devices become widely available, their price will decrease. In addition, a universal design approach to meeting the needs of people with disabilities before and after a disaster will benefit people without disabilities, such as the very young or the aged. Examination of existing agreements among relief organizations and local, state, federal, and international governments will offer guidance in developing effective strategies for universal design and implementation plans.
Dissemination of Project
The proposed report and web-cast will be archived on the Center's web-site and disseminated in the following ways:
- Dissemination Partners. The Report will be disseminated to
our national, regional, and local partners, who also send information to
federal, state, and local governmental entities as well as non-profit
organizations. The dissemination reach of the partners below is
estimated to be 1,000 agencies, disability-related organizations, and
- Illustrations of our national and regional contacts include:
- National Center on Workforce and Disability at the Institute for Community Inclusion, Boston, MA;
- President's Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities, Washington, DC;
- Center for Health Services Research and Policy at George Washington University, Washington, DC;
- Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy, Washington, DC;
- Information Technology Association of America, Arlington, Virginia;
- National Results Council, St. Paul, MN.;
- American Association of Persons with Disabilities, Washington, DC;
- National Organization on Disability, Washington, DC;
- Disability Rights Advocates, Oakland, CA;
- World Institute on Disability, Oakland, CA;
- ADA Technical Assistance Project at the University of Missouri-Columbia, MO;
- Region VII CRP-RCEP at the University of Missouri-Columbia, MO;
- Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.
- The live web-cast and the archived web-cast. These will be available through the Center's web-site, with dissemination to our national, regional, and local partners. The archive of the web-cast will allow others to review the content on demand. For instance, the Center's U.S. Department of Education and Department of Labor funded projects disseminate Center information to large and small employers, employees, employment offices across the United States. In addition, the Center has potential contact for dissemination of the project to the office of the New York Police Commissioner.
The points identified in Blanck's Annenberg report reflect an emerging consensus about how best to respond to the needs of people with disabilities before, during, and after a disaster. Additional dialogue, research, and information dissemination of the kind proposed are needed on communications technology and policy issues, not only for people with disabilities, but for all under-represented individuals in society -- the poor, the isolated, and the vulnerable. Working together, the disability community, disaster relief agencies, and the media along with local, state, and federal governments can help defend democracy by minimizing the high toll disasters exact.