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During natural disasters, what happens if your are disabled?

As New Jersey and New York continue to struggle to recover from the destruction brought on by Sandy, one issue is easy to over look. The number of disabled affected by the storm and the difficulties they face both during and after this kind of natural disaster.

Because statistics are not specifically kept concerning disabled people, it is difficult to know the scope of the problem. Many disabled individuals who are on supplemental security income (SSI) and Social Security disability income (SSDI) and have a limited income may face extreme difficulty getting their lives back in order after events like Sandy.

A telling number comes from the AARP regarding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. While those older than age 60 only made up 15 percent of the population, they comprised 73 percent of the fatalities. One report from New York indicates that half of the fatalities from Sandy were 65 or older.

Robert Gorski, Accessibility and Disability Issues Coordinator for the City of Pasadena, pointed out that if you are mobility-impaired or suffer a mental disability, you are at a double disadvantage during disaster, according to a story from AM New York.

It seems more than doubly unfair that someone already dealing with a disability that leaves them out of work and receiving benefits from programs like SSDI or SSI should then be left to fend for him or herself during a disaster.

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against New York City, by plaintiffs who argue they are at that they are subject to a “disproportionate risk of injury and death” because the city lacks “a comprehensive plan for the evacuation of people with disabilities.”

Source: AM New York, “Disabled people especially vulnerable in calamities such as Sandy,” Sheila Anne Feeney, November 19, 2012

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