Take Action: Speak Up About the Needs of People with Disabilities After a Disaster
Consideration of the needs of people with disabilities is key to effective disaster planning. Permanent accessible housing is scarce; after a disaster, it's often nonexistent. As Hurricane Katrina clearly showed, the federal government was unprepared to meet the needs of citizens with disabilities in need of temporary accessible housing.
The United States Access Board is working to change this by revising the accessibility guidelines for emergency transportable housing, such as the FEMA trailers, to make them more accessible for people with mobility impairments. However, the Advocacy Center is concerned that the regulations being proposed by the Access Board may be a step backward.
The regulations do not provide for a minimum percentage of units that must be accessible in a "facility," such as a FEMA trailer park. Without a mandatory minimum, inaccessible trailer parks with few or no accessible units could again be a reality after a future disaster. The Advocacy Center recommends that at least 14% of emergency units be accessible to people with disabilities and submitted comments to this effect to the Access Board (available here: Access Board Comments). Of course, if the trailers are to be located on recipients' own property, they should meet the accessibility needs of the individual.
In addition to this minimum percentage of accessible units, the Advocacy Center has recommended two other changes. First, all kitchen sinks should be fitted so that wheelchairs may roll under them. Second, kitchen sinks should be fitted with gooseneck faucets to increase their usability, especially for those who may have difficulty operating a spray faucet.
The Advocacy Center applauds the new standards for maneuvering clearance in bedrooms and paths of travel in these units, as well as the new standard for bedroom lighting controls close to the bed. All of this will increase independence for people with limited mobility to transfer in and out of bed.
There is strength in numbers. It is important that individuals and organizations speak out to ensure the voices of those with disabilities are heard loud and clear in planning for emergency situations.
The Advocacy Center would like to support the regulations, but believes that the lack of a minimum percentage of accessible units is a significant shortfall. These new standards for emergency transportable housing could make a big difference in the lives of people with disabilities after a disaster, but only if they are fully functional. Share your thoughts with the Access Board via this link: http://www.votervoice.net/groups/advocacyla/advocacy/?issueid=29267.