How Emergency Planning Fails People With Disabilities

In California and elsewhere, power outages can threaten the lives of people dependent on medical devices, while evacuation plans often don’t account for the needs of disabled people.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 25, 2023, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Blue portable oxygen medical device with attached clear mask

petrugusa / Oxygen device

Power outages caused by extreme weather events doubtlessly cause inconvenience for everyone, but for some people—namely, those living with disabilities—access to power can be a life or death issue. Yet, as Alice Wong points out in an article for High Country News, “Time and time again, disabled and older people are left behind or not prioritized in emergency planning.”

Wong details a day in her life as a disabled American concerned about an imminent power outage in her home, where she depends on a variety of electric devices for her survival and well-being. Many others face similar challenges. 

Meanwhile, much of the advice given to residents to prepare for emergencies is difficult or impossible for many disabled people. For example, “People cannot stock up on medications if they are uninsured or underinsured. And recommended mitigation efforts — such as unplugging all appliances during an outage and purchasing equipment like generators — are out of reach financially and physically for many of us.”

According to a 2021 statement from the National Council on Disability, “A vital part of effective planning is an understanding of the diverse populations that make up the community, including their strengths and their weaknesses.”

Wong suggests several ways utility companies can help, such as increasing funding to disability organizers, hiring disabled people to develop policies, and boosting rebate programs for batteries, generators, and other crucial equipment.

Thursday, January 19, 2023 in High Country News

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