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30 ways FEMA supports emergency preparedness and response for persons with disabilities

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July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the past 30 years, we’ve seen improved access to buildings, doctor’s offices, museums, eateries, shops, recreational venues and so much more. As they build, America’s cities and towns are planning for the needs of people with disabilities living in and visiting their communities. It’s now easier for people to be involved with their state and local governments and access their services and programs.

FEMA is committed to making sure that people with disabilities have access to, and can benefit from, our programs and services. To celebrate the 30th ADA Anniversary, here are 30 ways the agency supports emergency preparedness, response and recovery for people with disabilities.

  1. Developed a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and disability dashboard that overlays disability demographics with COVID-19 cases and deaths to assist Regional Disability Integration Specialists in identifying potential areas of need.
  2. Reorganized the disability integration cadre; developed new staff positions, tools and training to develop a highly skilled workforce that meet the needs of people with disabilities affected by disasters.
  3. Created the Program and Policy Branch, increasing our agency’s capacity to serve people with disabilities and focus on policy development; added staff liaisons to FEMA program areas.
  4. Hired a data analyst to identify people affected in disaster and measure recovery outcomes for disaster survivors with disabilities.
  5. Hosted calls with our regional disability integration specialists in the 10 FEMA regions to identify and address concerns of people with disabilities during COVID-19 and for future disasters.
  6. Worked with FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute and Center for Domestic Preparedness to increase campus access for students with disabilities.
  7. Engaged in ways to integrate disability competency and disability integration principles in campus training delivered to the agency, emergency managers and first responders.
  8. Updating the “Integrating the Needs of People with Disabilities in Emergency Management” course that will provide emergency planners real-world opportunities to test their disaster plans against legal and regulatory requirements to serve people with disabilities.
  9. Simplified the FEMA disaster-survivor registration intake questions on disability and disability-related loss, resulting in an increase in the percentage of registrants identifying as having disabilities from less than 3% to approximately 15%–in line with disability demographic estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
  10. Engaged in developing the “2016 Response and Recovery Federal Interagency Operational Plans” annex, creating a system to provide reasonable accommodations; addressing evacuation by keeping people with disabilities together with their durable medical equipment and service animals; providing accessible transportation; and, supporting the mental health needs of disaster survivors.
  11. Participated in a vendor review panel, which made sure that vendors of showers, sheltering cots and portable bathrooms and laundry facilities met accessibility standards for people with disabilities in shelters.
  12. Conducted listening sessions together with the Department of Homeland Security Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office to hear from disability Non-Governmental Organizations and emergency managers in California, Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on how we can work together to better serve people with disabilities.
  13. Created the “Disability Demographics and Program Utilization Report,” published in February 2020, which studied the experiences of people with disabilities who apply for FEMA assistance, and provided us with information on ways to improve our programs and services based on those experiences.
  14. Facilitated inclusion of an introduction to FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination and disability integration into FEMA employee onboarding process.
  15. Engaged with state and local emergency managers nationwide to improve disaster services for people with disabilities.
  16. Presented FEMA program updates on national calls hosted by the ADA National Network, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities and the U.S. Access Board, among others.
  17. As part of the federal Disability Interagency Working Group, shared information and best practices about serving people with disabilities across the federal government.
  18. Deployed disability integration advisors to disasters nationwide to provide advice and guidance to FEMA senior leadership and just-in-time training to staff to ensure our programs and services meet the needs of people with disabilities.
  19. Worked with the Individual Assistance Program to update the Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide and National Mass Care Strategy: Transition to Alternate Sheltering to make sure the needs of disaster survivors with disabilities were integrated into the guidance.
  20. Engaged with Public Assistance (PA) for the first time to discuss ways to leverage PA dollars to build more accessible, resilient and sustainable communities after disasters.
  21. Helped the agency develop processes so that joint field offices, alternate field offices and disaster recovery centers meet accessibility requirements.
  22. Facilitated creation of core advisory groups in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico, bringing together local emergency managers, municipal officials and disability NGO representatives to address the needs of people with disabilities.
  23. Worked with FEMA programs to implement Section 1212 of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018, which included legislation to help Americans with disabilities receive disaster assistance to better meet their needs, particularly related to the repair or replacement of accessibility related real or personal property.
  24. Produced “We Prepare Every Day” videos showing people with disabilities taking charge to prepare for emergencies. We have also provided equal access to video content by providing open captioning, a certified deaf interpreter, and audio descriptions.
  25. Produced accessible videos with information about registering for FEMA assistance, disaster recovery centers, filing a flood claim and more. Some videos are also available in multiple languages.
  26. Partnered with the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico after the 2020 earthquakes providing more than 200 sensory kits with a weighted blanket, noise cancelling earphones, fidget spinner and stress ball to disaster survivors in need.
  27. At the Arkansas Department of Human Wellness Fair in March 2020, taught people with disabilities, older adults, caregivers and medical staff to plan ahead for disasters, build an emergency supply kit and write an emergency plan.
  28. Made Including People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs in Disaster Operations a required course for FEMA employees.
  29. Equipped disaster recovery centers with assistive and communication technology devices to facilitate accessible and effective communication for people with disabilities visiting disaster recovery centers.
  30. Offers preparedness tips for people with disabilities on Ready.gov. Information includes tips on creating a support network of family, friends and others who can help during an emergency, identifying an out-of-town contact and packing a go bag with items for your unique needs, such as extra medications or hearing aid batteries.

As we look back on the last 30 years, our nation has made many strides to help support people with disabilities. FEMA remains committed to working toward building the nation contemplated by the ADA—one where people with disabilities are woven into the fabric of our neighborhoods and integrated into our communities, living, working and playing side by side with family, neighbors and friends.

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