a banner of Nobody Left Behind--Disaster Preparedness for Persons with Mobility Impairments

a picture of a person using the phone at an area of rescue assistance for persons disabilities

Persons with Disabilities

Speak Out (1)

One in five Americans lives with a disability. 1 Each month one or more communities, which include residents with disabilities are working to recover from a natural or man-made disaster. 2

“Each disaster compounds the day-to-day difficulties of seniors, people with disabilities, and people with special needs,” says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 3. “With every disaster, persons with disabilities are overlooked,” states Mike Collins, Executive Director, California State Independent Living Council. “Disaster planning is something we talk about, but never plan for regarding persons with disabilities,” agrees Marcie Davis, President Davis Innovations, and wheelchair user. Now is the time for persons with disabilities to Speak Out!

Survey Respondents  

A picture of a man with a assistive walking devise talking to disaster 
assistance teams after Tropical Storm in Texas in 2001

Andrea Booher/FEMA

A picture of a man with a assistive walking devise talking to disaster 
assistance teams after Tropical Storm in Texas in 2001  All across the U.S., persons with mobility limitations are speaking out about their personal experiences with disasters via an on-line survey http://www.nobodyleftbehind.org/survey/. The goal of this effort is to help shape the future of disaster and emergency planning and response! 

The following stories have been gathered from the survey participants:

  “The able-bodied community MUST get the message that it is critical to think through and develop a plan to evacuate people with disabilities.”- New York, NY

  “It is really difficult to get the utility company to understand power is a need, if disabled.” – Severe Storms, Knoxville, TN

  “We had to move out of our house for several weeks to have it repaired.  All the places that people referred us to were not accessible to me in my scooter.” – Earthquake, Los Angeles, CA

  “I ambulate with forearm crutches and my leg stamina is limited. As a social service provider in NYC, I am in tall buildings often and one in particular they had an evacuation drill. There were no plans or equipment to assist me. They told me to ignore the drill. I felt very vulnerable because I attend regular work meetings in this building.” – New York City

 After a hurricane, “I did not use the shelters, because they were not wheelchair accessible, and had no provisions for my service dog.” – Miami, FL  

A picture of a Salvation Army van and volunteers to assist hurricane victims 
in Punta Girda, Florida after Hurricane Charley stuck in August 2004

 “I have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and use a wheel chair.  We had a bomb threat at work, which was very scary.  Everyone evacuated, but I was still left on the 3rd floor by the stairwell for the firefighters to come get me. But, no one came.  Finally, I just struggled, and I used pure fear to get myself down the stairs and outside. It was scary just to realize that there are not really any procedures in place to help someone like me in an emergency.”

 My wheelchair ramp washed away in a flood and my house was left with three feet of mud everywhere.  It was hard to use my electric wheelchair. I had money to pay for a ramp, but couldn’t hire any one, as they were busy elsewhere.” – Texas

 “We had a fire at work and the evacuation plan didn’t work to get me out.  Even so, management refused to change the plan” - Oklahoma

 At the temporary shelter I couldn’t get to the bathrooms, as you had to walk up stairs. – Northridge, CA

  “The disaster volunteer was not trained on accessibility issues. He said that the shelters should be accessible since the law requires it. He didn't understand the impact of me getting there only to discover that they were in violation of the law”- Hurricane, Alexandria, VA

 “My only accessible route was on fire at my home. I had to escape via a non-accessible route. The fire destroyed our home.”- Hagerstown, VA

  “Disabled persons have the same freedom of choice as any other American. The paternalistic attitude was frightening beyond belief that I experienced [while trying to access after disaster services and information].” – Earthquake, Glendora, CA

California SILC Wildfire Forums

A stunning but alarming picture of a wildfire that is burning several 
hillsides of trees and grasses during the California wildfires of October 

Paul S. Grupp

 At public forums in California persons with disabilities and seniors who had experienced the worst wildfire disaster in our nation’s history in 2003 shared their stories.  

The following excerpt from the California forums report describe the shortcomings in preparation, notification, evacuation, sheltering and recovery that adversely impacted persons with disabilities.  For purposes of this web page, only the issues impacting persons with mobility impairments are listed. The report titled, “Issue Brief: The Impact of 2003 Wildfires on People with Disabilities” is published by the California State Independent Living Council, and can be obtained at www.calsilc.org.

 “The final toll on the state and the people who live here was horrendous.  During the fires, which totaled 19 throughout the state, more than 730,000 acres were burned, over 36,000 homes were destroyed, 22 people were killed, more than 200 more were injured, and over 500 farms and commercial properties were significantly damaged. Many pets and livestock also perished in the fires, and those loss estimates vary from hundreds to the thousands.”4

 “People with disabilities were especially hard hit by these disasters as many of those individuals were unable to evacuate themselves, see approaching danger, or hear announcements to evacuate.”

 “People who relied on specialized medication and who did not have prescriptions or a supply with them were placed in danger due to medical conditions.”

 “Many individuals who require mobility aids to walk or move themselves were evacuated without those items.”  For residents of two skilled nursing facilities who were transferred to a shelter setting, they were restricted to their beds until volunteers could carry them to the restrooms when needed.

 “Evacuation plans did not include vehicles that could also transport wheelchairs and walkers so evacuees with disabilities could maneuver in whatever environment they were placed in, without assistance.”

A picture of a hillside burning with the approaching fire heading for a 
neighborhood of houses in Ramona Lakeside, California

Paul S. Grupp

  “The local Red Cross volunteers received praise for their efforts in this disaster, but in many cases the shelters were inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities and those who use service animals were not initially allowed to bring their animals with them into the shelters.” 

 “Emergency telephone access was provided through prior arrangements with a vendor that utilized a special trailer that had no telephones located within the reach ranges of people using wheelchairs, …”

 “Limited availability of contractors to make home repairs or construct new homes has been especially difficult for people who require different levels of accessibility.  Specialized contractors may not be available, and their work backlog could extend for months or years.  For the person who is unable to access most of the available stock of housing due to a mobility impairment, this is a critical issue.”



1  From: 2000, U.S. Census Bureau.

2 From: http://www.fema.gov/news/disasters.fema?year=2003, retrieved Aug. 2004, for 1993, disaster, emergency or fire declarations were issued in 43 states, which resulted in at least one disaster occurring and one declaration being issued per month in 1993.

3 From: Federal Emergency Management Agency. (1998c), FEMA: Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities. Retrieved May 20, 2002 from http://www.fema.gov.

4 From: “Issue Brief: The Impact of 2003 Wildfires on People with Disabilities” is published by the California State Independent Living Council, and can be obtained at www.calsilc.org.



[NLB_Home] | [Grant Abstract] | [Research Sites ] | [Findings] | [Speak Out (1)] | [Speak Out (2)]
[Resources] | [PowerPoint Presentations] | [Advisors] | [Research Team]
[Disaster Facts(1)] | [Disaster Facts(2)] | [Photo Credits ] | [Contact]