Three Methods the People with Disabilities Act Helps Fairness and Independence for Individuals with Disabilities

Authors: Linda Mastandrea, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, FEMA Reyma McCoy McDeid, Executive Director, National Council on Independent Living

31st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Celebrations. To learn. Share.

Last week we commemorated the groundbreaking signing of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA has provided FEMA and our partners with a strong foundation to work together to serve disaster survivors with disabilities and ensure equal access to services and programs while maintaining and promoting the independence of people with disabilities.

While much progress has been made, there is still more we can do to deliver on the legal promise of equal opportunities for all. We are committed to integrating the needs of people with disabilities into emergency preparedness, response and recovery programs across the country, and we value working with stakeholders with disabilities at the state, local, tribal and territorial levels to make this possible.

One of the themes of this year’s ADA celebration is independent living for people with disabilities. FEMA and the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) are focused on helping people with disabilities affected by disasters return to accessible communities where the support and services they need are readily available and in that they can live independently with family and friends. NCIL and FEMA’s Office for the Integration and Coordination of Disabilities (ODIC) are working together to provide a pathway for self-employment for people with disabilities affected by disasters.

Here are three ways the ADA is laying the groundwork for this journey:

  1. The ADA extends the civil rights requirements contained in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities by federal agencies and state-funded programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 built on this foundation and ensured that federal safeguards were extended to the programs and services of state and local governments and other public institutions. Title II of the ADA ensures, among other things, that people with disabilities affected by disasters have access to the same programs and services as others in their community as they prepare, respond to and recover from disasters.

This is one of the reasons why a partnership between ODIC and disability organizations like NCIL is important. Because disaster relief is at the community level and Centers for Independent Living are community level organizations that have a deep understanding of local demographics, the problems faced by people with disabilities, and creative solutions to many of these problems.

Year round, FEMA’s regional disability integration specialists are available to work with the Centers for Independent Living in their area on education and outreach to improve the ability of people with disabilities to prepare for disasters to respond to and recover from them. And during active disasters, our disability integration consultants work with NCIL and other disability organizations to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities affected by the disaster are met.

  1. The ADA requires accessible transportation, public housing, communication, and access to state and local government programs and services.

When a disaster strikes, many systems are affected. Casing. Transport. Public accommodation. Communication. Health care. Access to key government programs and services may be restricted. Disability-oriented organizations like NCIL play a crucial role in this planning and ensure that the programs, services and systems developed integrate the perspectives and lived experiences of people with disabilities and thus lead to better outcomes in the event of a disaster.

  1. The ADA addresses the need to incorporate access and housing into all aspects of eEmergency preparedness, response and recovery for people with disabilities.

For example:

  • Accessible transportation in support Evacuation of people with disabilities in emergency response plans.
  • Changing policies, practices and procedures and providing shelter so people with disabilities can stay with their families or support networks in integrated housing.
  • People using personal assistance services may need guidance coordinating or using those services in order to obtain local accommodation.
  • Blind or visually impaired people can access emergency management and disaster related notices and materials in alternative formats, ie braille, large print and audio.

The ADA requires state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofits to ensure that communications with people with disabilities are accessible and provided with the same information that people without disabilities receive.

People cannot plan or ensure their safety without the ability to get real-time information about situations and options. It is important to work with state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to integrate the needs of people with disabilities into emergency management planning; Through these efforts, we can understand how best to address the needs of everyone, including people with disabilities, in the event of a disaster.

The ADA requires that state and local governments and private agencies provide assistants and services for people with disabilities, such as skilled readers, large print, braille, and audio versions of printed documents; qualified sign language interpreters, certified deaf interpreters, real-time subtitling and video relay.

Local partners may need to be educated about the availability of technology that will provide the deaf or hard of hearing with access to vital emergency and disaster information. Broadcasting networks may need to be reminded that interpreters stay on the video feed and use other closed captioning services, especially when reporting emergency, disaster and health news.

These are just a few examples of how ADA encompasses contingency preparedness, response, and recovery measures. And with open dialogue between federal agencies and disability organizations, we can better work together to develop comprehensive, accessible, and inclusive disaster risk reduction, response, and recovery programs in our communities across the country.

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