Editor: You may recall that emergency personnel were pretty much unprepared to deal with people with disabilities during the recent emergencies in the US, and that people with hearing loss were most often excluded from access to emergency services. Senator Tom Harkin has introduced legislation that attempts to ensure that emergency planners do a better job of considering the needs of people with disabilities. One important provision is the creation of a Disability Coordinator within the Department of Homeland Security! We applaud this effort.
Here’s the press release from the National Organization on Disability
Washington, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today introduced the Emergency Preparedness and Response for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2005. The legislation will address the needs of individuals with disabilities in emergency planning and relief efforts.
“Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath has shown us that we need to have a better emergency response plan, especially one that includes preparations for assisting people with disabilities,” said Harkin. “This bill is an important step to ensure that the needs of disabled Americans will be addressed in case of an emergency.”
Under this legislation, a Disability Coordinator would be created in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who will report directly to the Secretary. The Coordinator would be responsible for:
* Working with local, state and federal authorities about the needs of individuals with disabilities in emergency planning and relief,
* Developing a curriculum for first responder training on the needs of individuals with disabilities,
* Ensure telephone hotlines and websites containing information about evacuations are accessible, and
* Provide guidance about the rights of individuals with disabilities regarding post evacuation residence and relocation, among other things.
The Emergency Preparedness and Response for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2005 will also require that 30 percent of temporary housing for disaster victims be accessible, and usable by individuals with disabilities, and would provide incentives to create more accessible housing during reconstruction efforts.
Harkin is a longstanding advocate for individuals with disabilities in the U.S. and has worked tirelessly to call attention to disability rights. He was the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation which seeks equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities.