Disability Wisdom for Disaster Response
Climate change intensifies natural disaster. Hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires, and other weather crises are growing more powerful and more frequent. When a disaster strikes, disabled people are at particular risk. Shelters and evacuation plans are often inaccessible, designed without disabled people in mind. Disaster warnings systems rarely include a full range of communication methods, leaving Deaf and disabled communities without access to crucial early information. Most first responders have limited experience working in partnership with disability communities, leaving them less prepared to serve disabled people well in crisis.
Disaster exacerbates social inequality. Those with the fewest resources are almost always the ones hit hardest by the storm, the ones least able to prepare for the blow and to bounce back after crisis. Ableism, compounded by racism, classism, and other intertwined systems of oppression, means that disability communities contend with systemic poverty, inaccessibility, and a lack of political representation. Disaster recovery efforts rarely center disabled people. And without disabled voices? Rebuilding tends to create a less accessible world.
In this strand, we talk with disability activists and disabled first responders working to change these dynamics. We explore how disability-led disaster response can help save disabled people’s lives in the aftermath of natural disaster. Disabled first responders tap their own disability expertise to locate and support individuals most affected by crisis—both to respond to immediate needs and to build long-term supports for more sustainable and disaster-resilient communities. We examine the root causes of disabled people’s vulnerability during crisis, and we consider political and practical shifts that can help build a more accessible world.