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COVID-19 as Disability Genocide:
How society fails disabled people during disasters

Original Version by Julia Watts Belser

Plain Language Translation by Reid Caplan

A conversation between Marcie Roth and Julia Watts Belser

July 1, 2022

Table of Contents:

Why does the government need to do more to help disabled people in disasters?

Julia:  Marcie, so much of your advocacy focuses on helping disabled people get what we need. This is important to think about during disasters. Disabled people need different kinds of help during disasters. You want to make sure our communities are ready to support people. 

Climate change makes certain disasters more likely to happen. But it doesn’t matter if it is a pandemic like COVID-19, or a natural disaster. No matter what, society fails disabled people when they don’t help us get what we need. 

People usually don’t notice how much disabled people get hurt by climate change. They don’t think about how disasters hurt disabled people more than non-disabled people. They don’t listen to the voices of disabled people to figure out how to fix these problems.

Would you tell us more about your work on disability and disasters? 

Marcie:  I’ve been working in the disaster business for twenty years. There’s something I’ve seen over and over again. People who work on disasters don’t think about the rights of people with disabilities. They don’t think of us when planning for disasters. They don’t think of us when disasters happen. And they don’t think of us after disasters happen to help us recover.  

There are so many laws to protect the rights of people with disabilities. There is the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is also the Rehabilitation Act and the Stafford Act. 

The Rehabilitation Act is a law that passed in the U.S. in 1973. It says that the government can’t discriminate against disabled people.

The Stafford Act is law that passed in the U.S. in 1988. It said what kind of help the government needs to give people during disasters. After hurricane Katrina, the law got changed to say the government has to help people with disabilities during disasters.

These laws say that disabled people have to get the same services and supports as non-disabled people. The government gives out money to help people recover after a disaster. These laws mean the government has to help disabled people in disasters, too.

Disabled people need lots of things during and after disasters. We need things like medicine, food, and other supplies. We need a place to live, transportation, and people to help us. All these things make a huge difference to get through a disaster. 

But a lot of times, the government doesn’t give disabled people what we need. Instead, disabled people have to ask others for money to pay for the things we need. We have to hope we get help from volunteers.

It should be the government’s job to make sure disabled people get what we need during disasters. We should not have to hope that kind strangers will pay for us to survive.

Edited by Lucy Child, Amanda Chu, and Julia Watts Belser

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“COVID-19 as Disability Genocide: How planning for emergencies fails disabled people during disasters – a conversation between Marcie Roth and Julia Watts Belser.”  Plain Language Translation by Reid Caplan.  Disability and Climate Change: A Public Archive Project. July 1, 2022.