Advocates have spent years trying to draw attention to the harsh conditions that people with disabilities face after natural disasters. Federal data now shows that the suffering is worse than imagined.
People with disabilities are far more likely than anyone else to face major hardships, including displacement from their homes due to catastrophes, according to Census Bureau data released Thursday.
If displaced, people with disabilities face dangerous levels of isolation, poor living conditions, lack of food, water and electricity, and permanent dislocations, according to E&E News data analysis.
For example, 70% of evacuees with hearing impairments reported living in unsanitary conditions one month after the disaster. More than 74% of the evacuees who cannot walk report that he experienced food shortages one month after the disaster.
In contrast, census data showed that only 9% of those who could walk faced food shortages. Only 7% of evacuees with good hearing had unsanitary conditions.
“This is completely in line with what we have been saying over the years about disability and disasters,” said Justice Shorter, disaster advisor for the National Disability Rights Network.
“This should encourage people to understand that all the stories, testimonies and commentaries that people with disabilities have provided over the years are credible and believable. , you shouldn’t need this to make those narratives valid,” Shorter added.
This information is the Census Bureau’s first analysis of the impact of disasters on groups of people. This is because the increase in disaster damage caused by climate change and others is drawing attention to its disproportionate impact on marginalized populations.
The data could galvanize long-standing efforts to improve treatment for people with disabilities after devastating hurricanes, floods, wildfires and other events.
Census data also confirms that disasters generally hit disadvantaged groups more severely, including low-income households and people of racial or ethnic minorities.
But an analysis of the new data by E&E News found that people with disabilities suffered far worse outcomes than any other group.
Perhaps the most significant difference is that people with disabilities are much more likely than others to be forced to leave their homes during a disaster. often leads to facing a series of problems.
The Census Bureau found that just over 1% of U.S. adults have been forced to leave their homes in the past year due to disasters.
However, disability evacuation rates have been astronomical by comparison.
Nearly 31% of self-careless U.S. adults were displaced after a disaster.
Nearly 21% of visually impaired adults have been forced from their homes.
Once evacuated, most disabled people never returned home, according to census data.
For example, 59% of deaf evacuees reported not returning home. This is more than four times her mobility rate for non-deaf people.
“It’s because of how easily people get institutionalized,” Shorter said. “People are moving into facility-based environments, and it’s much harder to get out of there.”
A 2019 report by the National Council on Disability, a federal advisory body, criticized “unnecessary institutionalization during and after a disaster.”
The 111-page report, titled Defending Our Freedom, called for an end to institutionalizing people with disabilities during disasters, which isolates them, degrades their health, and places them in care homes. , nursing homes and other long-term stays. Configuration.
But new census data reveal, among other issues, that institutionalization is the norm for people with disabilities.
It has also been shown that people with disabilities evacuated after a disaster are five to ten times more likely to experience other problems than people without disabilities.
They include food and water shortages. lack of electricity; isolation; unsanitary conditions; fear of crime and exposure to financial fraud.
“This will allow people to open the door a little wider, and that people with disabilities will become a central force in creating and fostering more comprehensive disaster planning and protection across this country. “In fact, they are the most affected people.”
To measure the impact of the disease on the population, the Census Bureau collected data through the Household Pulse Survey, a 20-minute online survey that was launched shortly after the start of the pandemic. This survey is designed to provide up-to-date information not available in other census data, such as the Annual American Community Survey.
Household pulse surveys have evolved to include questions that lawmakers and officials have used to guide policy. In March 2021, the Census Bureau began including utility payment questions in surveys. This comes after a group of Senate Democrats raised the question that toll payers are behind the bill and need federal help (E&E News PMMarch 29, 2021).
In December, the bureau added questions about the disaster and its hardships for displaced people.
The inclusion of the disaster question garnered praise from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, who wrote in a letter to the Census Bureau in December that the question was linked to “disasters that affect mobility, food, water, and sanitation.” It would help assess how it would affect “immediate access to living conditions.”
Hannah Perls, an attorney in the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, said disaster information “provides more comprehensive household-level data that is essential for designing more effective mitigation and adaptation strategies. would,’ he said.
This information could also help design programs to “mitigate displacement due to future disasters” and could be used to provide more accurate data about the United States to international groups that track displaced people in their own countries. Perls said in an email.
The Census Bureau said in its data table that “these data are experimental” and that “use caution when using estimates” based on population groups, as sample sizes may be small. says.