This week the (U.S.) National Council on Disability has released a report to coincide with National Hurricane Preparedness Week: “Effective Communications for People with Disabilities: Before, During, and After Emergencies.” Hidden behind this prosaic title are issues of great importance for anyone living with a disability and those who care about them.
Findings from the report include these:
- The communication needs of people with disabilities are not being fully integrated by emergency managers in planning efforts.
- There is a lack of consolidated, consistent, and coordinated guidance available to emergency managers on the communication needs of people with disabilities.
- There is an ongoing need for increased outreach to the disability community by emergency managers.
- Technology plays an increasingly vital role in emergency communications yet remains largely inaccessible for many people with disabilities.
- Despite legal mandates to provide effective communication to people with disabilities before, during, and after emergencies, emergency communications remain largely inaccessible.
- Alerts and warnings that are multimodal are better able to reach people with disabilities.
Barbara Vos, a Christian Reformed Church member and public health professional in Iowa, says, “While first responders, public health professionals and emergency managers have a commitment to serving you, there will not be enough people or equipment to handle large emergencies.” Therefore, churches can provide a vital (even life-saving) link for people with disabilities in their congregations and communities.
Barbara suggests that churches consider the following six-point plan to prepare for disasters that can include hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, mudslides, and tornadoes:
- Designate someone to be the coordinator to make sure the special needs of people with disabilities are addressed. Remember that if no one is in charge, no one is responsible either.
- Identify those in your church and/or community who might have special needs before, during and after a disaster or emergency. As an organization in a community, churches do the best job of knowing who currently has special needs within their congregations and often within their community.
- Provide services for people with disabilities during and after a disaster. In post-disaster situations, volunteers provide many important services. Many of these volunteers come from churches. If you are willing to help, get some training ahead of time in the basics of dealing with people with disabilities. This training is important so that volunteers treat neighbors with disabilities with respect and dignity. You might be asked to respond to requests that may be essential for day-to-day living for persons with disabilities.
- Assist with accessible transportation during and after a disaster. Even in non-emergency situations, people with disabilities are three times as likely as those without disabilities to consider inadequate transportation a problem.
- Meditate on Luke 6:31 and 36 "Do to others as you would have them do to you...Be merciful just as your Father is merciful." How would you apply this to serving your neighbors and members of your congregation who have disabilities?
- If your church is willing to consider assisting with this urgent need, contact either your county's public health department or the emergency management coordinator for your county.
The church is in the business of saving souls, and when God provides the opportunity we need to save lives too.
Does your church have an emergency preparedness plan? Does it include ways to assist people with various disabilities? Please tell us about it.