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Friday, September 9, 2011

My Dalliance with Irene - a Failure in Emergency Disability Planning

Hi Again!

In this post, I relate my experiences as an individual with a disability who uses a wheelchair, manual or powered, when Hurricane Irene hit New York City with a ferocious vengeance. I reside in the Kips Bay/Murray Hill section section of the city,g roughly 3 blocks from the East River, near the vulnerable, low-lying areas classified as "Zone A" by NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in an eighth floor apartment with an elevator. The issue was whether to remain in my apartment to ride out the storm or to seek local designated emergency shelter in this instance, Baruch College. On the morning of August 28th, Sunday, we were waiting for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to issue a mandatory evacuation order. At that point, I noted Facebook post by Susan Dooha, the executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled of New York, known by its acronym, CIDNY, a seasoned advocacy agency, stating that emergency shelters run by OEM were inaccessible for people with disabilities, particularly those using wheelchairs and/or were run by volunteers poorly trained to accommodate such need. Reading this item made me realize that it was best remain in the apartment and that was an attitude of benign neglect within the Bloomberg administration when it comes to emergency disability planning for such and other contingencies. Bloomberg himself compounded the situation with a major gaffe: he urged citizens to take taxis to nearest shelters without mentioning the needs of citizens with disabilities. If one needed further proof of the systemic devaluation of people with disabilities, this is it! If they were valued, emergent planning for his sector of the population would have been factored in from the beginning. There needs to be greater depth of communication between OEM and the disability community from here on so that this chaotic situation would not repeat itself.

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