An estimated 20 percent of the United States population has a disability making this the largest minority group in the nation. People with disabilities have the highest rate of poverty of any minority group in the United States. Geographically, nearly 40 percent of people reporting a disability live in the South-twice the percentage of people with disabilities in the other regions of the country.
"People with disabilities, including older adults, face a vast range of barriers to safety and survival during disasters that are often overlooked by rescue and recovery efforts," said Jeanne Argoff, executive director of Disability Funders Network (DFN). "Our goal is to raise grantmakers' awareness of not only the importance of including the disability community in their disaster preparedness, rescue and recovery efforts, but also to increase their understanding of the disability community's needs following a crisis."
Among the last to be rescued following Hurricane Katrina, people with disabilities faced difficulties in making their presence known, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Those rescued were forced to evacuate leaving behind necessities such as life-saving medications, equipment, aids and service animals. Often, they were sent to places unable and sometimes unwilling to meet their needs.
The disability community's needs following Katrina and Rita are far reaching-from assistive technology such as teletypewriters, signaling devices and hearing/speech amplification devices, to durable medical products like wheelchairs, walkers, canes and adaptive accessories. Medical supplies-including oxygen, hospital beds and transfer lifts are also in high demand.
Conventional relief groups have not consistently demonstrated that they understand how to assist disaster survivors with disabilities.
"Disability Funders Network (DFN) is instituting a 'Rapid Response Fund'--effective October 4, 2005 --to make grants to nonprofit organizations providing direct relief to people with disabilities in the affected regions," announced Sylvia Clark, chair of Disability Funders Network and executive director of NEC Foundation of America. And to best prepare for future crises, Disability Funders Network (DFN) has an ongoing initiative, "Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities and Older Adults: What Grantmakers Need to Know."