Tanzina Vega: We turned to Florida now and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, whenever a natural disaster hits vulnerable communities can often be forgotten or left behind, and the disabled community is no exception.
Tanzina Vega: Last week, Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, tweeted out a video of the storm's trajectory. With this comment, "I wanted to share this video for the thousands of deaf and hard of hearing residents in the path of Hurricane Michael, but unfortunately, it's not closed. Captioned access to Info is vital. It's a life or death matter."
Tanzina Vega: So what can be done to improve on these communications failures for Americans with disabilities? Marcie Roth is the CEO of the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, and she formerly served as famous director of the office of disability integration and coordination. Welcome, Marcie.
Marcie Roth: Thank you very much for having me.
Tanzina Vega: So, Marcie, in her tweet, Marlee Matlin described the failure to provide closed captioning during Michael. What are the federal guidelines for how communication needs to share before, during, and after an emergency or natural disaster?
Marcie Roth: So it's required that information is provided equally to people who have those legal protections of disability. Um, which includes people who are deaf, people who are hard of hearing information must be provided during emergencies that is actionable and accessible to everyone.
Tanzina Vega: So what do we know about how people with disabilities do during disasters? Are they more at risk? Are they more likely to be left behind? Are they more likely to be discriminated against?
Marcie Roth: People with disabilities are two to four times more likely to be injured or to die in a disaster and it's almost never because of their disability, it's because of a failure to plan and the inclusive of their needs and the needs of the community in accommodating everyone.
Tanzina Vega: We're obviously reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. I'm wondering what was your assessment of the situation on the ground there for the disabled community?
Marcie Roth: So we are still very much at the front end of disaster response and circumstances for everyone have been dire for people with disabilities. Circumstances had been especially difficult. The ability to get actionable information, uh, has been stymied because communication systems are down and people don't have television. A text messaging thankfully is still working for many people, but if you don't have power then you don't have the ability to keep your phone charged. Uh, unfortunately, we have heard that uh, many people who have evacuated have not found that the shelters are prepared to meet their disability-related needs, forcing them to hospitals and those hospitals are overcrowded and unable to meet basic needs for people who don't need acute healthcare. Um, it puts people with disabilities in tremendous jeopardy and it's a huge misuse of those very limited local community resources.
Tanzina Vega: You worked in the federal government as FEMA director of the office of disability integration and coordination. And I'm wondering, given that experience, do you see areas of improvement in emergency and disaster program management specifically for the disabled community?
Marcie Roth: When I was FEMA administrator, few gates led a charge to build capacity for providing qualified disability experts on the ground to support the state and local response. We had been charged with bringing together 285 qualified disability experts in. And we were on the way to building that. We had to, uh, well over 150 folks, um, since that time, we know that right now in Florida there is only one disability integration advisor on the ground and in Georgia, there is no one specifically working with the state of Georgia. So the ability to provide that qualified expertise is just not in place.
Tanzina Vega: Marcie Roth is the CEO of the Partnership for inclusive disaster strategies and she formerly served as the director of the Office of disability integration and coordination. Marcie, thanks for joining us.