Wednesday, June 1, 2011

FEMA deploys help for disabled storm victims in Alabama, other states affected by tornadoes

From The Daily Home in Ala.:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has deployed several disability integration specialists to regions around the country in an effort to assist any disabled persons who have been displaced because of a tornado.

These specialists are there to ensure that those with special needs are getting assistance.

FEMA has divided the country into 10 regions, each with its own disability integration specialist. Kate McCarthy-Barnett is the specialist for Alabama.

“The issues of people with disabilities has been a focus of FEMA for years but we have just strengthened that focus with the opening of the Office of Disability Integration,” Barnett said.

“Basically, what that office does is provide tools and provides whole communities with assistance, including those with disabilities,” Barnett said.

The office was started in February 2010, and targeted the disabled populations in each region in an effort to engage whole communities in disaster relief.

“Many have access and functional needs,” Barnett said. “We’re really looking at 20 percent of our population. We’re really focusing on 20 percent of the population that may need assistance now in addition to other functional needs.”

Specialists like Barnett work together with the Governor’s Office of Disability, independent living centers, and other organizations tailored to people with disabilities, to implement three primary focuses — physical, communication and programmatic needs.

In terms of physical needs, Barnett said the goal is to ensure that FEMA shelters and recovery centers are fully accessible with ramps and other accommodations that allow everyone, disabled or not, to enter the building.

“We’re working with the state to ensure materials are provided in different ways, with large print, Braille, and also ensuring that we have sign language interpreters available when we have open meetings in the community,” Barnett said in reference to communication needs.

As far as programmatic needs, Barnett said, “We’re looking at all our program’s messaging policies and making sure all of those are fully accessible to those with disabilities.

“Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind is in Talladega, so we have been working with them to make sure all their needs are met.”

Barnett said there are 35 organizations in Alabama, like the Red Cross, dedicated to improving the lives of disabled people, and in the city of Talladega, FEMA is looking to engage all members of the community in any way it can.