In the Episode:
In the latest episode of the Living With Fire Podcast titled "Wildfire & the Whole Community," host Megan Kay and Living With Fire Manager Jamie Roice-Gomes delve into the critical need for inclusivity and accessibility in disaster preparedness. Expert guests Heather Lafferty and Kimberly Palma-Ortega shed light on the challenges faced by individuals with Access and Functional Needs (AFN) during emergencies and the necessary steps to ensure their safety and well-being.
Drawing from real-world examples, Lafferty and Palma-Ortega describe the complex challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and those who have AFN during disasters. They also underscore the substantial disparity in outcomes between those with disabilities and those without. For example, Lafferty explains that 70% of deaf people who are evacuated during a disaster reported living in unsanitary conditions a month after the disaster as opposed to just 7% of individuals who are not deaf.
Lafferty, the Coordinator for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as AFN at the Nevada Division of Emergency Management, points out that even though only 28% of Nevadans identify themselves as having a disability, a considerably broader demographic – roughly 67-70% of the state's population – have varying levels of AFN. Lafferty emphasizes that as a result, "a significant portion of Nevada's population is in danger of facing these challenges, limitations, and hurdles during a disaster."
Palma-Ortega serves as a Public Health Liaison at the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. She emphasizes that in order to improve outcomes for people with disabilities and access and functional needs, emergency managers must incorporate accessibility from the outset when designing programs and systems, rather than treating accessibility as an afterthought. “Instead of making [accessibility] an add-on, put it as a build-on,” Palma-Ortega explains.
In Nevada, collaborative efforts are addressing disparities in outcomes for those with disabilities and access needs after disasters. Among the initiatives recently launched is the Nevada Access and Functional Needs Disaster Coalition, a comprehensive workgroup encompassing government organizations, NGOs, private industry, and disability community partners. Their efforts focus on inclusive planning alongside the disability community, shifting from designing for them to designing with them.