Remembering Those with Disabilities Before, During And After the Hurricane

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File photo: Antonio Hugo, Shutter Stock, licensed.
The State of Florida encourages the public, especially citizens with disabilities and other special needs, to plan ahead for an emergency situation and know what to do in the event of an emergency. File photo: Antonio Hugo, Shutter Stock, licensed.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – In an appeal to the public as Hurricane Ian barreled toward Florida, an advocate for persons with disabilities urged everyone to consider checking in with neighbors, friends or family members who may benefit from a helping hand.

Mandy Bianchi, executive director of the group Ability1st, wrote a column in the Tallahassee Democrat published the morning before the then-Category 4 storm made landfall in Southwest Florida, explaining those who are vulnerable have a lot more to consider during hurricane preparedness, including obstacles such as getting emergency notification and transportation; evacuation; sheltering; access to medications, refrigeration, and backup power.

“For people who need oxygen or a CPAP machine or anything along those lines, if we lose power that is really a frightening situation for people who rely on those type of devices,” Bianchi pointed out.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 adults in Florida has a disability, which is more than 4.5 million people.

Bianchi stressed it is important to think before, during and after the storm about any person who might be in need of help, and to check on them. She added if you are scared of what could happen during a storm, they might be even more so, and every little bit counts.

Bianchi’s organization works across six Florida counties and provides services to people who are homeless. She is also shedding light on being available to assist those with mental-health needs.

“For people who have mental-health concerns, just knowing that somebody is nearby or can call and check on them, it’s just a comforting feeling to know that they are not going to be forgotten about or left behind,” Bianchi advised.

Almost immediately after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, the National Council on Disability estimated there were roughly 155,000 people with disabilities over the age of 5, or about 25 % of the cities’ populations, living in the three cities hardest hit by the hurricane.

Federal agencies such as FEMA, as well as Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, provides guidelines on the best ways to plan and support those with disabilities.

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