From: mquigley@ncd.gov  (Mark Quigley)
 
 

NEWS FEATURE NCD #02-385
September 10, 2002
Contact: Mark S. Quigley
202-272-2004
202-272-2074 TTY

National Council on Disability Feature:
Homeland Security, September 11, and People with Disabilities



WASHINGTON-The National Council on Disability (NCD) released its 2001 annual National Disability Policy: A Progress Report (http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/progressreport_07-26-02.html ) on July 26, 2002. The Report highlights a number of issues including homeland security and its impact on people with disabilities.

From a term that would have evoked various interpretations and a great deal of puzzlement among the general public as recently as last summer, "homeland security" has emerged as a central concern of government and citizens and as a major component of national, state, and local budgets. As we commemorate the horrific occurrences of September 11, 2001, and as we plan for how our nation will respond to contingencies that we all hope will never occur again, the presence among us of 54 million Americans with disabilities must not be overlooked or forgotten.

Experience in the grim and terrifying hours of September 11 illustrates many of the issues facing this segment of our population.

* People who are deaf often could not follow news reports on TV, because of the lack of captions. If life-and-death instructions were conveyed by the emergency warning broadcast system today, would their accessibility to people who cannot hear be ensured?
* Evacuation plans for major buildings and facilities did not always include provisions to ensure that people with disabilities could have an equal chance of exiting the building. If a major facility had to be evacuated today, would occupants who are blind have the means of knowing the location of emergency exits? Would people using wheelchairs know where to go or what to do if elevators were turned off? Would people who cannot hear be alerted by visual alarms to the need for swift action? Would people with vocal communication disabilities be heard when rescuers searched for those in need of help?

To put the matter in yet starker terms, if a nuclear facility were to be the target of terrorism and public health officials were to distribute potassium iodide to protect the populace against the effects of radiation, would people with disabilities know where to get it, have physical access to the distribution centers, be able to open the packages or seals, or be able to read the usage instructions?

As the imperatives of domestic security and national preparedness make more vividly clear than ever, these concerns are far from abstract. It is easy to say that someone would help them, would do it for them, but is that comforting expectation enough? In too many instances, NCD has learned of the emergence of assumptions and stereotypes of people with disabilities-for example, restricting the access of people with disabilities to lower levels of workplaces, places of public accommodations, and housing. This treatment flies in the face of the closely held values of independence and freedom in the disability community.

The recently published NCD Progress Report covers many issues bearing on the equality of opportunity and equality of treatment. These do not cease to be real in the face of emergency. Let us learn from our tragedy and let us use our solidarity and shared sense of national purpose to ensure accessibility and equality, not only in our reaction to danger but as well in the pursuit of our hopes. The values we embrace and offer to others are not values for some. They are nothing if not values for all.

For more information, contact Mark Quigley at 202-272-2004 or Celane McWhorter at 703-683-1166.
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