Sunday, August 31, 2008

Disaster Awareness and Disability

Today the victims of hurricane Katrina are being remembered even as the residents of the same area so devastated by that storm get out of the way of nature's new menace, Gustav.

I have always been glad that I do not live in that area, first for the heat and humidity, and then because of the preponderance of hurricanes. Wind and water are such a devastating combination. I wish the hurricane would fizzle out, but that isn't the way that they work over the warm water south of our southern coast.

This area is so important to our economy because of the trade up and down the Mississippi and the oil rigs that sit in the hurricane's path. Oil prices may again rise to the stratosphere both in anticipation of this storm and it's actual aftermath.

I am glad to see people fleeing this time. The image from three years ago that has never left my memory or my heart is that of a blanket thrown over the corpse of someone who died in his/her wheelchair in the Super Dome. I could so easily have been that person.

What has changed since then? A better emergency plan does seem to exist, but does it include the disabled? Will the poor, disabled simply be left behind?

So far as I can see nothing has changed for the disabled per se. This is due, in large measure, in my opinion because we, the disabled, ourselves are never asked what our needs are. We are never included, except in kluge government programs that serve the originator of the programs as well as other bureaucrats and not those of us who need to be included in our nation's economy.

Last week we had several days of excessive heat warning in our area. Nothing is said about checking on the disabled, it's always the elderly and pets. (Well, I nearly qualify in the first category, but not in the second.)

While the heat was bearing down on me and making daily life difficult, I received a telemarketing call from the Social Security Administration about the "ticket to work". So far as I could tell when the program was inaugurated eight or so years ago, it was not going to do me any good. They are finally getting to me now--just before my 61st birthday and one year before I should be old enough to retire. Sigh.

I am one of those millions of people who watched and listened to Obama accept the nomination for the Presidency of the United States. Just as in Kerry's speech four years earlier all kinds of people where mentioned as people who will be helped if he is elected. I hope that he will be elected, but just as four years ago one group was left out--Americans with disabilities. Where are we? When will we be included? When will our talents be recognized? When will we be able to bring our gifts to the table and join in the feast and the celebration?

As I did four years ago, I cried while listening to the acceptance speech. What has changed? Not much. I hope that no people are being left behind in the evacuation of the Gulf region who will be found drowned in their wheelchairs after the disaster passes. I hope there will be no disabled missing because they were left waiting, as they were in the World Trade Center, until the able-bodied could be evacuated ahead of them.

This country has miles to go before we meet the needs of all of our citizens. I have a dream, as Martin Luther King did, and I hope that I will live long enough to see it met, that disabled people will no longer be forced to live in poverty simply because we are disabled. That the disabled will no longer comprise a large percentage of the homeless population in our major cities. Let us eliminate poverty and make sure that the plans include the disabled. Please.

No comments: