NCD Letter to FEMA Regarding Office of Disability Integration and Coordination

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January 12, 2017

W. Craig Fugate
Administrator
Federal Emergency Management Agency
500 C St. SW.
Washington DC 20024

Dear Administrator Fugate:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability--an independent, nonpartisan federal agency charged with providing advice to Congress, the President, and other federal agencies on matters affecting the lives of people with disabilities--to urge you to affirm the importance and future of FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination (ODIC) to your stakeholders, the disabled community.

NCD has enjoyed its long history of working closely with FEMA and are well aware of your personal and professional commitment to the safety of people with disabilities before, during, and after emergencies. However, NCD is deeply concerned regarding the sudden vacancy of the Director of ODIC and urge you to publicly affirm that the position is not in jeopardy and that FEMA intends to adequately resource the office so that the ODIC office will continue to operate as it has since 2010 to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are addressed during all phases of emergency management. Unfortunately, history has repeatedly shown that the concerns of people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs in emergency situations are frequently overlooked or minimized, notwithstanding the great urgency that surrounds the need to respond to the disability community’s concerns in all phases of emergency management, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Prior to the establishment of ODIC in 2010, many people with disabilities felt they were treated as expendable in a national emergency. ODIC has changed public perception and policy so that people with disabilities now feel their needs are being addressed and they have a seat at the table.

For instance, temporary housing modules provided by FEMA are now wheelchair accessible and designed to meet the needs of those with sensory disabilities. FEMA and Portlight LLC signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which Portlight provides conferences in an informal environment so that people with disabilities and emergency managers are able to come together and foster inclusive disaster planning and fully accessible disaster services. Emphasis has now been placed on ensuring that emergency shelters are accessible to all people with disabilities. For example, ensuring that the building and bathrooms comply with ADA structural requirements and that interpreters are available.

In short, ODIC has improved the outcomes of people with disabilities before, during and, after an emergency, and absent an affirmative statement to the contrary, the disability community is concerned that this vacancy signals a step backward in protections and consideration for people with disabilities in emergency management. Should FEMA affirm the position and the office as permanent and unchanged, it is also affirming that the disability community is a valued resource and not expendable either. To dispel the potential for misinformation and unnecessary anxiety on the part of many in the disability community, we strongly encourage you to speak directly and thoroughly on the matter at the earliest opportunity, and we are very glad to help disseminate your message across our communication channels, as well.

If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact Amy Nicholas at anicholas@ncd.gov. Thank you.

Respectfully,

Clyde Terry                                                                                                                 
Chairperson