Utter devastation. The magnitude and relentlessness of — is beyond comprehension. The lives of millions of people have been turned upside down in Texas. Louisiana is now being drenched by Harvey. We watch roads turn into waterways while dismantled houses float upon them. Residents’ belongings are buried in the debris while they escape with just wet clothes clinging to their bodies. Everyone is grateful to the thousands of emergency response employees and volunteers who have extended themselves beyond imagination to rescue people they not yet know.

People with Disabilities Are Hit Hard During Disasters

The devastation is multiplied many times for people with disabilities. It is much more difficult for them to escape and to secure what they need. Many must risk waiting in their homes until they are rescued. Many need to access their medications and regular medical treatments. Many rely on hired personal care assistance services for getting dressed and going to the bathroom. History will inform us how effectively emergency management teams anticipated and addressed these issues.

People with disabilities are nervously anticipating what life will be like after the evacuation center. Will their modified homes still be intact? Where will anyone living on SSI or other low-income source and who lost property find affordable accessible housing? Will power wheelchairs left at home still exist and operate? Where will the replacements for damaged, lost, or stolen medical equipment come from? How quickly? How long will it take for public accessible transit systems to resume normal operation?

Organizations on the Frontlines

Anyone needing immediate assistance should contact 911 or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).For help with recovery, go to DisasterAssistance.gov.

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) throughout Texas and Louisiana are or will be the first or second points of contact for people with obvious or hidden disabilities whose lives have been torn asunder or otherwise disrupted by Harvey.  The links to CIL directories for each state are:

Jewish Organizations Involved in Disaster Relief

The organizations listed immediately below are located in and continually serve local Jewish communities, specialize in disaster response and/or are able to address the needs and concerns of Torah observant communities in affected areas.

We, at Yad HaChazakah, are contacting the above mentioned Jewish organizations to ensure that they are aware of the unique concerns of people with disabilities and of the local centers for independent living that can serve as essential resources.

May everyone who is affected by Hurricane Harvey find comfort and recover completely and speedily. Please do share this with anyone who might benefit from the information herein.

Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, Founding Executive Director of Yad HaChazakah – The Jewish Disability Empowerment Center, Inc., envisions Jewish communities where people with obvious or hidden disabilities are sought and valued for the strengths they bring. In her vision, leaders and community members will want to improve physical, communication, and attitudinal access to shuls, yeshivas, batei midrash, workplaces, shops, and family life — not only for the benefit to specific individuals, but also for the enrichment of entire communities. She has worked in the disability policy and human services arenas for over 25 years.