Video: How People With Disabilities Helped Shape New Orleans’ Disaster Policy

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans disability activists talk about the city’s lack of accessible disaster plans and what they’ve done to change it.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 10 years ago, nearly half a million people with disabilities were affected. This heartbreaking documentary, made by the disability-rights organization Rooted in Rights, tells the story of people with disabilities who were affected by the hurricane and explains how lives could have been saved with a more accessible evacuation plan.

Everyone has a right to be rescued. 

People with disabilities may have a harder time evacuating their neighborhood or in some cases a harder time even receiving information about a disaster in the first place. But Rooted in Rights argues that everyone has a right to be rescued. Accessible disaster planning requires going beyond considering where to shelter people. Things like access to medication and accessible transportation and shelters must also be considered.

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans formed a coalition of disability activists who developed the Special Needs Registry. The registry asks people with disabilities to call in and report basic information about where they live and what type of assistance they would require in the case of a citywide emergency.

Then, if an evacuation does take place, city officials can look at the Special Needs Registry and see where they should send buses with wheelchair lifts or what type of medical aid should be available in which shelters.

And it’s not just happening in New Orleans. Places like Los Angeles and New York City are also making changes to their disaster planning to ensure that it’s accessible to all of their residents.