Survey Results Reveal Alarming Danger Faced by People with Disabilities During Winter Storm

Posted on

April 6, 2021

Edie Surtees, Communications Director

Winter Storm Uri Leaves People with Disabilities in Danger
Though Storm Has Passed, Others Will Come

AUSTINThe statewide power and water outages in Texas during Winter Storm Uri bring critical attention to the fact that the state was ill-prepared to protect its own citizens and especially those with disabilities despite having time and opportunity. During a disaster, people with disabilities are even more vulnerable when infrastructure fails because they often heavily rely on technology, transportation or in-home care.

Today, Disability Rights Texas released a report summarizing findings from a survey answered by nearly 600 people asking Texans with disabilities how Winter Storm Uri impacted them. Key findings include:

  • 75% lost power for 24 hours or longer (22% for 4 days or longer)
  • 45% of those who lost power believed they were in danger
  • 80% lost water for 24 hours or longer (32% for 4 days or longer)
  • 57% were not signed up for emergency alerts
  • For the 43% that were signed up for emergency alerts, 73% said the alerts were not accessible (for example, no audio for people who are blind, or no captions or ASL for people who are deaf)
  • 6% were signed up with STEAR (the State of Texas Emergency Assistance Registry)
  • 6% were signed up for the Critical Care Registry with their electric provider
  • More than half of survey respondents had never heard of these registries.

Though the survey did not ask specifically about all issues, written comments from respondents revealed critical problems with:

  • Spoilage of life-saving medication that requires refrigeration
  • Lack of access to medications and critical in-home healthcare assistance
  • Inability to use breathing devices or mobility equipment that depend on electric power
  • Trauma causing mental health problems
  • Additional trauma for those already experiencing mental health issues
  • Loss of food due to spoilage and limited financial means to replace
  • Financial strain of paying for repairs due to broken pipes, fallen tree limbs, and more

“It was dangerous and painful,” said one survey respondent. “l’m disabled and have 3 children living with me with disabilities. It was 12 degrees with no way to warm up. Food got spoiled, my insulin was not good. Power got restored around me but my power was out for 6 days. Why?? It was not fair the way they restored service. Some neighborhoods did not [lose] power at all.”

“Between hurricanes, fires, freezes and floods, Texas has experienced its fair share of disasters in recent years. Texas has had ample time to fulfill its obligation to plan for such events and to include the disability community in the planning,” said Sean Jackson, Supervising Attorney at DRTx. “Winter Storm Uri is another example of what happens when state and local governments do not plan for or effectively provide inclusive disaster and emergency services.”

The DRTx report includes detailed recommendations in each of the following categories:

  • Ensure all disaster planning is inclusive of people with disabilities.
  • Improve notification systems ahead of disasters.
  • Disaster planning for cold weather events, including weatherization, should be treated as a priority for the State of Texas.

“It’s going to happen again, but the question is, is Texas finally going to do something about it?” asked Jackson. “Lives are at stake, and people with disabilities in Texas need the state to take swift action before the next disaster strikes.”

Read the full survey report attached below.

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Disability Rights Texas is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.

Attached documents