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Disabled individuals particularly affected by Hurricane Sandy

As many New Jersey readers are aware, Hurricane Sandy interrupted the lives of many workers in New Jersey and along the Eastern seaboard. In addition to much destruction, the mail was interrupted for several days, resulting in delayed payments to many Social Security disability beneficiaries. However, the latest storm particularly affected the disabled in tragic ways, and members of a class action lawsuit hope to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

Earlier this month, a federal judge granted class-action status to a group of plaintiffs suing a major municipal government. Their complaint alleges that the city's lack of a comprehensive plan for the evacuation of people with disabilities puts them at a disproportionate risk of injury and death. The plaintiffs hope that the problems that many disabled people encountered during Hurricane Sandy and last year's Hurricane Irene won't be repeated during future natural disasters.

Many advocates for disability rights say that it's only common sense to know that the disabled -- those who can't see, hear, walk, or have a mental disorder -- may be at a greater disadvantage during a natural disaster.

In addition, the class-action claim may have some historical support. Although there's not an official count of disabled people who died in the latest storm, the AARP did compile statistics of elderly fatalities in Hurricane Katrina. While people over the age of 60 made up only 15% of the population of New Orleans, they comprised 73 percent of Hurricane Katrina's fatalities. Many of the affected elderly likely had mobility or sensory impairments, resulting in limitations similar to those faced by many disabled.

Activists urge local governments to prepare for natural disasters by having accessible shelters that are well-publicized to the disabled population. Other helpful accommodations might include accessible transportation that accommodates power chairs, and registries to help emergency personnel.

Until such measures are adopted, however, disabled workers who in New Jersey and nationwide are advised to plan ahead and organize a plan in the event of emergency. For example, those who require electricity-dependent devices should maintain a back-up reserve. An emergency contact list -- with information that includes multiple contact options, including work, home and cell phone numbers, as well as email information -- should also be maintained and kept in an accessible place.

Source: amny.com, "Disabled people especially vulnerable in calamities such as Sandy," Sheila Anne Feeney, Nov. 19, 2012

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