An investigation by The Mighty found that guidance given to schools forces students with disabilities, teachers and parents to dictate what needs to happen amidst a crisis.
With minimal training, inaccessible recommendations and guidelines that offer little beyond “considering disability,” students, parents and teachers are left few resources to navigate these life-or-death scenarios. It is often their responsibility to make sure the person with a disability is included in the school’s plan — a burden required of no other student demographic.
“The standard recommendation now is more or less ‘run, hide, fight,’” said Irwin Redlener, M.D., director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “Depending on the person with a disability, it may be very difficult to do any of those steps, and under those circumstances, the school, in advance, needs to think about the needs of people in the school.”
The Mighty reached out to every state office responsible for emergency preparedness at schools across the country to understand how drills are handled at the state and local level. Twenty-nine states responded to our initial request, and 16 responded to questions about emergency preparedness for people with disabilities, though other states had general information about guidelines for people with disabilities on their websites. Eleven states said plans should include all students, including those with a disability. Three — Arkansas, Oregon and South Dakota — said they did not have any disability language in their policies.
While having a person with a disability on these teams could result in safer protocols for disabled students and staff, people with disabilities are rarely included in these discussions. In 2012, the Missouri School Boards’ Association discovered that many schools in the state did not include “special services representatives” and nurses on their planning teams — nor did the plans consider the disabilities and medical conditions of students and staff when creating, reviewing and practicing emergency response plans. Later that year, the state created a task force to address emergency preparedness for students and staff with disabilities.