For The IDD Community, Disasters Strike Differently
Recent research by Laura Stough, an intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) scholar in the Department of Education Psychology at Texas A&M University, points out the flaws of crisis management for the IDD community and shows where there is room to improve.
Stough has firsthand experience handling natural disasters. She served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer during Hurricane Katrina. She saw the lack of equitable access for the IDD community during her service and realized changes needed to be made.
“I started questioning, ‘What’s happening with people with IDD during this disaster? Why have I never thought about emergency preparedness as an important social support for people with IDD?’” Stough said.
Stough conducts research at the intersection of disaster and disability, and serves as assistant director of the Center on Disability and Development and is a faculty fellow at the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center at Texas A&M.
Stough’s recent research examines the psychological, educational and social effects of disaster on children and youth with IDDs during the 2017 California wildfires. She found that emergency management often lacks inclusion of the IDD community. This marginalization is in part due to social stigmas which have been in existence for thousands of years.
“We have a big hurdle in the IDD field given the pervasive stigma that people with IDDs continue to experience,” Stough said. “With respect to disasters, and with respect to the current pandemic, this stigma can mean the difference between life and death.”
The IDD community often struggles during natural disasters due to lack of knowledge and barriers to access in our society, Stough said. Her research argues there is a great need to incorporate the IDD community into issues of disaster and emergency practice.
“People with IDDs are marginalized in many areas: education, employment, transportation, and my research has revealed this also holds true for disasters and hazards like COVID-19,” Stough said.
Stough aims to support this group during times of natural disaster because they are disproportionately at risk of experiencing health conditions, injury and property loss. She said research and development would help identify the best emergency management practices for these individuals during times of disaster.
“If we can focus on how to make our infrastructure more durable and remove barriers to access to disaster services for people with IDDs, these actions will also support similar problem solving you have to do for other populations,” Stough said.
There is also a need to better understand how the global pandemic disproportionately affects the IDD community, she said.
“Research suggests that people with developmental disabilities are two to five times more likely to die from COVID-19,” Stough said. “We need disaggregation of public health and emergency preparedness data so we can look at the specific impacts on people with IDDs due to COVID-19.”
In addition to doing more research, Stough said it is important to make resources available to the IDD community during times of emergency or disaster.
The REDDy Directory and the Directory of Community Resources are resources Stough created to pave the way for locating community resources for people with disabilities during times of crisis.
“These are translational projects where we consider the research we have of how difficult it is for people with IDDs to get resources during and after disasters, and we’ve translated it into applications that can address that difficulty,” she said.
Stough said that research on experiences of the disability community with emergency preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation can help close the gap of inequities of communities affected during environmental disasters.