The Effects of Disaster on the Mental Health of Individuals with Disabilities
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© Cambridge University Press 2009. INTRODUCTION Hemingway and Priestley (2006) report that “specific vulnerabilities arise at the intersections of disability, class, gender, and ethnicity” and conclude that people with disabilities “are disproportionately vulnerable to natural hazards primarily as a consequence of social disadvantage, poverty, and structural exclusion” (p. 54). However, while a limited number of studies have examined the physical and social impacts of disaster on individuals with disabilities, the extent to which disasters affect the mental health of individuals with disabilities is rarely addressed. In this chapter, I review results from studies that have systematically studied the effects of disaster on individuals with disabilities and whose results contribute to our understanding of the psychological impact of disaster on this population. Defining Disability Individuals with disabilities represent a significant portion of the population, accounting for 19.3% of the total U.S. population (Bault, 2008). The percent of population considered to have a disability varies geographically; in general, poorer communities and most of the U.S. southern states report higher disability rates. The National Organization on Disability estimated that over 23% of the population in New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina were individuals with a disability (National Organization on Disability, 2005a) and reported that it was “clear that a disproportionate number of [hurricane-related] fatalities were people with disabilities” (National Organization on Disability, 2005b). Statistics released support these observations and suggest that of those deaths directly attributable to Katrina, a disproportionate number were elderly or individuals with preexisting disabilities (Aldrich & Benson, 2008; Bourque, Siegel, Kano, & Wood, 2006).
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Mental Health and Disasters