Population segments with disabilities
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As a whole, scholars suggest that individuals with disabilities are disproportionately affected by disaster (Fox, White, Rooney, and Rowland, 2007; Hemingway and Priestley, 2006; McGuire, Ford, and Okoro, 2007; National Council on Disability, 2009; Peek and Stough, 2010). However, few empirical studies have been conducted on the effects of disasters on individuals with disabilities, and to our knowledge, no published data is available on the effects of tornadoes on this population. However, we believe findings from research conducted on the elderly can be reasonably extrapolated for two reasons. First, the two groups share commonalities in how they are vulnerable to disasters. For example, both individuals with disabilities and elderly adults often evidence similar specific physical disabilities, such as mobility disabilities or sensory impairments. Both also experience socio-economic vulnerabilities, such as poverty, unemployment, or living in housing prone to disaster hazards at disproportionately higher rates. In addition, these types of vulnerabilities are often layered in these two groups leading to cases in which individuals are exposed to multiple risk factors. Second, individuals with disabilities and elderly adults do not represent two distinct groups. In fact, most adults will acquire a disability, if only temporarily, at some time during their lifetime. In addition, as adults age, they tend to acquire disabilities, such as hearing losses, visual impairments, and cognitive disabilities, and the severity and number of these disabilities tend to increase with an individuals longevity. Finally, given recent advances in medical science, individuals with disabilities are living longer and increasingly joining the elderly adult demographic. As a result, the two groups overlap substantially, while sharing similar vulnerabilities. We argue here that research is particularly warranted on the effects of tornadoes on individuals with disabilities given the large prevalence of this population throughout the world, the intensity of their social vulnerabilities in disaster, and recent federal mandates that specify equal access for individuals with disabilities to emergency preparedness and response services.