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Nobody Left Behind: Consumer Experiences of Emergency and Disaster

By Catherine Rooney

As part of the research project titled, Nobody Left Behind: Disaster Preparedness for Persons with Mobility Impairments, conducted at the Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, an online consumer survey was administered on the study’s Web site. Anyone who had experienced a disaster or emergency situation and has a mobility impairment was eligible to fill-out the survey about his or her experiences. For the purposes of the survey, a person with a mobility impairment was defined as someone who has moderate to complete difficulty in walking, or moderate to complete difficulty moving around using equipment.

Feedback from the survey included personal descriptions of the circumstances that persons with mobility impairments found themselves in during a disaster or emergency situation. These powerful statements provide insight into the shortcomings of the many current emergency management and response systems in the United States.

Overall, participants reported that evacuation plans in public areas are often not addressing the evacuation needs of persons with mobility impairments, as they are at times being left behind without a plan of escape, or left at stairwells or elevators while others are escaping to safety. Other frightening and sometimes life-threatening situations occur when infrastructures fail. These include electrical power outages for extended periods of time and non-accessible transportation, shelter, and temporary lodging. The disaster recovery efforts for persons with disabilities are often not seen as a priority of others involved, thus placing persons with disabilities at risk of losing their independence, mobility, and health. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in existence for more than 15 years, yet disaster-related services can still be found to be inaccessible and disaster-related personnel uninformed of the needs of persons with disabilities and how to assist them.

What Consumers Have Said

The following are consumer survey participants’ statements recorded on the Nobody Left Behind research study’s Web site as of May 15, 2005:

The following are additional consumer survey participants’ statements taken from the online survey:


More participants’ statements on problems and issues encountered during disasters or emergencies, lessons learned, and recommendations on future directions for exploration to assist persons with mobility impairments to survive disasters and emergencies can be found on the Nobody Left Behind Web site at To address these problems described by survey participants, changes need to be made, creative solutions explored and developed, and existing ADA regulations reinforced. These efforts will most assuredly make an improvement in the health, safety and well-being of all Americans and help assure that nobody is left behind in a disaster or emergency situation.


The report from which this was taken was created by the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at the University of Kansas by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine, TS#-0840.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from “Report #1: Consumer Survey Quotes” (May 15, 2005), by Catherine Rooney, published by the Nobody Left Behind project of the Research and Training Center on Independent Living, University of Kansas, Lawrence. Retrieved June 6, 2007 from Catherine Rooney is Project Coordinator of the Nobody Left Behind project, and may be reached at 785/864-4095, 785/864-0706 (TDD), or by e-mail at


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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota ( Citation: Moseley, C., Salmi, P., Johnstone, C. & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Spring/Summer 2007). Impact: Feature Issue on Disaster Preparedness and People with Disabilities, 20(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration].

The PDF version of this Impact, with photos and graphics, is also online at

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