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Children With Disabilities More Vulnerable To Disasters

  • Published: 2010-09-23 : News & Information Services.
  • Synopsis: Children with disabilities are especially vulnerable to the effects of disasters.

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With National Preparedness Month in full swing, a research paper co-authored by a Texas A&M University professor suggests that children "particularly children with disabilities - are especially vulnerable to the effects of disasters.

The review that appears in the journal Child Development is co-authored by Laura Stough of Texas A&M and Lori Peek of Colorado State University. Stough is an associate professor of the Department of Educational Psychology at Texas A&M, as well as interdisciplinary education director at the Center on Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, where she also conducts research in special education, disability studies and disaster.

Laura Stough "Children with mobility-related disabilities may be placed even more physically at-risk during disasters if they are unable to evacuate in a timely manner," Stough says. "Disasters can be particularly hazardous for children with medical disabilities who rely on electricity for their medical supports or who need medical care while they are sheltering away from home,"

In addition, children with intellectual disabilities might not understand or might have difficulty following evacuation and sheltering instructions.

Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been a national push to increase public and personal disaster readiness, including developing an emergency plan, knowing the best routes for evacuation and how to communicate with family members if cellular phone service goes down. Stough notes that disaster plans should include the special needs of children, including those with disabilities and medical issues.

"It is important for children to stay with their family members, whenever possible, when evacuating in anticipation of or during a disaster. Parents and other family members know best about what their children need, and families of children with disabilities often fill a special role in providing functional support needs for their child," she says.

"It also is important for children with disabilities "and actually all children "to be able to return to their educational routines as soon as possible following disasters. Educational recovery is often overlooked as an important part of the recovery process, and schools and teachers are a very important part of the lives of most children."

Stough adds that part of the reason that children with disabilities can be more vulnerable to disaster is due to poverty.

"Children with disabilities throughout the world disproportionately live in poverty and yet are highly dependent on public infrastructure such as hospitals, buses, sidewalks and social service systems," Stough says. "The increase in property destruction worldwide due to natural disasters in recent years disproportionately affects children with disabilities."

About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.

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