Assemblymember Paulin's Able Column
Emergency Evacuation Plans for People with Disabilities
January 2006

Happy New Year! I hope that this issue of Able finds all of its readers in good health and energized to make 2006 a successful year of advocating for the issues most important to New York's disability community. As I have mentioned in previous Able columns, the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities sets its priorities, based on great part, according to what we hear are the top concerns from people with disabilities and disability advocates.

To that end, we recognize that the shortage of accessible and affordable housing for people with disabilities is a crisis that must be addressed, and we plan to continue to fight for the measures we have developed with many of you to help solve this problem. We also realize that certain protections included in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been chipped away at through U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent years, and therefore we have been taking several steps to offer ADA protections on the state level as well. In addition, we know that extending the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC) to people with disabilities is of utmost importance to the disability community. These are a few of the issues that the Task Force hears about often, and because of that, these are issues that we will continue to address as aggressively as possible, for as long as it takes, in order to resolve them.

However, there is another important matter that we feel needs to be tackled immediately. In light of the recent hurricanes that our country weathered, and of course the tragedy of September 11th, the issue of emergency preparedness - especially for people with disabilities - has taken on a new light. As you are already probably aware, people with disabilities faced dilemmas unlike those of their families, friends and colleagues in their attempts to escape these disasters - some of which cost them the services they relied on, their homes - and even their lives. I am also aware of several instances in high-rise buildings in Albany during recent months, both during fire drills and real emergency situations, where the evacuation of people with disabilities has not gone smoothly.

Clearly, situations such as these are absolutely unacceptable. To begin with, the Task Force is working on legislation that will require every high-rise building owner to establish and maintain an emergency evacuation plan for people with disabilities who have notified the owner of their need for assistance.

We realize that this is the first step of many that need to be taken in order to ensure that people with disabilities are able to evacuate an emergency situation safely and in a timely manner. We are in the preliminary stages of developing an agenda to address this issue and therefore are seeking input from people with disabilities regarding their experiences in evacuating a building or other location during any type of disaster. Please contact my Task Force office at 518-455-4592 with any comments or suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you and working on this issue in the months to come.

New York State Assembly
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