Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) advocates for the rights of disabled people before, during, and after a state declared disaster/pandemic. 

Since 2018, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, DRNC has been connecting and advocating with and for disabled people who are the most hard-hit by disasters. Our vigorous legal advocacy for people with disabilities has continued during the pandemic.  

The intersection of poverty, segregation and racism affects the disabled people DRNC serves in many ways, and these factors are magnified in times of crisis. DRNC sees inequities in long-term disaster recovery for many of our clients. Disabled people have disproportionately been relegated to unsafe, flood-prone parts of the state, and they experience homelessness and housing instability even before disaster strikes. These hardships are exacerbated during disasters. Many households with disabilities are living on the margins due to lost jobs, underemployment, lack of savings, unstable housing, and gross inequities in health care and other resources. Almost four years after Hurricane Florence, many people with disabilities are still awaiting funding that will assist them with their recovery, and there remains a dire, unacceptable shortage of affordable, accessible housing.  

At the same time, the pandemic has disproportionately harmed and killed disabled people, and continues to put them at greater risk as our society seeks to move forward. Advocacy, outreach, education, technical assistance, and access to vaccines and public health services and supports are required to assist the most vulnerable disabled people and ensure emergency response and recovery systems adequately address their needs. DRNC will continue fighting for justice with and for our clients. 

How it started – The Storm after the Storm – advocacy in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence 

When Hurricane Florence slammed into the east coast of NC in September 2018, DRNC used our access authority to monitor the status of people with disabilities in emergency shelters. Within 47 days, DRNC staff visited 26 shelters and communicated directly with more than 300 displaced individuals, over 150 shelter staff, and other service providers. DRNC observed significant inconsistencies in the resources available to survivors and found that well-trained, attentive staff provide far better outcomes for individuals with disabilities. DRNC determined that many of the dislocations and traumas observed could be avoided if future disaster plans, responses and recovery efforts were more inclusive and respectful of people with various kinds of disabilities. We published our findings and recommendations in the report, The Storm after the Storm.

DRNC’s disaster recovery project  

In response to the needs and gaps we uncovered after Hurricane Florence, DRNC formed our disaster recovery team, funded through the generous support of donors including Portlight Strategies, Operation USA, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, the American Red Cross and the NC Community Foundation. We made great strides to address not only the victims of Hurricane Florence, but also to prepare for future disasters and make sure that the needs of people with disabilities were being considered and their voices heard. 

Advocacy during a pandemic 

As DRNC responded to disabled households harmed by Florence and planned for the next natural disaster, the global COVID-19 pandemic threatened all North Carolinians. People in rural, historically marginalized communities, communities of color, areas of high poverty and disabled people were hit the hardest. Because DRNC’s disaster recovery team was already established as trusted change agents in these communities, we were able to pivot our efforts and provide resources, advocacy and support across the state, and assess and respond to unique needs related to the pandemic.  

What’s next? 

DRNC staff members Iris Green and Curtis Hill continue to work with DRNC staff, volunteers, community leaders and sister agencies to prepare for future disasters and provide information and support around COVID-19 issues and vaccines. Our latest initiative, Project ACCESS (All Communities Count Equitably for Safety and Support), is DRNC’s statewide COVID-19 vaccine initiative (funded by the Administration on Community Living) to increase access to vaccines for people with disabilities, including older adults. What started as a response to a specific event and need has developed into an ongoing advocacy effort that continues to grow DRNC’s reach across the state, providing additional opportunities for much-needed legal advocacy, outreach, education, technical assistance, and access to vaccines for disabled North Carolinians. 

COVID-19 Vaccines are available to everyone 6-months and older. Find a vaccine or booster provider to protect yourself, and your family today! Then be sure to follow @DRNC on social media for up-to-date information on #DisasterRecovery and other topics!