After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, emergency response teams rushed to support survivors of the deadliest and costliest storm ever to hit the island. Among them was a team of disabled first responders from across the United States who traveled to Puerto Rico to provide relief and humanitarian aid for disabled people. The group was organized by the nonprofit Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies and one of Portlight’s nascent projects, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies (PIDS).

“The partnership was established because we knew that we needed an organization that has a specific focus on the rights, needs, and inclusion of people with disabilities before, during, and after disasters and emergencies,” says Shaylin Sluzalis, co-executive director of PIDS. Today, PIDS is an independent 501(c)(3) and the only disability-led organization working on inclusive emergency management on a nationwide scale.

The organization serves America’s 42.5 million disabled people; aging Americans; and people with access and functional needs who are more vulnerable during environmental and climate disasters, public-health crises like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and other emergencies like mass shootings. In the United States, disabled people are two to four times more likely to die or sustain critical injuries during a disaster than nondisabled people, Sluzalis explains, “largely due to the lack of access to resources, information, and assistance throughout the disaster process.”

Portlight Inclusive Disaster Strategies, PIDS’ founding organization, was created in 1997 to facilitate various projects involving disabled people. Portlight has responded to dozens of emergencies, including spearheading partnerships with local organizations to provide for disability-related needs in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Read the full article about people with disabilities in disasters by Marianne Dhenin at Stanford Social Innovation Review.