Barriers to Evacuating From a Weather Disaster

Before every hurricane, we hear elected officials to tell people to “get out of harm’s way.” They say that “if you don’t leave, you are putting your own life at risk.” Or even more dire—I’ve heard elected officials say that “death is certain” if you don’t evacuate. People in parts of Louisiana and Texas heard all of this as Hurricane Laura was approaching last week.

Now don’t get me wrong—I appreciate the strong language. I think that when a major hurricane is heading straight at you, particularly if you’re in an area vulnerable to storm surge from the hurricane, you need to evacuate, if at all possible.

However, I beg people, including any government officials, to take notice of that final clause in my previous sentence: if at all possible.

I say that because, for some people, evacuating is not possible. And the results of this are catastrophic, even deadly.

But how could this be the case, when governments like to give a face of taking these storms seriously? Well…here are just a few major barriers to evacuating from a weather disaster:

Not enough shelters are pet-friendly.

A Reuters article some time ago put it best—pet owners often think of their pets first when natural disasters strike.[1] Now some of that is because people are that emotionally attached to their pets (and that is valid), but we also have to keep in mind that, in some cases, people literally can’t function without their pets. From people who rely on animals as a form of therapy for physical and/or mental health issues, to blind individuals who rely on guide dogs to get them around, there is a whole population of people who can’t function without their pets. Therefore, it is unacceptable for governments to either be short on shelters (as was the case with Florida before Hurricane Irma in 2017, according to the aforementioned Reuters article) or lack pet-friendly shelters in the first place (as was the case with South Carolina with Hurricane Florence a few years ago[2]). If governments want people to evacuate, they need to have evacuation shelters that allow people to be with their pets, for both people who are attached to their pets and for people who can’t function without pets.

Governments also do not provide adequate transportation for people with disabilities.

I was only eleven years old when Hurricane Katrina hit, but one of the things I remember from Katrina was how the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana did not adequately provide transportation for the disabled to get to a safe place. Depending on the disability, one may not be able to get to higher ground on their own; therefore, there needs to be help. With Hurricane Katrina, government didn’t help adequately, and the death toll was probably much higher than it should’ve been because of that lack of help.

I will end this section with a quote from a report issued by the National Council on Disability in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005: “For example, during the Katrina evacuation, many people with disabilities could not evacuate because to do so would require them to abandon support services and personnel. Moreover, since emergency transportation and shelters could not care for them, many people with disabilities were forced to stay behind.”[3]

Employee rights are inadequate.

How inadequate are employee rights? So inadequate that people can, and have, been fired because of evacuating from hurricanes. For example, a woman in North Carolina claimed that she was fired for not showing up to work after losing power during Hurricane Florence in 2018—that’s very possible because North Carolina is what’s called an “at-will employment state,” or a state where “private-sector employees can be fired for any reason – or no reason at all.”[4] There were also stories galore before, during, and after Hurricane Irma asking whether an employee can be fired for fleeing from the hurricane (by the way, the consensus answer was “yes”). Until governments have better protections keeping people from being fired for not showing up to work during or immediately after a hurricane as part of an evacuation plan, people will hesitate to evacuate for fear of missing work and being fired.


When a disaster such as a hurricane is on the way, the barriers to evacuating should be minimized to the greatest extent possible. However, that does not happen, and that likely results in preventable deaths.

Please note that I will not publish a post next Monday, as next Monday is Labor Day.


[1] This article talked about how, even for those who need companion animals, pet-friendly shelters were difficult to find: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-elderly-evacuation-pets/florida-needs-more-pet-friendly-hurricane-shelters-for-the-elderly-idUSKBN1CM2Q4

[2] https://weather.com/safety/hurricane/news/2018-09-11-where-to-take-pets-south-carolina-shelters

[3] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496270.pdf

[4] https://www.nbc26.com/news/national/employers-can-fire-employees-who-evacuated-for-hurricane-in-north-carolina

Shared Post: On COVID, Part 5000

I haven’t shared another blogger’s post on here in some time, but I think the post I have here today is worth sharing.

I think it’s important to elevate the voices of people in populations most vulnerable to the virus. Therefore, I thought it was important to share a post that Jackie at Disability & Determination wrote a few days ago about the consequences of overwhelmed hospitals for people with disabilities. I’m not going to spoil her blog post, but they are immense, and in many cases, deadly. I am sharing a link to her blog post as well as her blog below.

Read Jackie’s blog post here

Read Jackie’s blog here

Who Is…a Spoonie?

When I first heard anyone refer to themselves as a spoonie, I was, needless to say, confused. I thought of spoons as tools to use for eating a lot of our food, not for something we called ourselves.

I would learn later on that the people who called themselves spoonies were people whose experiences with chronic illness (whether physical or mental) could be described with this thing called spoon theory.

But what is spoon theory?

Spoon theory, a term first coined by Christine Miserandino when describing her experience with lupus, is a shorthand for describing how, because of someone’s illness or disability, they have a very limited amount of physical and/or mental energy to do tasks throughout the day (in other words, a very limited number “spoons”) before they are just unable to do any more tasks.[1] For example, let’s say that you have only twelve spoons for the day based on how you feel and how much energy you have, and driving to and from work is three spoons, cooking for the family is four spoons, and work itself is three spoons. That leaves you with only two spoons, and that’s before we’ve even gotten to hygiene, housecleaning, taking care of any pets, laundry, or any other of the basic day-to-day tasks that many of us may take for granted (before we even get to socializing with friends or anything like that).

This shorthand spoon theory is supposed to help people who don’t have that shared spoonie experience (like me) understand that people with many illnesses have limited energy to do the tasks they need to do, let alone the tasks they’d like to do. Through having that understanding of spoon theory and the experiences of spoonies, some of us, particularly those of us who (like me) don’t have that shared experience of living with a chronic illness or other disability, can become more understanding of our friends and family members who do have a variety of illnesses or disabilities. Learning about spoon theory has certainly helped me become more understanding of friends whose day-to-day experiences with various illnesses or disabilities could be described with spoon theory.

All that being said, I would be interested in hearing from any friends or other readers who have experiences with various chronic illnesses and disabilities. Do you, as well, find it helpful for able-bodied people to have an understanding of spoon theory, particularly as it relates to your illness? If you don’t find it helpful in your case, why not? I know that not all illnesses are the same, so I’m interested in hearing from people who have a variety of illnesses, whether it relates to physical health, mental health, or both.


[1] In this piece, Miserandino also explains how spoon theory works: https://cdn.totalcomputersusa.com/butyoudontlooksick.com/uploads/2010/02/BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory.pdf

Shared Post: The Cost of Being Disabled

With the election process in 2020 ongoing, I wanted to share a post that fellow blogger Karly shared on the cost of being disabled. While people with muscular dystrophy (what Karly was diagnosed with at a young age) might experience different costs from someone with a different type of disability, one thing that is universal is that American health care often makes it miserably expensive to have a disability. Since Karly’s hope is “to highlight the importance of voting with disabled people and health care in mind,” I figured that sharing her post at a critical point in the election process is ideal.

You can find Karly’s post here.

You can find Karly’s blog here.

How Wintry Weather is Not Friendly to People Struggling Physically or Mentally

An image of snow.

For able-bodied people like me, commuting in the snow takes a little bit more twisting and turning than it does on the average day. It’s annoying, but doable, for me.

For people with certain health challenges, whether it be physical health or mental health, the barriers created by individuals’ and/or society’s handling of winter weather, as well as barriers caused by the bad weather itself, can be problematic. Here are a few such barriers:

We as individuals don’t clear away a path wide enough for wheelchair users to navigate our sidewalks. 

Many wheelchair users need a pathway that’s at least 32 inches, so a pathway shorter than that will most definitely not be friendly to people using wheelchairs. For this, the solution is simple—just clear a wide pathway on our sidewalks!

We as a society have no effective way of handling the crosswalks that get plowed in. 

After major snowstorms, many a crosswalk in New York City, my hometown, get plowed under inches or even feet of snow. This affects wheelchair users, the young, people with other mobility issues (regardless of whether they use a walker or wheelchair or not) and the elderly the most, keeping all of these groups from effectively moving around. I am personally not aware of effective yet reasonable alternatives to this problem, though if anyone has solutions you can let me know in the comments section down below!

Pathways between sidewalks and buses are nonexistent or not wide enough for wheelchair users to pass, or for people with other mobility issues to navigate.

This is something I only noticed during a blizzard in January 2018, but boy is it a problem! Many pathways between sidewalks and buses that should exist don’t exist, making access to the bus impossible unless you’re completely able-bodied as I am. If the entity/entities responsible can shovel a pathway between sidewalks and buses wide enough for wheelchair users and people with other mobility issues to pass, the problem can be fixed.

The bad weather has adverse affects on mental health. 

A string of bad weather days can affect people who deal with claustrophobia (fear of involving being confined to small spaces), and the weather can cause great deals of stress that can be harmful to mental health, to name two. Nobody per se is at fault for these issues, but nevertheless we should be aware that these issues exist.


So next time a snow or ice storm comes, some of us may rejoice while others may complain. But regardless of what our own reactions are, we must be sensitive to the challenges that people with disabilities face in the elements. To that end, feel free to comment below is there’s some issue (physically or mentally) caused by winter weather that I did not mention in this post.