Katrina Brings Challenges To The Disabled

New FEMA flood elevations have many South Mississippians wondering how to build back their homes at a price they can afford. A local advocacy group says when it comes to the disabled, the outlook is even more troublesome.

At a fair housing workshop in Gulfport on Monday up for discussion were the problems the hurricane created for people with handicaps during the storm and since.

Providing wheelchair ramps is one way LIFE of South Mississippi helps the disabled live more self sufficiently. LIFE stands for "Living Independence For Everyone." Since Katrina, the concern is that new elevation standards will derail the progress that has been made.

"Five foot elevation means a 60 foot ramp," said LIFE member Susan Hanks. "For every inch of step up, you need a foot of ramp for someone to be able to go up it without flipping over backwards. I just don't see how this population of people with their low income can afford that."

A photograph taken at a coast hurricane shelter depicts what USM's Institute For Disability Studies says was a major issue during Katrina. A man in a wheelchair is just feet away from a portable restroom he cannot use because of his disability.

Deborah Jefferson is with the U.S.M. Institute For Disability Studies.

"Shelters do fall under that law that they should be handicap assessable. We had a lot of clients that were disabled that were pretty much left out at the shelters. They were not set up to handle them."

"Katrina Aid Today " is a new program designed to curb problems for the next storm. They say they're working with shelters and concentrating on how to get relief supplies to people who can't leave their homes.

"We had social workers going out and case managers to work with those with disabilities to try to get the help that they're needing," said Jefferson.

Harrison County's Civil Defense Director says he's working with the state to set up a shelter that would serve evacuees with special needs, including the disabled. The shelter would have medical staff on hand.