A Thesis Supporting Why We Need REAADI: “Analyzing United States Natural Disaster Policy
Using a Disability Justice Framework”

In 2021, I applied to complete my senior honours thesis that would eventually become “Analyzing United States Natural Disaster Policy Using a Disability Justice Framework.” With the supervision of Andrea Collins, this April, I completed my thesis to earn my Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. My main conclusion: we need REAADI.

​​On a planet where climate change is driving more frequent and intense natural disasters, disabled people are disproportionately impacted due to the lack of effective rescue and response, accessible shelters, and access to necessary health care, food and sanitation [1]–[4], Addressing this issue, my research sought to use disability justice as a foundation for the analysis of United States natural disaster policy. The specific legislation I analyzed was the United States Code Title 42, Chapter 68: Disaster Relief, also known as the “Robert T. Stafford Act” [5].

According to Sins Invalid, a disability justice framework understands that:

  • "All bodies are unique and essential.
  • All bodies have strengths and needs that must be met.
  • We are powerful, not despite the complexities of our bodies, but because of them.
  • All bodies are confined by ability, race, gender, sexuality, class, nation-state, religion, and more, and we cannot separate them” [6]

Disability justice is an essential framework for understanding our world and how it impacts us as disabled and multiply marginalized people. However, disability justice frameworks have rarely been applied to research [7]. So, I made my own framework.

My analysis framework drew from the 10 Principles of Disability Justice from Sins Invalid [8] and the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction [9]. I also conducted key informant interviews, including the Co-Executive Directors of The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, Shaylin Sluzalis and Germán Parodi, to gain stakeholder perspectives on the needs of disabled people in disasters and factors to consider in my analysis.

My framework looked for the presence of the following themes and how they appeared in the legislation as it related to different stages of Disaster Risk Reduction:

Theme Subtheme
Collective Access and Liberation Accessibility
Equity and Non-discrimination
Global Coordination
Important needs
Populations with Unique Needs
Community Leadership Community Funding
Community Participation
Cross-Disability Recognition Mental
Disability Recognition Recognition
Sustainability Sustainability
Systems System accountability
System navigation

Table 1. Coding framework themes and subthemes

Stages of Evaluation with Stage-Specific Themes

  1. General Legislation
  2. Assessment
  3. Mitigation and Preparedness
  4. Communication
  5. Response and Rescue
    • Training
  6. Recovery
    • Build back better

Table 2 Stages of DRR legislation evaluation with stage-specific subthemes.

The prevalence was measured by counting the number of sections of the legislation coded to each stage. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of sections coded by stage. Communication was rarely addressed, despite being emphasized as a critical stage of DRR in the literature and key informant interviews. Mitigation and Preparedness was the stage most addressed in the Act.

Image of pie graph titled "Percent of legislation sections coded to each stage of DRR." The graph shows the following percentages per section: 10% Assessment, 4% Communication, 41% General, 24% Mitigation and Preparedness, 12% Recovery, and 9% Response and Rescue.
Figure 1 Percent of sections coded for each stage of DRR.

Figure 2 illustrates the percent of each subtheme coded at each stage of DRR or in the general legislation. The theme of collective access and liberation is shown in shades of blue. Sustainability and community participation are shown in shades of green. Cross-disability subthemes are shown in shades of purple. The system subthemes are shown in shades of orange. The amount of legislation coded to each theme without the subthemes present is shown in grey. The prevalence of the coding shows how much attention is given to a given issue.

Image of a bar graph titled "Percent of Subthemes Prevalence at Each DRR Stage." The graph shows on a scale of 0%-100% General, Assessment, Communication, Mitigation and Preparedness, Response and Rescue, and Recovery. Important needs and populations with unique needs are the most commonly coded themes. Notably, intersectionality and recognition of sensory impairments are not present.
Figure 2: Prevalence of subtheme coded at each DRR stage.

Through my interviews and analysis of the legislation, I identified several areas of improvement for natural disaster policy in the U.S.

Areas of improvement identified in the key informant interviews include community participation, intersectional approaches, accessible communication, funding for disaster management work, system accountability that holds government officials responsible for fulfilling the commitments made in the legislation, and tools for system navigation for disabled people. These issues can be directly addressed in future legislation, especially if disability justice and community voices are centred in the decision-making process.

Based on my results, future policy should address gaps around intersectional experiences and needs, communication accessibility, community leadership, and system navigability. During the creation of future policy and assessment of current policy, it is essential to include disabled and other marginalized communities and perspectives.

A hopeful development towards disability justice in the United States Natural Disaster Policy is the potential for the Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disabled Individuals in Disasters Act (REAADI Act). The bill was introduced on March 29, 2023, to the Senate as S. 1049 and the House of Representatives as H.R. 2371. The REAADI Act was created in partnership between Sen. Bob Casey and The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies and Centers for Independent Living. The purpose of the Bill is to:

“improve the inclusion of individuals with disabilities and older adults in preparation for, response to, recovery from, and mitigation of disasters; ensure that individuals with disabilities and older adults with disabilities are free from discrimination on the basis of disability or age in programs and activities, are protected during and included in 18 all phases of disaster preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation.

and to

improve coordination among the communities of individuals with disabilities and older adults, including multiply marginalized BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, government agencies, centers for independent living, VOADs, and other nongovernmental organizations, including organizations that represent and are comprised of covered individuals; in preparing (including planning) for, responding to, recovery from, and mitigation of disasters” [10]

My thesis did not analyze the REAADI Act as it has yet to be passed and does not currently comprise the United States' natural disaster policy. However, based on an initial reading of the text of the REAADI Act, the Act aims to address many of the issues identified in this research.


[1]  M. M. King and M. A. Gregg, “Disability and climate change: A critical realist model of climate justice,” Sociol. Compass, vol. 16, no. 1, p. e12954, 2022, doi: 10.1111/soc4.12954.

[2]  M. S. Rahman and M. S. Mallick, “Community, Disability and Response to Disaster Mitigation in Bangladesh.” Public Sphere Projec, 2007. [Online]. Available: http://www. publicsphere project. org/events/diac08/proceedings/16. Disaster_Mitigation. Rahman_and_Mallick. p df.

[3]  A. Schwarber, “Reimagining the U.S. Global Change Research Program to Support Equitable Community Engagement Using a Disability Lens,” J. Sci. Policy Gov., vol. 18, no. 03, Aug. 2021, doi: 10.38126/JSPG180307.

[4]  P. J. S. Stein and M. A. Stein, “Disability, Human Rights, and Climate Justice,” Hum. Rights Q., vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 81–110, 2022, doi: 10.1353/hrq.2022.0003.

[5]  Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as Amended. 2022, p. 170. Accessed: Nov. 07, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title42/chapter68&edition=prelim

[6]  Sins Invalid, Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People, A Disability Justice Primer, 2nd Edition. Berkley, CA: Sins Invalid, 2019.

[7]  K. C. Bennett and M. A. Hannah, “Transforming the Rights-Based Encounter: Disability Rights, Disability Justice, and the Ethics of Access,” J. Bus. Tech. Commun., vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 326–354, Jul. 2022, doi: 10.1177/10506519221087960.

[8]  “10 Principles of Disability Justice,” Sins Invalid, Sep. 27, 2015. https://www.sinsinvalid.org/blog/10-principles-of-disability-justice (accessed Oct. 08, 2022).

[9]  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, “Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 - 2030,” 2015.

[10] R. Casey, Real Emergency Access for Aging and Disability Inclusion for Disasters Act. 2023. [Online]. Available: https://reaadi.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/REAADI-Updated-Lang-3.29.23.pdf

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