Your Rights in a Disaster
Disability Rights in Shelters and in Disaster/Emergency Response
- People with disabilities cannot be denied access to shelters (shelters cannot discriminate when providing safety, comfort, or basic needs).
- Service animals are always allowed in shelters.
- You have a right to shelter-provided personal assistance services, backup power for medical devices, privacy for personal care, and accommodations for meeting disability-related needs for reduced stimulation.
- Equally effective communication must be provided such as Video Remote Interpreting (VRI), American Sign Language (ASL), materials in alternative format (Braille, large print, plain language).
- Shelters must be physically accessible. You have the right to accessible sleeping, eating, medical and recreation areas, toilets, showers, and transportation (when transportation is available to others).
- Families should never be separated at shelters.
- It is a violation of your civil rights to be directed towards a “special needs or medical shelter,” a nursing home, hospital, or other medical or psychiatric facilities. You have a right to an accessible shelter.
- Community evacuation transportation plans must include accessible options for people with mobility disabilities or limited transportation. You have a right to personal assistance/disability services and supports in an accessible community shelter, not transferred to a “special” shelter, hospital or nursing home.
Resource for accessible shelters
- The ADA and Emergency Shelters: Access for All in Emergencies and Disasters
Resource for shelters during COVID-19
Immigrant Rights in Shelters and in Disaster/Emergency Response
- You have a right to disaster/emergency response and relief
Guidelines for Enforcement Actions in or Near Protected Areas says, “To the fullest extent possible, we should not take an enforcement action in or near a location that would restrain people’s access to essential services or engagement in essential activities. Such a location is referred to as a “protected area.”
In providing examples of what a protected area is, the policy includes “A place where disaster or emergency response and relief is being provided, such as
- Along evacuation routes,
- Where shelter or emergency supplies, food, or water are being distributed,
- Registration for disaster-related assistance or family reunification is underway.”
- Department of Homeland Security Guidelines for Enforcement Actions in or Near Protected Areas [Issued 10/27/21]
- Department of Homeland Security Statement on the Importance of Seeking Safety and Support Regardless of Immigration Status Following Recent Severe Weather in the South and Midwest [Issued 12/21/21]
- National Immigration Law Center
DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Compliance Branch:
+1 (866) 644-8360 / TTY: 1-866-644-8361
Or email CRCLCompliance@hq.dhs.gov
FEMA External Civil Rights Division: +1 (833) 285-7448
[Press 1 for English, 2 for español, 3 for other languages]
Or email FEMA-CivilRightsOffice@fema.dhs.gov