Freezing temperatures and winter storms have caused widespread power outages across the country leaving people with disabilities and chronic illnesses scrambling to find ways to access life-saving medical supplies and charge devices they depend on.
Earlier in the week, more than 4 million in Texas alone didn’t have electricity after large shares of the state’s power plants were kicked off its grid. More than 1 million people were without power Thursday, including more than 400,000 customers in Texas and widespread outages in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Oregon.
The winter weather has claimed as many as 36 lives this week, some of whom died struggling to find warmth inside their homes.
“Losing electricity just exacerbates the inequalities that already exist for marginalized people, but specifically for those that are energy-dependent, transportation-dependent, healthcare-dependent,” Stephanie Duke, an attorney at Disability Rights Texas said. “It’s the mechanisms and processes we have in place that create more barriers.”
The disability community has a diverse set of needs that could be impacted by the loss of power and water. Electricity is needed to power medical devices like motorized wheelchair, CPAP machines and respirators. Poor weather can also prevent people from getting refills for essential medication and caretakers from reaching patients.
In Texas, while larger hospitals and facilities are fairing better, people who live alone or in smaller nursing homes and assisted living facilities are stuck without supplies, Duke said.
Duke, also a disaster resilience fellow at Equal Justice Works, said that Texas has seen huge demand for generators, oxygen and transportation to warming centers. If they have a serious medical need, people with disabilities may have to go to a hospital, which could come with unforeseen costs.
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