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WKU Graduate Student's Fight Against Inequality for the Disabled in Disasters

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A graduate assistant at WKU is determined to create equality for all…in disasters.

Equality something you may not think of in those situations, but Sydney Clark is blind and she come to learn the meaning of that term all too well.

Sydney’s journey began as a public health major at the University of Kentucky, which led her to take an emergency and disaster preparedness and management course – that’s when she noticed a problem.

“We’re not a majority, were a minority,” Sydney says, “so, were not thought of.”

There are policies and procedures in place for the disabled in disasters, but she says they’re not known to the people or places who need them the most and if they are, they’re not used effectively.

“If I were to go into a shelter and they didn’t have everything in an audio format or a brail format so that I could read it, I’d kind of be left out to dry, “she says, “or if someone deaf or hard of hearing went in and they didn’t have closed captioning announcements instead of just audio announcements, they would have no idea what is going on.”

She’s spoken to handfuls of state and local officials, but the conversation seems to end the same.

“The most shocking thing that I found was that when I contacted the person that represented the blind and vision impaired population about what policies they had in place, they didn’t know of any. They just said they didn’t know of anyone who had taken it upon themselves to do that, which I know cant be true, but just the fact that the person who is supposed to represent me at the state level doesn’t know anything is kind of disheartening.”

When speaking one local official Sydney is working with, there is talk of plans, but when there will be equal accessibility to all disabled or abled people in emergencies – goes unanswered.

“We have done some planning for some of our functional and access needs,” Disaster Preparedness Branch Director for the Barren River District Health Department Janarae Conway says, “and then there’s other folks and it’s like okay – we need to work on that one.”

She tells WNKY’s she doesn’t know why it’s taken this long to receive proper plans for those with disabilities.

WNKY reached out to the state emergency management department and have yet to hear anything back.

“People with a disability who are already high risk during an emergency are put an at even higher risk because no one knows what to do with them to help them properly,” Sydney says.

From UK as an undergrad to WKU as a graduate assistant, this fight has taken Sydney and Jethro, her guide dog, on an unknown journey, but still, her voice and fight is stronger than ever,

“This is bigger than just me. I don’t want to do this to just make it easier for me or the blind community. I want to do it with all people with a disability in mind because all of us need to be thought of and taken care of in situations.”

Sydney did her undergrad capstone project on what the current status was for emergency and disaster preparedness for people with disabilities and is now furthering her research at WKU.

This isn’t the last you’ll see of her on WNKY.

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