Background: Following disasters, persons with disabilities (PWD) are especially vulnerable to harm, yet they have commonly been excluded from disaster planning, and their needs have been poorly addressed during disaster relief. Following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, thousands of individuals experienced acute injuries. Many more individuals with preexisting disabilities experienced heightened vulnerability related to considerations including safety, access to services, and meeting basic needs.
Objective: The objective of this research was to better understand the perceptions of responders and decision-makers regarding disability and efforts to address the needs of PWD following the 2010 earthquake.
Design: We conducted a qualitative study using interpretive description methodology and semistructured interviews with 14 Haitian and 10 international participants who were involved in the earthquake response.
Results: Participants identified PWD as being among the most vulnerable individuals following the earthquake. Though some forms of disability received considerable attention in aid efforts, the needs of other PWD did not. Several factors were identified as challenges for efforts to address the needs of PWD including lack of coordination and information sharing, the involvement of multiple aid sectors, perceptions that this should be the responsibility of specialized organizations, and the need to prioritize limited resources. Participants also reported shifts in local social views related to disability following the earthquake.
Conclusions: Addressing the needs of PWD following a disaster is a crucial population health challenge and raises questions related to equity and responsibility for non-governmental organizations, governments, and local communities.