Mature adults and people with disabilities are often more vulnerable when disaster strikes, and this vulnerability translates into a higher rate of injury and trauma and greater loss of life for this population in the wake of a disaster.

This home was part of Rebuilding Union Beach, a project focused on building back better following Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul LLP 14 (

According to the Center for Disease Control, half of the victims from Superstorm Sandy were older adults, and a staggering 70% of the people who died from Hurricane Katrina were older adults.

  • Hearing and visual impairments, chronic health conditions, and mobility challenges place mature adults and people with disabilities at a greater risk for being impacted by a disaster.
  • Social and economic limitations also hinder the response and adaptability of older or disabled individuals.
  • This population finds it more difficult to adequately prepare for responding to a disaster and is slower to evacuate.
  • Older adults and individuals with disabilities are also more isolated than the general population and might not be aware of evacuation orders.
  • As the population over the age of 65 increases and more and more individuals require special assistance, transportation and relocation efforts will be increasingly difficult.
  • Following a disaster, access to prescription medications, daily-living assistance, home-delivered meals, basic hygiene, mental health services, and healthcare for chronic conditions may be interrupted.
  • For this vulnerable population, disasters are more likely to result in medical emergencies, and/or necessitate transitional housing, home modification, and mental health services and counseling.
These homes, for families with special needs, were rebuilt with an eye on resilient, sustainable, energy-efficient mechanisms that will allow them to weather the next disaster. Photo credit: Kevin Chu + Jessica Paul LLP 14 (

Innovative Practices

Provide leadership and help nonprofits and agencies who serve older adults and disabled populations as they prepare for and respond to disasters by

  • supporting coordination and communication efforts regarding preparation and evacuation;
  • supporting evacuation transportation methods;
  • supporting workshops and educational seminars that assist the elderly and disabled community in accessing benefits and other assistance in the aftermath of a disaster;
  • supporting advocacy to ensure rebuilding efforts are in accordance with ADAAmericans With Disabilities Act laws and building codes;
  • establishing funds that address immediate needs and long-term assistance.


What Funders Are Doing

The following are examples of innovative practices and grants that philanthropic organizations have supported, developed and/or implemented for aging and disabled populations.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy has issued many grants in 2020 through our COVID-19 Response Fund that specifically focus on aging and disabled populations, some of which include:

  • Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) received $500,000 to assist those who are most vulnerable, especially the elderly, unemployed, children and youth. This grant will provide 30 sub-grants to local agencies with a focus on holistic case management that includes emergency food, shelter, health care, financial assistance and case management.
  • CrowdSource Rescue was awarded $40,000 to continue organizing volunteers for no-contact food deliveries to seniors and high-risk residents in 11 southeast Texas counties.
  • United Neighborhood Health Tennessee received $70,000 to reach some of middle Tennessee’s most vulnerable and at-risk residents and reduce COVID-19 transmission. By decreasing potential illness, hospitalization and death, the project is focused on maintaining or improving the health of this vulnerable population.

Also related to COVID-19 are the following grants:

The Walter and Elise Haas Fund awarded $125,000 to Justice in Aging to provide two years of general operating support for statewide public policy efforts to address the needs of low-income older adults impacted by COVID-19.

The Sussex Community Foundation donated $3,848 to the Exeter Street Community Hall to support ongoing projects during COVID-19 that are focused on elderly vulnerable people including a social interaction initiative, food support and sheltering both residents and emergency responders.

The DIGDEEP right to water project received $1 million from StartSmall LLC to support the Navajo Water Project, which helps build the resilience of tribal members, especially the elderly and those who are at higher risk (such as those with disabilities), by connecting them to hot and cold running water so they can stay at home during COVID-19 and future outbreaks.

The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving granted $125,000 to HARC to support additional operating expenses related to personal protective equipment, additional sanitizing and increased staffing to support and maintain the well-being of 100 intellectually disabled residents.

As part of CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund, many grants have been provided since 2017 to support aging and disabled populations. For more information about specific grants, please visit the webpage or read some of the impact stories.

Other innovative practices and grant include:

The Lutheran Missouri Synod received $156,000 in 2018 from the Concordia Lutheran Ministries Foundation to support their Helping Hand Initiative, which focuses on critical home repair needs of low-income, disabled and elderly residents who cannot afford to conduct repairs otherwise.

A $500 donation from the Leandro P Rizzuto Foundation to the Soarway Foundation in 2018 to support direct assistance to groups working with elderly victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

In 2018, the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund donated $18,000 to support the Disability Unit of the Regional Disaster Management Agency in the Klaten District of Central Java, Indonesia. This grant helped increase the participation of persons with disabilities in development planning mechanisms as well as several other initiatives relating to people with disabilities in disasters and emergencies.

Key Takeaways

  1. Preparedness is essential for older adults and individuals with disabilities.
  2. Philanthropic organizations can draw attention to and support aggressive and comprehensive preparedness and communications plans.
  3. Plans should be established in cooperation with nonprofit organizations and government agencies whose missions are to serve older and vulnerable populations.
  4. Because older adults and individuals with disabilities tend to be more isolated and invisible, it is important to support strong advocacy and education initiatives for their safety and well-being.
  5. Advance planning, coordination, communication, evacuation protocols, and education on disaster mitigation and response for this special population is critical in order to reduce life-threatening illness and morbidity rates.

Further Reading