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Educational experiences of children and youth with disabilities impacted by wildfires

Elizabeth McAdams Ducy (Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California, USA)
Laura M. Stough (Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 10 March 2021

Issue publication date: 8 July 2021




This paper describes the educational experiences of children and youth (aged 3–20) with disabilities during school closures resulting from the 2017 Northern California wildfires. Students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of disaster, yet the effects of school closures on these children remains understudied. This study identifies considerations for students with disabilities and their families post-disaster.


An inductive, qualitative approach was used for the study design, methodology and analysis. In-depth interviews were conducted with parents of 14 students with disabilities about their experiences during and following school closures. All of these children had missed between a week and over a month of school as a result of the wildfires. Thematic analysis was used to code data and identify four themes present across the data.


Our findings indicate that children and youth with disabilities experienced disruptions in school-based services; lost previously acquired skills; exhibited negative health and behavioral issues; had difficulties adapting to new, unfamiliar routines and were saddened by lost social connections. Additionally, findings pinpoint the importance of social connections while schools were closed, the benefits of resuming school which included access to responsive school staff, as well as challenges faced by children with disabilities and their families once schools reopened.


Families of children with disabilities, as illustrated in this study, often must transverse a different post-disaster landscape. Schools should assist them in navigating that landscape so students with disabilities can experience a more equitable return to education post-disaster.



Funding: This work was supported by a Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities Program (RSCAP) Grant, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Road, Rohnert Park, CA 94928.This paper forms part of a special section “Disasters, Children and Comprehensive School Safety”, guest edited by Ziqiang Han, Marla Petal, and Qiang Zhang


Ducy, E.M. and Stough, L.M. (2021), "Educational experiences of children and youth with disabilities impacted by wildfires", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 279-292.



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