People with disability should be included as equal partners in disaster planning

During natural disasters, specific needs of people with disability are often unmet, leaving them vulnerable and unprotected. from Florin C/www.shutterstock.com

Between March 14 and 18, the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, will be accessible and inclusive for people with disability. The meeting will discuss the post-2015 framework to build community resilience to disasters.

The conference’s Disability Caucus is working with local organisers to ensure people with disability are among the expected 8000 delegates.

World leaders should use this opportunity to learn from people with disability about how natural disaster affects their lives.

Highly vulnerable

During natural disasters, the daily inequalities that people with disability face are amplified. As the first to be left behind and the last to be rescued, their rights to protection and safety are often denied.

People with disability are twice to four times more likely to be killed or injured in natural disasters than the general population. Deaf people may not hear early warning systems. People who cannot see, who have trouble walking, or who rely on wheeled mobility might find it difficult to flee and find protection.

In emergencies, equipment that helps them move or communicate might be left behind. Life-sustaining supports and technologies may not function.

In natural disasters, people with disability are also less likely to receive aid. They have greater difficulty coping during recovery from natural disasters. Inaccessible emergency shelters and inadequate services further increase their risk.

To reduce their vulnerability during natural disasters, people with disability should be included the planning and preparation for disaster risk reduction (DRR).

Towards inclusion

Policymakers have largely ignored the potential for people with disability to contribute to DRR planning and preparation. Without this input their specific needs are often unmet.

To find out how to fulfil these needs, practical solutions should come from people with disability themselves. To do so, they should be included in all phases of planning, response and recovery from natural disasters.

One of the ways to include people with disability in DRR planning and preparation is by enabling them to take leadership. For example, in Indonesia, the University of Sydney’s Centre for Disability Research and Policy (CDRP) and Arbeiter Samariter Bund (ASB), a German non-governmental organisation, are training people with disability to administer surveys to their peers.

Indonesia is one of the world’s most disaster prone countries. Involving people with disability in DRR in the volcanic archipelago is extremely important as 80% of Indonesia’s districts are prone to natural disaster.

The Centre for Disability Research and Policy with Arbeiter Samariter Bund trained people with disability in Indonesia to administer surveys to their peers. ASB Indonesia

In Yogyakarta last month, 30 people learnt to administer the Disability Inclusive Disaster Resilience Tool, a survey developed by researchers at the University of Sydney. The program was supported by the Australian government.

During the meeting a blind woman administered the survey in Braille to a colleague. A deaf woman suggested adapting the tool to be used through sign language interpretation.

Some participants with mobility impairments administered the survey in Bahasa Indonesia, the country’s official language. Other participants used Javanese, a common dialect in the Java province.

They represent the wide variety of languages and cultures of Indonesia. It is important to capture the diversity of disability experience in any disaster planning and preparation initiative.

Following the training, local Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) will use this survey to gather information about the lived experience of disaster from people with disability in diverse communities across Indonesia.

So far 197 people have participated in the survey. Next month, researchers will discuss findings with DPOs, DRR agencies and government officials to translate findings into DRR practice that includes the needs of people with disability.

Data gathered from people with disability and their carers is important to better understand the specific vulnerability of people with disability to disaster in Indonesia. Disability organisations can use this information to better represent the varied needs of people with disability when working with DRR agencies and government officials on disability inclusive DRR strategies.