Disaster and disability: what happens to us?

This week, the country’s attention has been glued to Wellington and Kaikoura as they deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.

I often wonder what happens to people with disabilities when disaster strikes. What is the evacuation process? Where do we get our information? Because our needs are different. It’s not as if someone like me can exactly climb over the rubble to get to safety.

What about people who rely on electricity to survive? I just have so many questions; questions that I’ve been asking myself ever since the 2011 earthquake in Canterbury.

So I did some digging, and we have so many issues, so much lack of information, so much more disadvantage.

Captioning

This is an inclusion issue that those with hearing impairments deal with on the daily – not just when disaster strikes.

The deaf community need to know what is going on too, and to neglect closed captioning during serious lifesaving announcements is to keep them out of loop and put them in further danger.

A press release by Concerned Disabled Citizens talks about this discrimination and the need to consider the safety of every affected person. TVNZ had since included closed captioning on the Breakfast show from the 16th-18th November. It’s not perfect as it’s not permanent, but it’s something.

Looting

This is something that I shouldn’t even need to talk about.

A home in New Brighton was looted while families were fleeing the tsunami zone. This home belonged to a young girl with Muscular Dystrophy, and one of the stolen equipment was her wireless microphone system, which she needs for her hearing impairment.

Why though? People are fleeing for their lives and your first thought is to add more misery to their already difficult situation.

Disabled victim or no disabled victim – don’t be that guy. No one likes that guy. Don’t be the kind of person that adds hardship to lives rather than ease.

Evacuation for the disabled

This is the information I would need to know. All I managed to find was an information sheet about how to handle the disaster itself for any type of impairment.

But what about afterwards? Where do I run?

I’m guessing it would depend on the circumstance and severity of the aftermath. But the bottom line is that people stick together and help one another. We’re all in this together. And from what I’ve seen that is exactly what’s happening down there.

Faith in humanity – not entirely dead.

But not entirely comforted either.

New Zealand is a disaster prone area with our earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanos. I’m no expert in disaster relief but there definitely needs to be more education and research into how to cater to the needs of the disabled in the event of a disaster. I, for one, wouldn’t have known about the procedures had this earthquake not occurred, and that is simply not acceptable.

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