Disaster and People With Disabilities

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Disaster and People With Disabilities

  1. 1. Disasters and People with Disabilities David Alexander University College London
  2. 2. In emergencies people with disabilities may encounter physical barriers, obstacles to communication and other barriers that stop them from reacting efficiently and using the various services offered in the recovery period.
  3. 3. Disability means not only reduced mobility, but also: paraplegia, quadriplegia, deafness, blindness, mental retardation, brain damage, stroke, age-related infirmity, senility, Alzheimer's disease, dependence on life-support machines, etc...
  4. 4. A classification of the forms of disability: • Mobility problems • Blind or partially sighted (use of guide dogs) • Deafness and hearing impairment • Difficulties of cognition, communication and expression • Medical problems • Users of support systems for vital functions • Intolerance of environmental and chemical substances • Psychiatric disturbances and panic attacks • Infirmity associated with old age.
  5. 5. Disability can be permanent or temporary
  6. 6. In earthquakes people in wheelchairs cannot crawl under desks and tables. People with sight or hearing problems may be unable to recognise the signs of danger or orders to evacuate.
  7. 7. Evacuation problems: • difficulties of movement • orientation difficulties • perception of hazards and warnings • emergency response co-ordination.
  8. 8. • distance to be travelled • passageways not wide enough • presence of steps or other obstacles • doors not wide enough. Difficulties of movement: • unsuitable lifts or ramps
  9. 9. People with disabilities who depend on electrically-powered life-support equipment may find themselves in difficulty if there is no current during the emergency. Moreover, emergency equipment must be accessible to the disabled.
  10. 10. About 54 million Americans and 90 million Indians have disabilities. When Hurricane Katrina struck, 155,000 residents of Biloxi (MS), Mobile (AL) e New Orleans (LA) were registered disabled. The problem of caring for the needs of people with disabilities in disaster is not insignificant:
  11. 11. According to recent studies in the USA: • 19.3% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of disability • 80% of emergency managers have no procedures for people with disabilities • 57% of emergency managers do not know how many people with disabilities live in their areas • only 27% of emergency managers have taken a FEMA course on helping people with disabilities in disasters.
  12. 12. In the World Trade Center attacks, a group of people with disabilities waited in a room on the 80th floor for firemen to evacuate them, but the building collapsed before they could be saved.
  13. 13. Disasters and their aftermaths can put people with disabilities more at risk than the general population and may create new barriers. In emergencies it is easy not to recognise the type of disability of a person and thus offer the wrong kind of assistance. People with disabilities need, not only particular procedures, but also special preparations and plans to help them face disasters.
  14. 14. However: "in some ways, disabled people who manage to live with a certain degree of independence are more able to face disaster than people who are not disabled. They have a 'psychological advantage'..." Douglas Lathrop 1994. Mainstream Magazine, California.
  15. 15. Organisations that respond to disaster are used to thinking in terms of providing assistance to large groups of people, and less about the special needs of single individuals such as people with disabilities. But they are, in the fullest sense, part of society...
  16. 16. In emergency planning and management the problem of the needs of people with disabilities has not been sufficiently taken into consideration, and their opinions have not been listened to. Typically, civil protection systems are designed for people who are not disabled: usually, evacuation plans require, in some measure, the ability to walk, drive, see and hear.
  17. 17. And so we find that the evacuation centre is not accessible...
  18. 18. These are some of the needs of people with disabilities in major emergencies: • personal care materials and equipment • high dependence on essential services (water, electricity, etc.) • how to manage when there is chaos or debris at home? • transport and mobility • evacuation and assistance with mobility • resupply with essential goods • how to ask for assistance • the needs of guide dogs.
  19. 19. "In practice, empirical data on the efficient and secure evacuation of people with disabilities during emergencies and crises do not exist." Report: "Nobody Left Behind: Investigating Disaster Preparedness and Response for People with Disabilities"
  20. 20. There is a lack of integration and co-operation among organisations that represent people with disabilities and those that provide civil protection services.
  21. 21. In emergency planning no single strategy is valid for all types of disability.
  22. 22. In disasters assistance to people with disabilities tends to merge with assistance to other groups: ethnic minorities, single mothers, people with special dietary or medical needs, etc.
  23. 23. Some basic principles: • preparation, training, exercising • associations for people with disabilities involved in civil protection and emergency planning • emergency communications to be accessible and reliable • procedures and services accessible in normal times and emergencies • involve the mass media in the transmission of warnings to people with disabilities.
  24. 24. FEMA suggest that wherever possible people with disabilities should: • gain understanding of hazards present at work and at home • create a personal support network consisting of at least 3 people for each site • estimate their own capacity to respond to an emergency • wear a label or bracelet to identify the form of their disability.
  25. 25. Conclusions
  26. 26. Disabilities volunteer organisations Civil protection volunteer organisations Social services of local authorities Social services of local health districts Emergency Planning
  27. 27. "Disabled people have been made more vulnerable to natural hazards through historical processes of exclusion and impoverishment. As a consequence, their experience of disaster may be more acute and long-standing than non-disabled populations. These effects are accentuated in poor communities throughout the world where disabled people remain amongst the poorest of the poor. Moreover, when disaster strikes, disabled people encounter inequities in access to shelter or relief and are often excluded from full participation in response and recovery." Hemingway and Priestley 2006, Review of Disability Studies (3), p. 64.
  28. 28. Providing safe conditions for people with disabilities during and after disaster is not a problem: it is a challenge at which to excel. David.Alexander@ucl.ac.uk www.slideshare.net/dealexander

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