One of the difficulties of engaging with the diverse community of disabled people is its “siloed” nature. Disabled people have been divided into very distinct disability groups. This is as much as a result of history as anything else. But the result is different services and different approaches to advocacy by and for groups of people with different impairments. Unfortunately this separation creates barriers to inclusion at the best of times, never mind times of crisis and disaster. Everyone has to work together in emergencies for the benefit of all and to make sure there is best use of scarce resources. Good preparation and building respectful and productive working relationships in better times will help enormously.
- Take a pan-disability approach incorporating the principles of universal design and make information fully accessible to everyone, not just an ad hoc approach to one or two groups who are the most vocal or who manage to get some funding. It doesn’t have to mean that one size fits all either. Different people with different impairments will have different needs.
- Recognise that capacity building and education in disaster preparedness may be necessary before the event for disabled people and emergency services people.
- Make sure emergency centres are fully accessible and have at least one person on duty who has some knowledge about disability and have other resources available on call if at all possible.
- Implement accessible processes so disabled people can help themselves and each other. The use of New Zealand Sign Language following the February quake is an excellent example. How might other groups of disabled people be included?
- Engaging through individual advocacy and reference groups will not be the only answer. A variety of communication channels and engagement strategies are needed to reach everyone.