Monthly Archives: April 2011

Engaging with disabled people 3

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Information Accessibility, Media, Web Accessibility

Engaging with disabled people 2

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) says in:

Article 11 – Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies

States Parties shall take, in accordance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in situations of risk, including situations of armed conflict, humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters.

The CRPD, which New Zealand has ratified, is concerned with disabled people in times of civil emergency and conflict and the responsibility of the state towards them in these situations. Nowhere was this responsibility more apparent than in the Christchurch earthquakes and their aftermath. In such situations disabled people are in the same situation as everyone else but face particular problems of access in every sense, with disruption to their environment and the services they need.

They had difficulties navigating a changed and damaged environment, access to water and food and access to information, and for some access to personal care. Some had damage to their essential equipment.

But disabled people were not merely passive victims during the Christchurch earthquakes as the mainstream media would have us believe. They helped themselves and each other and the emergency services. For example Radio New Zealand’s One in Five told of a non-verbal wheelchair user giving up their shoes to a distressed tourist with cut feet. A disabled woman opened her accessible home to other disabled people.

Emergency services did their best of course in difficult circumstances. Mostly things worked fairly well, but there is always room for improvement, and for learning from experience. Many disability services were out of action in the first few days so the emergency and rescue services had to cope. In retrospect what could have been helpful?

I have been reflecting on the events and talking to people involved and have some suggestions. Here are the first of ten points for inclusive engagement

  • People within emergency and rescue services must know the community of disabled people. Building good relationships before the disaster will really help. It can’t be left to service providers who will have their own difficulties in the first instance
  • That means good planning in advance – planning for real inclusion in emergency preparedness and response
  • Listen to disabled people and their organisations before the disaster.
  • Know the difference between organisations “of” and “for” disabled people and how and why they differ
  • Don’t make assumptions about how disabled people might behave or react in particular circumstances.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Information Accessibility, Media, Web Accessibility

Engaging with disabled people

As recent events in Christchurch have shown it is not sensible to ignore sections of the community, assuming that they are someone else’s responsibility. Engaging with disabled people is critical because failure to do so creates significant risk. In the case of a disaster like the Christchurch earthquakes lack of engagement and appropriate communication by emergency services and planners can result in unnecessary suffering and even death.

Many people have choices about the way they engage with their local communities, central and local government, emergency and other organisations. Other people do not. They face significant barriers, and these barriers are frequently not taken into account when governments and other organisations engage with communities.

The numbers of people who face barriers may surprise you.

  • Older people are increasing in numbers. They are 13% of the population now and increasing in number with higher rate of disability as the population ages
  • 20% of the population have one or more disabilities
  • 40% of the working age population have poor literacy and 20% have English as a second language.

Together they are a sizable proportion of any community.

They are all citizens too with a rightful place in the community, the right to a voice, and the right to be heard, and the right to be included in rescue and recovery.

1 Comment

Filed under Accessible Engagement, Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Information Accessibility, Media