Monday, January 17, 2011

When disaster strikes

This blog was written by Stella Young for Ramp Up

'When disaster strikes'

The devastating floods in Queensland this week are undoubtedly going to have lasting effects for an enormous number of people. People have lost personal property, their homes and, in some cases, their lives. The efforts needed to help people rebuild will be tremendous.

At times like these I can't help but think of my own preparedness, or lack thereof, in times of crisis. My ability to head for the hills in a flood or other natural disaster would be severely compromised by my disability. I thought about this a lot in the aftermath of the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. For many people with disabilities, accessible taxis are their only mode of transport. Most wheelchair users know that accessible cabs can't even be relied upon to get us to work on time, let alone to safety in a life-threatening situation.
Disability organisations such as Queenslanders with Disabilities Network (QDN) have certainly been concerned about the safety of people with disabilities in the floods. In a statement issued yesterday, Manager Fran Vicary urged emergency services to ensure that people with disabilities were rescued and their needs taken care of. Ms Vicary said, "Many people with a disability live alone in the community and rely on support workers to visit them and assist with activities of daily living. Many of these people are vulnerable and cannot use communication technology or self-evacuate."
QND are working with Disability and Community care Service to conduct a phone-around to all people with disabilities for whom the two organisations have contact details. Ms Vicary also identified the likelihood that when the flood subsides and the water recedes, people may be faced with damaged equipment and technology that is uninsured and extremely difficult to replace.
My first instinct in any situation that poses a threat to me is always to protect my wheelchair first. Don't get me wrong, I understand that we're talking about life-threatening situations here and I do value my life. Quite a bit actually. However, being without my wheelchair severely compromises my quality of life. For me, and for many other wheelchair users, having no chair means more than just an inability to get to work or to get out and see mates. It means an inability to get out of bed and around our own houses. The thought of irreparable damage to my chair terrifies me in a way that no creepy crawly or scary snake has ever managed to.
The potential loss for people with disabilities in a flood is significant. A wheelchair user could lose their mobility. Someone who uses an electronic communication device could lose their means of communication with other people. Someone who uses a ventilator that runs on electricity could lose their ability to breathe.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine earlier in the week. He uses a ventilator for breathing assistance while sleeping. He said that when Y2K predicted the end of power supply as we know it, he was advised to admit himself to hospital where they have backup generators. I was gobsmacked, but I thought back to my own concerns when the year 1999 became 2000, and my biggest worry was indeed my chair. Without power, I wouldn't be able to charge the battery. It seems like a very simple problem, but it's one that would have an enormous impact on my life.

I'm hopeful that all people, regardless of ability, were provided with the assistance they needed to evacuate to safety. Certainly, the Queensland government has not forgotten the need for the state's Deaf community to be informed. A number of Premier Anna Bligh's press conferences have been Auslan interpreted in the interests of, in Premier Bligh's own words, "making sure that everyone gets the best information as quickly and as efficiently as possible".

A significant number of people on Twitter commented on this inclusion of sign language. Hopefully in the future this will be the rule rather than the exception and people might not find it so noteworthy, but for now, this kind of discussion can only be a good thing. Just for starters, it sets a precedent for other governments when communicating emergency information.

A quick search of the internet tells me that there has been quite a bit of work done in the area of emergency management and people with disabilities. Interestingly, in May last year Emergency Management Queensland teamed up with the Australia Red Cross to produce a booklet and worksheets designed for people with disabilities. The booklet aims to educate and inform people about the proper course of action in the event of a natural emergency. There are a number of resources such as this and it seems that there is information and assistance available to people with disabilities.

Perhaps what I should be more concerned about is that, until now, it has never occurred to me to look.

Stella Young is the editor of Ramp Up.

Evacuating to avoid disaster zones can be difficult for people with disabilities.

Credit: Jodie van de Wetering (Flickr)


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  2. You are right. When disasters strike, it is so dreadful and to bring back things normal is not very easy task.
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  3. Thankfully there are still a number of non-government organization who continuously working for the benefit of those people with disability.

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