QLD Emergency Warning Systems Disadvantage Those With Disabilities.
17 March 2011 at 11:48 am
The Queensland flood disaster has demonstrated strengths and weaknesses of Australia’s emergency services and warnings systems, especially in terms of access for people with a disability, according to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
ACCAN has released a report it says explores an important dimension of Australia’s emergency management framework – access to emergency services and emergency information by people who have a disability, particularly those who are deaf or have a speech or hearing impairment.
ACCAN is the peak body that represents all consumers on communications issues including telecommunications, broadband and emerging new services.
ACCAN says it was delighted to see Auslan/English interpreters working at Premier Bligh’s emergency related media conferences.
However, it says it was disappointed to learn that these interpreters were working as volunteers, coordinated pro bono by Deaf Services Queensland, itself a Not for Profit organisation severely affected by the floods.
It says the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that governments take “all necessary measures” to protect the safety of persons with disability and that this information should be provided in accessible formats, including sign language.
Compliance with the Convention demands that governments take responsibility for the provision of emergency information in accessible formats.
The report says that in the case of the Queensland floods, for example, the State Government should have included the hiring, briefing and coordination of NAATI-accredited professional Auslan/English interpreters for televised emergency information.
One critical consequence of the inundation in Brisbane was that the National Relay Service (NRS), an essential phone service for this sector of the community, was disrupted throughout Australia for a period of almost 24 hours from 12 January 2011.
The report says that during this period emergency service calls remained available to some, but not all, NRS users.
During the natural disaster in Queensland – and indeed in other states – consumers were advised to contact the SES for assistance.
The report says all NRS and ACE customers were unable to do so, thus putting both safety and property at risk. Some consumers in Queensland were unable to even send text messages via SMS to family and friends via mobile phone, due to disruptions to networks and electricity services.
ACCAN says the inability to contact the SES created an even greater threat and sense of isolation for disaster-affected people with a disability.
ACCAN believes that it is imperative that the issue of emergency call-back capacity – including to consumers who make emergency calls via mobile phones (voice or SMS), VOIP, TTY-based relay services, Speak and Listen relay service, internet relay, and even captioned telephony and video relay – be specifically addressed by the ACMA as part of the issue of enhanced mobile location information.
ACCAN says the ability of emergency services to call back a consumer in the event that the consumer is disconnected is absolutely essential to ensure consumer safety.
ACCAN says it hopes that some good can, however, come out of the disaster, with improved access to emergency call services and information for people with disability.
The report includes recommendations for a number of agencies, to improve access to emergency call services and information for people with disability.
The report can be downloaded at: