Disability sector demands inclusive disaster preparedness
6 April 2022 at 4:59 pm
A pre-election open letter from disability rights and advocacy organisations is calling for stronger resources for disaster-affected people living with disability.
A coalition of 40 disability rights and advocacy organisations has endorsed an open letter to politicians running in the 2022 election, that demands a new approach to ensuring better safety and wellbeing for people living with a disability during natural disasters.
One in six Australians live with some form of disability. The open letter explicitly asks that politicians “leave no Australian behind in disasters and emergencies”.
People living with disability are at greater risk during floods, bushfires, cyclones, droughts and pandemics, all of which have affected communities around the country, most recently with serious flooding in Queensland and Northern New South Wales, and bushfires in Western Australia.
The letter was developed by the Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN) and national peak disability rights and advocacy organisation People with Disability Australia, and endorsed by national peak disabled person organisations from all states and territories.
Michelle Moss, director of policy and strategic engagement at Queenslanders with a Disability Network, said it was a very important issue to Australians with disability.
“And having 40 peak organisations and prominent academics [sign on] shows their commitment and the importance of this open letter,” Moss said. “For everyone to come together from around Australia – it highlights the seriousness of the issue. We want to see action.”
The letter calls for no Australian to be left behind during disasters and emergencies, noting that the Disability Royal Commission stated that people with disability are at greater risk of neglect during emergencies, as evidenced by the lack of prioritisation and equitable support during recent catastrophes.
Moss told Pro Bono News about a Queenslanders Disability Network member with a physical disability, who was endangered in recent flooding. The person uses a powered electric wheelchair, and received a message to evacuate his home as floodwaters were about inundate his home, so none of his support workers could reach him. Moss says there were other consequence “He lost power, and has medication that must remain refrigerated.”
A key part of the open letter demands government collaboration on a national plan to increase disaster preparedness, and calls for a roadmap toward investment that facilitates responses from across the sector, underpinned by collaborative, inclusive research.
It also requests future policy be created in partnership with other disaster-relief agencies, and people who are living with disability.
“Co-design is important because it means that the people who use the service, product, policy or law are the ones who know best about how it will impact upon them,” Moss said. “People with disability need to be involved from the beginning in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of the services, products, environments, and systems.”
While Moss cited loss of assistance equipment, possessions and access to temporary housing as relevant issues, she said COVID-19 also remained a significant challenge to the sector in a mental health context.
“QDN’s members have reported that … impacts on their mental health have grown. Some people have spent 18 months self-isolating and not going anywhere… this is going to have long term and compounding impacts, because high levels of fear and anxiety,” she said.
The full text of the open letter can be read here.