The disability sector demands inclusive disaster preparedness

A pre-election open letter from disability rights and disability advocacy organizations calls for greater resources for disaster-affected people with disabilities.

A coalition of 40 disability rights and advocacy organizations has endorsed an open letter to politicians running for office in 2022, it demands a new approach to ensuring better safety and well-being for people living with disabilities during natural disasters.

One in six Australians live with some form of disability. The open letter explicitly asks that politicians “leave no Australians behind in disasters and emergencies”.

People with disabilities are more at risk during floods, bushfires, cyclones, droughts and pandemics, all of which have affected communities across the country, most recently with severe flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales, and bushfires in Western Australia.

The letter was developed by Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN) and national disability rights and advocacy organization People with Disability Australia, and endorsed by leading national disability organizations in all states and territories.

Michelle Moss, director of policy and strategic engagement at Queenslanders with a Disability Network, said this was a very important issue for Australians with disabilities.

“And having 40 cutting-edge organizations and eminent scholars [sign on] shows their commitment and the importance of this open letter,” Moss said. “For everyone to come together from across Australia, it highlights the seriousness of the problem. We want to see action.

The letter calls for no Australian to be left behind in disasters and emergencies, noting that the The Royal Commission on Disability said people with disabilities are at greater risk negligence during emergencies, as evidenced by the lack of prioritization and equitable support during recent disasters.

Moss spoke to Pro Bono News about a Queenslanders Disability Network member with a physical disability, who was put at risk during the recent floods. The person is using an electric wheelchair and received a message to evacuate their home as floodwaters were about to flood their home so none of their support workers could reach them. Moss says there were other consequences “He lost electricity and has medicine that needs to stay in the fridge.”

A key part of the open letter calls for government collaboration on a national plan to increase disaster preparedness and calls for a roadmap towards investments that facilitate sector-wide responses, underpinned by collaborative research and inclusive.

It also calls for future policy to be created in partnership with other disaster relief agencies and people living with disabilities.

“Co-design is important because it means that the people using the service, product, policy or law know best how it will impact them,” Moss said. “Persons with disabilities must be involved from the beginning in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of services, products, environments and systems.”

While Moss cited the loss of assistive equipment, property and access to temporary accommodation as relevant issues, she said COVID-19 also remained a significant challenge for the sector in a mental health context. .

“QDN members have reported that… the impacts on their mental health have increased. Some people have spent 18 months self-isolating and not going anywhere… this is going to have long term and aggravating impacts as high levels of fear and anxiety,” she said.

The full text of the open letter can be read here.