In the light of recent severe weather events and other natural disasters all over the world, from super-typhoon Mangkhut in the Pacific to the continuing volcanic eruptions on Hawai’i’s Big Island, some activists are raising the issue of how inclusive emergency and evacuation services are for people with disabilities.
The University of Sydney (Australia) and government agencies in New South Wales have put together a toolkit that focuses on the “capabilities and support needs” of people living with disabilities.
It’s certainly a laudable effort, and I found some useful reminders for myself in the toolkit. However, a number of disability activists have pointed out some flaws in the initiative’s approach. A Twitter thread by user @mssinenomine highlights the unaddressed challenges many people with disabilities face. One such challenge? “They also recommend you have a good supply of necessary medications - that especially could be awhile. Well the govt office of emergency preparedness might wanna talk to Pharmacare, doctors and pharmacists about that.” User @AShettle responds, “When they tell you to keep an extra X day supply of medications for emergencies, they never tell you how people are supposed to do this if they're on one (or more!) of the meds that can only be doled out a 7-day supply or whatever at a time.”
How do agencies and organizations looking to create disaster plans for people living with disabilities make them more inclusive? I think one answer has to be including more people with disabilities (including people with disabilities living alone, and people with disabilities living on low incomes) in the process of creating these plans.
Many of the “usual suspects” from the disability community contacted for these initiatives are people in the public eye, or people who work professionally as disability advocates within the government or non-profit sector. These are generally higher-income folks who may not be intimately familiar with the challenges faced by many low-income people with disabilities. We need to find ways to open up the design process for emergency services to more voices, particularly from the people who are facing the most significant challenges.