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UN report: disaster plans lacking for people with disabilities

A first-of-its kind, United Nations study of worldwide disaster response plans reveals that “the key reason why a disproportionate number of disabled persons suffer and die in disasters is because their needs are ignored and neglected by the official planning process in the majority of situations,” says the head of the UN’s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

People with disabilities that make it difficult to evacuate need to have plans in place in case of an emergency, but many do not. More concerning, however, is that a number of techniques government emergency managers use to communicate during disasters don’t work for many people with disabilities.

UN researchers surveyed 5,450 people from 126 countries around the world. Only 20 percent of the respondents said they would be able to evacuate without difficulty in a disaster. Fully 6 percent assumed they would not be able to escape at all, and only a third said they would always have someone available to help.

Yet nearly 7 out of 10 people with disabilities said they had no disaster preparedness plan of their own, and only 17 percent were aware of their community’s disaster plan or of resources available if they need assistance.

That does not mean, however, that the respondents were passively standing by. Many described taking certain precautions when the weather is threatening. Once person described sleeping in a wheelchair so they could be evacuated more easily. Another, pointing out that those with hearing limitations can’t hear tornado sirens, stays up all night in bad weather to keep an eye on the news, if necessary.

When it comes to emergency preparedness planning, it may be true that most communities are doing their best with what they have. The fact that even industrialized countries don’t communicate disaster information in ways accessible to people with disabilities, however, is shocking.

For example, one suggestion by a survey respondent was that emergency managers avoid using color codes when communicating, as they are unhelpful to people with visual impairments.

Another simple but sound suggestion was merely to ensure that wheelchair accessibility is taken into account in official evacuation plans.

The head of the Disaster Risk Reduction office found the survey results “shocking,” for when people with disabilities have no personal or community resources available for assistance, she said, “they are often left totally reliant on the kindness of family, friends and neighbors for their survival and safety.”

Source: Disability Scoop, “Emergency Plans Lacking For Most With Disabilities,” Michelle Diament, Oct. 11, 2013

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