The Stream

Why are people with disabilities left out of disaster planning?

On Tuesday, October 18 at 19:30 GMT:
As climate change-related disasters proliferate around the world, more countries are strengthening their emergency preparedness. But when it comes to evacuating a flood in a wheelchair, managing schizophrenia medication during a hurricane, or accessing life-saving text messages in a wildfire, people with disabilities continue to be left out of the equation.

More than a billion people worldwide live with a disability. According to Oxford University, they are two to four times more likely to die in a disaster. Experts say this is because most countries – including the United States, China and Russia – don’t take the needs of people with disabilities into account while crafting their emergency plans. This is despite the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) requires signatories to protect those with disabilities during natural disasters, without discrimination.

However, some progress is being made. Across the globe, more disabled communities are working to raise awareness of their needs and asserting their legal rights for protection during emergencies. In New York, disabled people successfully sued for wheelchair-accessible public shelters after a hurricane. In Bangladesh, an early warning system for cyclones aims to reach everyone by combining TV and radio announcements with an army of volunteers who spread the word to neighbours via colored flags and loudspeakers.

But advocates say more thought needs to put into preparing for major disasters. They add that plans can be improved by bringing people with disabilities to the decision-making table and establishing accountability mechanisms to ensure disaster response is inclusive of all. In this episode, we’ll discuss the challenges facing the disabled community during disasters, what progress is being made in terms of emergency planning, and what still needs to be done.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Anna Landre, @annalandre
Disability Researcher

Germán Parodi, @glparodi
Co-Executive Director, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies

Erin Brown, @erinbrwnconnect
Disability Researcher