Accessibility in Disaster Risk Reduction – explaining the ‘why’

Sunday, 30 March 2014 08:27 GMT

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hi from the Philippines again, where time is still flying!

My next blog is going to be about how to practice inclusion, after I conduct some trainings with partners here today and tomorrow. So I thought it would help if I first explain ‘why‘ accessibility is so important in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

Makes sense I hope?

It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the most vulnerable in society, those living in poverty, in poor housing conditions, with minimal access to services, and who face social and political discrimination are at greatest risk of suffering from the impacts of disasters.

Persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented amongst societies’ poorest, with reduced income earning opportunities and less access to services. In the event of a disaster they are amongst the most vulnerable members of society.

The Japan earthquake in 2011 showed the death toll of persons living with disabilities was double that of persons without disabilities.

Even in high-income countries, persons with disabilities and ageing population are disproportionately affected by disaster and emergency situations. How many people have been left behind in panic because a lack of preparation and planning? How many persons with disabilities and elderly died because the lack of access to early warnings systems, the lack of access to transportation and lack of access to barrier-free houses?

For those who could reach the evacuation centres, they had to face another range of barriers. Evacuation centres are tough places for persons with hearing impairment who cannot hear the signal telling arrival of relief supply, or for those with visual impairments who cannot move smoothly in a crowded place. What about persons in wheelchairs who cannot use the toilet because they are not universally designed?

Since I have been working in the field of accessibility, I’ve realised that removing barriers and obstacles towards a barrier free environment and an inclusive society is challenging, whether in France (my home country) or in Haiti (where I worked for some time). Much remains to be done to turn legal and regulatory accessibility provisions to reality.

Nonetheless, working with CBM, I’ve also realised that, despite the devastation they cause, disasters also provide an opportunity to change this paradigm, to change attitudes of people, to build accessible schools, hospitals, and houses, to ultimately better prepare communities and persons with disabilities to respond to the event of an emergency.

That is why CBM’s work in DRR (Disaster Risk Reduction) is so important. Accessibility is for everyone and engaging everyone : a society accessible for persons with disabilities is one accessible to all.

I hope that helps – you should read more from me soon.

Read more about disability inclusion in emergency preparedness and response