Special Guest Blog by Priyanka Tyagi, Ph.D. (India)

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes disability as a condition that leads a person to the state of:
  • impairment (a problem in body function and structure),
  • limitation of activities (difficulties in executing daily life activities) and
  • restricting their participation (limiting their participation in the life and outer world situations)

People living with physical disability are vulnerable in disasters because of their mobility limitations.

They are unable to escape from hazards and their needs have been somewhat neglected in planning and relief measures. In Bay of Bengal Tsunami of 2004 an estimated 700 physically handicapped people died as they could not reach up to the high lands (Hans, 2012).

There is a need to manage data of persons with a disability, for mobilizing them to safer places if a disaster strikes. Persons with disabilities need special approach depending upon their disabilities. There is the need to prepare families for emergencies and document their specific response and relief.

Unfortunately, disasters tend to increase the level of discrimination against people with disabilities.

For example, in earthquakes people in wheelchairs cannot take refuge under desks and tables, and neither can they rapidly exit a building downstairs (Rahimi 1993). Indeed, in both fire and earthquakes they may be trapped in buildings because elevators are not to be used in such emergencies. People who are deaf or have visual disorders may not hear verbal orders to evacuate or see emergency lights (Kailes 2002).

Conservative estimates suggest that 7 million children with disabilities are impacted by disasters each year (Peek and Stough 2010).

Millions more acquire disabilities during childhood because of disasters. For example, in Haiti, hundreds of children lost their limbs due to crushing during the earthquake, while others were forced to undergo amputations as a result of secondary infections.

And let us not forget that disaster-related disabilities include both physical and psychological injuries. Those persons should be provided with access to mental health services.

Persons with disability deserve our special care when disasters strike.

Considering their disability during planning helps us to reduce their vulnerability and respond more effectively – for everyone.

Please leave your comments below and check out our related DisasterDoc blog entitled, “The difference between disaster safety and resilience”



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