In the aftermath of the 7.5 Kaikoura earthquake struck we, and other disabled citizens, note with grave concerns the lack of effort to ensure all people including those who are Deaf and disabled are fully informed and accommodated during this emergency.
The lack of sign language interpreters in television broadcasts was particularly noticeable. It was assumed that every person in New Zealand can hear, access to the internet and can read English. Many Deaf New Zealanders use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) to access information as this is their first language. We are also aware Deaf people were not able to access the 111 Text Service as well which demonstrates the need for Deaf people to have the ability to text for advice and guidance and to receive updates.
For disabled people the lack of information on who we can approach for assistance if we are stranded or stuck is worrying. Details on how to get to an emergency centre and if it is accessible is important. This information is not readily available therefore adds to an already stressful situation.
During the Christchurch earthquakes in February 2011 the need to have plans in place to ensure Deaf people have access to information and disabled people are not stranded in bed for days was highlighted. The community invested time and energy in engaging with the relevant authorities to ensure plans were in place next time an incident like this occurs.
Unfortunately, we are yet to see NZSL Interpreters on television. Deaf people are instructed to listen to the radio. Again, the community is advocating for NZSL accessible information. We also see messages from disabled people asking for information which indicates it is not readily available.
New Zealand is a diverse community; emergency responsiveness needs to include all members of the community. In fact, this is a requirement within the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the NZ Human Rights Act 1993. Many countries internationally have Disability Responsive plans in place to ensure disabled people are informed and safe.
It is necessary to ask what do the Ministers expect of Civil Defence in relation to the disability community when one in four New Zealanders experience disability? What plans are in place to ensure the community is informed and processes are accessible when incidences occur? How will Civil Defence engage with their local community in the planning of local procedures as well as national procedures?
Our safety matters too.
Concerned Disabled Citizens
DR Huhana Hickey