Floods affect people with disability, carers more severely

University of Sydney researchers are calling for people with disability and carers should to be included in disaster preparation and recovery efforts.

University of Sydney researchers have found people with disability and carers are at more risk of experiencing homelessness and post-traumatic stress after floods and should be included in preparation and recovery efforts.

People with disability and their carers experienced profound impact and systemic neglect during and after the 2017 New South Wales Northern Rivers floods, with many still unable to access stable housing, the University of Sydney study published in BMJ Open has found.

The researchers surveyed and documented the experiences of over 250 people either with disability or carers affected by the 2017 Northern Rivers flood event.

It found people with disability and their carers were:

  • twice as likely to have their homes flooded, as housing in flood-prone areas is generally more affordable
  • four times more likely to be displaced, with a lack of access to safe long or short-term housing for more than six months
  • either highly distressed or twice or three times more likely to have probable post-traumatic stress disorder six months after the flood.

However, the findings could help inform recovery efforts for the 2022 eastern Australia floods, the researchers say.

Lead author Dr Jodie Bailie said people with disability and carers should be included in flood preparedness and recovery efforts.

Jodie Bailie

“The study identified multiple accessibility and public health issues which still persist – preventing vulnerable people from receiving the support they need. Carers play a vital role in providing support for people with disability and yet their experiences during disasters and its impact have received very limited attention,” Dr Bailie said in a statement.

“Floods expose and exacerbate existing social inequalities for people with disability and carers. We must ensure people with disability are included at all stages, including preparedness, response and recovery,” said Dr Bailie from the University of Sydney Centre for Rural Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health.

People with disability, carers have to ‘fend for themselves’

The study found that people with disability and carers often felt they were left to fend for themselves during and after the flood event. Challenges raised included evacuation information failing to take into account the needs of people with disability, which affected how quickly people responded.

One participant said deaf people were given oral directions that were not accompanied by sign language, and some reported not being able to hear warning sirens.

Other challenges include a lack of affordable accommodation for displaced people with disability and carers, which resulted in them living in unsafe accommodation which often had mould or structural damage, the study found.

Study co-author Associate Professor Michelle Villeneuve said nobody should be left behind during emergencies and disasters.

Michelle Villeneuve

“This study shows more than ever, people with disability and carers need to be equal partners when designing impactful policy and resources that truly benefit them. Only then can real development and change occur.”

Associate Professor Villeneuve leads ‘Collaborating 4 Inclusion’, a research team dedicated to disability inclusive disaster risk reduction in Australia. The research brings emergency personnel together with people with disability, carers and support services to design inclusive tools that are helping to shape emergency responses.

Elena Katrakis

Carers NSW CEO Elena Katrakis echoed the call for more inclusive disaster responses.

“The recent severe flooding in northern NSW has again highlighted the particular challenges experienced by people with disability and their carers,” Ms Katrakis said. “This research provides important evidence of the need for additional and ongoing support for people with disability and their carers affected by severe weather events.”

Carers affected by natural disasters are encouraged to contact their local Carer Gateway service provider on 1800 422 737 for support, and to download Carers NSW disaster planning and evacuation resources.

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Tags: disaster-preparedness, Elena-Katrakis, jodie bailie, michelle villeneuve, natural-disaster, NSW-Floods, university-of-sydney,

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