The recent floods affected many people in different ways but People with Disability are often affected in ways that no one can imagine and their stories were recently presented to the United Nations in New York by local woman Kelly Cox.
Ms Cox was part of the Disabled Peoples’ Organisations Australia (DPOA) delegation who travelled to New York to meet and work with advocates from around the world at the 15th Session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to look at increasing efforts to include people with disability in the next phase of the global response to COVID–19.
Delegates met at various events and forums over the three days to debate and discuss issues and ideas which will improve how people with disability can live with safety, equity and dignity in a world where COVID has become endemic. This included how people with disability are protected from COVID and explored the planning and implementation of COVID responses.
Climate action and resilience against natural disasters
The conference also included three sub-themes: Innovation and technology advancing disability rights; Economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities, and; Participation of persons with disabilities in climate action, disaster risk reduction and resilience against natural disasters. It was this last issue that Ms Cox addressed the conference about in regards to the February and March floods.
Ms Cox says that in all countries that spoke about natural disasters, the recurring theme was disabled people left at risk, essential equipment lost and the disproportionate impacts in regards to housing and recovery.
Ms Cox says the world continues to collectively experience a global situation of risk, the pandemic continues, armed conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters continue to happen. ‘Despite these events, state parties and governments have so much more to do to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people.
‘We had two devasting floods earlier this year. The second flood occurred only a month after the first, yet all the barriers disabled people experienced remained. Why are we not learning from mistakes?’
A need to commit to ensuring all disabled people are safe
Ms Cox says as a community of nations, we need to commit to ensuring all future situations of risk, take all the necessary measures that protect and keep disabled people safe. ‘Article 32 of the Convention recognises the international cooperation and promotion of national efforts that realise the purpose and objectives of the Convention.
‘As a member of an organisation that represents all people with disability in Australia, I urge all governments to consider how the spirit of international cooperation must include partnership processes to achieve two things: to bring governments and disabled people together, to identify barriers and effective measures that ensures the protection and safety of disabled people, and; allow governments and disabled people to come together to facilitate and support capacity building and exchange best practices.
The former must include and value the experiences of governments not as well-resourced as Australia. Our Pacific neighbours have been forced to innovate ways to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people, despite not having the same resources as Australia.’
Systems that promote consistent responses
Ms Cox says We need data to build systems that promote consistent responses. ‘We need data to ensure the protection and safety of disabled people in all situations of risk and what is equally important are our stories.
The stories were an integral part of Ms Cox’s presentation. In collaboration with local People with Disability and the Tree Faerie of Cloudcatcher Media, Ms Cox presented a 24-page booklet of stories from Northern Rivers residents who had struggled during the floods and in the aftermath and recovery.
From a desperate woman who felt helpless to aid the Deaf community, to an Indigenous man with PTSD who, yet again, feels displaced without a real home, to a young family who struggled with a system that doesn’t cater for anyone other than the typical flood refugee, and a woman who was in dire need of medical attention and supplies, who had to beg and borrow from other ill people to get through the day, the booklet tells heart-rending stories of what some people need to do to survive.
So close and so far
MS Cox said that one of the things that stood out to her was how far apart people were on some things and how similar they were on other things despite the wealth (or lack of) of different countries.
‘When COVID and assistive technology was discussed, countries who were better resourced reported favourable outcomes for disabled people – for example working from home, zoom meetings and telehealth, which allows disabled people to participate more equitably in everyday life.
‘Poorer countries didn’t see the same benefits, several commenting that many people didn’t have smartphones or access to reliable internet.
‘When it came to natural disasters the difference between the wealth of countries seemed to matter less. For example, the stories of disabled people in the south African floods were not all that different to those of Australia.’
Ms Cox says the whole event was an amazing opportunity to meet with people from so many countries around the world and discuss our differences and our similarities. ‘I have returned with so much increased perspective on how we are faring in Australia and what we need to prioritise going forward.
‘I’m looking forward to maintaining the ongoing connections I made and to continue sharing knowledge.’
You can view the booklet: Impact of climate change & natural disaster on disabled people.