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Fire preparedness with persons with disabilities: a chance to listen

One firefighter rescue worker at wild fire blaze.

One in five people in Australia have a disability. Tomorrow, 3 December, is the International Day for People with a Disability (IDPWD) and an opportunity to share the work CFA is doing to best protect and prepare members.

Project Manager Community Engagement Angela Cook said people often have stereotypes of people with a disability.

“Often people’s stereotype of disability is a person in a wheelchair.

“But people with a disability can have many varying forms of a disability,” Angela added. “It could be sight or hearing disability; it could be debilitating anxiety or a chronic medical condition that causes ongoing pain.

“So sometimes people who walk straight past us will have a disability.”

This year’s theme for IDPWD is not all disabilities are visible.

What does it mean if someone has a disability? How do you factor this into your fire planning conversation?  How does CFA talk to people about this?

“The PVP project aims to improve fire preparedness planning for people who are at greatest risk,” Angela said.

“Many people at greatest risk will have some form of disability and in most cases, it will be a significant or permanent disability.

“For people with a significant or permanent disability there can be multiple barriers in planning to leave early and in having a realistic and achievable bushfire plan.

“But at the same time, we need to recognise that people with a disability are often the expert in their own lives,” Angela added. “They often must manage challenging circumstances and come up with unique ways to meet these challenges. Bushfire is just another challenge.

“So rather than looking at people with a disability with a lens of having to protect them, this project is using a person-centred lens.”

The Preparing Vulnerable People project is using the P-CEP (Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness) framework to guide what they do.

They are also being guided by people who have a disability, like Toni who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) that has progressed to a point where she needs 24-hour support and care.

Toni lives on the outskirts of a regional town and was concerned about her bushfire risk. She contacted CFA in 2018 about these concerns.

“Over the past two years I’ve learned a lot listening to Toni and learning how her disability impacts on her bushfire planning,” Angela said, “particularly planning to leave and what she needs to be able to leave her house. Toni and I have recorded a short podcast to share with you and felt it was very relevant to release at this time.”

“Toni also reminded me last month to recognise that we too could wake up one day and our world could totally change with an unexpected diagnosis.

“That was Toni’s experience, going from a functional, happy existence, as a psychologist advising government and appearing in the supreme court, to an MS person, and then to a widow with MS who is often not even listened to.

“Her story and experience are a constant reminder and motivator for this project.”

If you want to learn more about the Preparing Vulnerable People project you have a few options:

You can watch an online presentation online on YouTube from a Disability and Disaster forum.

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