Persons with disabilities most affected by disaster

A University of Canterbury expert says people with disabilities are among the most adversely affected during conflict situations or when natural disasters strike.

Adjunct Professor Dr David Mitchell says during such times people with disabilities experience higher mortality rates, have fewer available resources and less access to help.

An evacuation drill being conducted in Dong Phuoc village, Vietnam. Photo: Guilhem Alandry/doculab/Malteser International/UNISDR

An evacuation drill being conducted in Dong Phuoc village, Vietnam. Photo: Guilhem Alandry/doculab/Malteser International/UNISDR

Dr Mitchell has published two books with English publisher, Routledge. The first of these, Crises, conflict and disability, he co-edited with Valerie Karr from the University of New Hampshire in the United States.

This 27-chapter book questions how law, policies and regulations provide guidance, methods and strategies can help in people with disabilities following a disaster.

“What should people with disabilities know in order to be prepared for emergency situations? What lessons have we learned from past experiences?

“Two lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes show there should be an inclusive approach in emergency planning, preparedness, response and recovery processes with good representation of people with disabilities and their organizations.

“An understanding of disability should be part of any preparation and training of frontline personnel and emergency managers. Collaboration and cooperation between disability organizations, government and volunteers facilitate support to individuals with disabilities, building on local capacities.

“The book explains how refugees with disabilities are one of the most disenfranchised groups in the world. It examines how New Zealand resettles refugees with disabilities.

“Less than one percent of the world’s refugees are allocated resettlement opportunities. For refugees with a disability, resettlement options are even more limited.  Once resettled, refugees face huge challenges of understanding and accessing support services in an unfamiliar cultural environment.’’

Dr Mitchell’s second book, What really works in special and inclusive education (second edition), is aimed at teachers and provides them with evidence-based strategies for teaching children with special needs they can immediately put into practice in their classrooms.

The book provides research-based approaches to improving the achievement of children who are experiencing difficulties in the New Zealand education system.

Each of the 27 strategies in the book has a substantial research base, a strong theoretical rationale and clear guidelines on their implementation, as well as cautionary advice where necessary.

The first edition has been widely used in countries as diverse as Finland and Ethiopia, while the second edition is currently being translated into Danish and Japanese, with the possibility of Chinese and Arabic translations being currently explored. It is prescribed as a text at the University of Canterbury’s College of Education.

Professor Mitchell says he hopes that the Ministry of Education will support the promotion of the book in New Zealand schools.

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