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Disabled will be left behind in disaster

Oct 21st, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

disability MAIN

WELLINGTONIANS with disabilities could find themselves left behind when disaster strikes.

Although the law requires assistance for people with a disability, it is common practice to evacuate them last, according to a Wellington Fire Service officer.

Fire safety officer Clive Hutchings also said there was no requirement to practise evacuating disabled people.

“Why bother to evacuate people in drills when it’s not a requirement – even for practice?” he said.

Mr Hutchings said he would be worried if he was a disabled person, reliant on someone else for his survival.

“It takes a lot to stay with someone. You never know if they will let you down at the last minute,” he said.

disability MICHELLEMichelle Walmsley (right), who uses a wheelchair, was left inside during school fire drills.

“There were steps outside of every fire escape, I was told to wait inside until the drill was over,” Ms Walmsely said.

“This was always the procedure right through all of my schooling and so I always had the impression I would be left behind.

“The experience has created within me a sense of helplessness and a resigned acceptance that I might not fare too well in a disaster.”

However, Ms Walmsley said it was sensible to evacuate those who could get out themselves first and to wait for professional assistance.

She said there was potential for injury when an inexperienced person assisted a disabled person to evacuate.

disability PATSTONDiversityworks Trust director Philip Patston (left) said a disaster such as the Christchurch earthquake was hard for anyone, but especially for people with a disability.

“I’ve talked to people who were unable get out of bed on their own and were unable to quickly leave the house. Waiting for emergency services to find you could mean waiting to die.”

He said it was standard practice in an emergency not to use the lifts and when 800 people need to be evacuated from a building with only a couple of staircases, someone needing to be carried will create a bottleneck.

“People can be left behind in evacuations, destroyed roads become an obstacle to people with mobility issues and people are evacuated without medicine, medical equipment, wheelchairs and service animals,” he said.

By law evacuation schemes must specify how people with a disability will be assisted.

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