Children with disabilities and disaster risk reduction in New Zealand

Posted 01 Mar 2017 by GovtEQC
Posted in EQC , EQR

Steve Ronoh (supervised by JC Gaillard, J Marlowe), University of Auckland (EQC funded project 13/U647)

Non-Technical Abstract

Every year, approximately seven million children with disabilities are affected by disasters worldwide. This figure highlights the particular vulnerability these children face from natural hazards. They are often excluded from disaster risk reduction (DRR) planning and portrayed as ‘helpless’ in the face of disasters. Children with disabilities have many different abilities, skills and capacities that result in different levels of vulnerability. Although there is a growing move world-wide to promote the rights of people with disabilities, these children still receive little attention. They are overlooked by researchers and policy makers, so inclusive DRR planning is rare. This report draws on findings of a study of three New Zealand schools, working with children with a variety of disabilities, on their experiences in the face of natural hazards. The schools are in the regions of Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. It reports on challenges they may face and identifies their capacities within a school setting, by focusing on their perceptions and experiences through the voice of both the children themselves and adult participants. The research also identifies difficulties that exist in achieving disability-inclusive DRR, and shows that ideas about DRR are shaped and influenced by the social and economic factors affecting them. Based on the participants’ existing variety of potential vulnerabilities and capacities (individual and group) and their potential contribution in DRR, the research offers suggestions for policy and practice of a more inclusive approach to DRR. It emphasises the need to target resources and programmes that aid and improve effective communication between adults and children. This will encourage a full participation in DRR, recognising children’s spectrum of abilities.

Technical Abstract

The global rise in the number of disasters is largely due to the interplay between environmental and human factors. Children, and especially children with disabilities, are disproportionately impacted by disasters, with an estimated seven million children affected worldwide annually. Children with disabilities can have increased vulnerabilities because of mobility difficulties, pre-existing medical conditions, existing socio-economic barriers and policies that fail to recognise their diverse needs. Indeed, researchers and practitioners have historically overlooked the experiences and needs of children, particularly so for those with disabilities, who are disproportionately affected by natural hazards and disasters. Their capacities, needs and, importantly, their potential roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR) have received little consideration from researchers and policy makers.

This report draws on findings of a multi-case study of three New Zealand schools working with children with diverse disabilities. The schools are in the regions of Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. It aims to generate new information to help inform DRR and give direction and a holistic framework towards the development of an inclusive approach to DRR. This orientation aims to specifically integrate the experiences, perspectives and needs of children with disabilities. Although grounded in disaster studies, this thesis frequently draws upon the wider scholarship related to children, participatory approaches and disability. The central goal of the study is to assess and interpret the experiences of children with disabilities in dealing with natural hazards and to identify their actual and potential contribution to DRR. It presents the use of flexible participatory tools that supported a sustained continuum of engagement among children with diverse disabilities, skills, and experiences. Crucially, this work offers a bridge and conceptual framework that recognizes communication as a two-way process between adults and children by requiring adults to learn how children express their views, thus according participants a voice in DRR research.

The case studies reveal considerable variation on how children with disabilities access available resources and perceive, face and cope with natural hazards. The research also identifies constraints and complexities towards achieving disability-inclusive DRR and shows that ideas about DRR are shaped and influenced by socio-economic structures. Based on the participants’ existing variation of potential vulnerabilities and capacities (individual and group) and their potential contribution in DRR, the thesis offers suggestions for policy and practice of a more inclusive approach to DRR. It emphasises the need to direct resources and programmes that facilitate and strengthen effective communication between adults and children, to encourage sustained participation along children’s spectrum of abilities. Finally, the research recommends a framework incorporating a shift in attitude to children with disabilities as integral and active participants in DRR.

Issue date: 
28 February 2017
Category: 
Risk
Paper number: 
1407
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