Sun | Aug 19, 2018

Earth Today | Spare a thought for children with disabilities in natural disasters

Published:Thursday | May 17, 2018 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Members of the steering committee for the Adaptation Programme and Financing Mechanism (AP&FM) share lens time with members of the White River Marine Association in St Ann. They were on a site visit for the association’s $5-million project, a key component of which is coral replanting. The project is financed through the Special Climate Change Adaptation Fund, administered by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica for the AP&FM.

THERE IS a strong call for Jamaicans to pay more attention to the safety of children with disabilities and to be more proactive in protecting them from threats, such as fires and natural disasters.

"Children with disabilities are most vulnerable to disasters. The issues faced by adults with disabilities are compounded for children, who rely on the adult - parent or guardian, caregiver or teacher - to help them move to safety. What happens when those in charge of programmes, facilities or the home are not empowered with the information needed to support safe evacuation of children who are blind, deaf, have intellectual/cognitive or physical disabilities?" noted Christine Staple-Ebanks, founder and president of the Nathan Ebanks Foundation.

"For people on the autism spectrum, for instance, rigidly sticking to routines and spending their time in repetitive behaviours are ways for them to reduce uncertainty and maintain the predictability of their environment. This makes the individual greatly resistant to any change in routine. So how does a teacher, caregiver or even rescue worker move a grown person - say a teenager or large child - quickly in the instance of a fire, hurricane or flood? These are conversations we need to have as a society to put plans and contingencies in place," she added.

Staple-Ebanks was speaking at the media launch of the Nathan Ebanks Family Expo and Special Needs Fair, held at the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation conference room on Tuesday.

The Nathan Ebanks Foundation is organising the expo and fair for May 26 at Hope Gardens in Kingston, under the theme: 'Healthy Choices, Healthy Families, Healthy Children: Climate Change, Disasters and Child Safety'.

According to Staple-Ebanks, more needs to be done to ensure that policy and planning for climate change in Jamaica caters to the needs of persons with disabilities.

Communications specialist with the Adaptation Programme and Financing Mechanism, Indi Mclymont-Lafayette, shared her sentiments while adding that her project could provide grant and loan funding to help persons with disabilities to implement initiatives to build their resilience to climate change.

Among some of the measures that have been recommended for action are:

- Greater inclusion of persons with disabilities in climate change and disaster planning;

- A National Disaster Early Warning System that caters to the needs of persons with disabilities, starting with communication of these warnings to the deaf, blind, persons with mobility/physical and intellectual disabilities;

- Funding of climate adaptation measures for persons with disabilities, including assistive technology; and

- Public education to share the warning systems, inform and educate persons with disabilities themselves and those supporting or caring for them.

Assistant Commissioner Floyd McLean of the Jamaica Fire Brigade suggested a buddy system for children with disabilities in emergency situations. That way, he said, "in an emergency situation, especially, there is someone there for them".