Two things are predictable concerning people with disabilities and natural disasters. One, they will be displaced making it even tougher to gain access to basic supports. Two, there will be even more people with disabilities as a result of the catastrophe.
According to a 2008 report more than 10% of the 35 million people who are displaced because of war, civil conflict or natural disaster, have disabilities. The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that people with disabilities remain among the most hidden, neglected and socially excluded of all displaced people today.
Dr. Gregor Wolbring from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary intends to remedy this and he wants to make post earthquake Haiti a model for the restoration, resettlement and reintegration of displaced people with disabilities after future disasters.
The current issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health contains Gregor's thoughtful and comprehensive commentary: Disability, Displacement and Public Health: A Vision for Haiti.
The disaster in Haiti made the lives of those already living with disabilities (over 800,000 with mental and physical conditions) worse. It also resulted in many more people with limbs amputated, spinal cord injuries, emotional and mental trauma. The demand for wheelchairs and orthopaedic devices is enormous. Patients often leave hospital after care or surgery with no treatment advice, post operative follow-up, rehabilitation, adaptive devices or wheelchairs.
Among Gregor's recommendations is one that universal design be used in rebuilding, something that was forgotten in Honduras during reconstruction after Hurricane Mitch. Universal design, ensures products and environments are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. When incorporated into the initial construction, universal design doesn't add to costs.
Aside from his research into the moral and ethical dilemmas inherent in medical advances, nano technology and synthetic biology, Gregor does what no one else in the world does. He analyzes global public policy challenges such as climate change, peak oil, and energy security from the perspective of people with disabilities. Thanks to his research and advocacy the voice of people with disabilities may no longer be another casualty of catastrophic events.