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Disability and Disaster Resilience Forum

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Event description

The purpose of this forum is to identify and explore priority issues in emergency management for people with disability and examine why responses are failing to be consistently inclusive in spite of the rights-based frameworks and policies that are in place. 


This year is a strong contender for the ‘Year of the Disaster’ with the longest drought, highest floods and most intense bushfires on record, and a global health pandemic that continues to wreak social and economic havoc.  

Time and time again, we find the needs of people with disability are overlooked or, at best, only considered in a piecemeal manner.  For example, when COVID-19 hit, it took 70 national, state and territory disability organisations to sign an open letter calling on all levels of government to consider urgent actions that would protect the lives of Australians with disability, before public officials scrambled to engage.

As the community concurrently navigates bushfire recovery and COVID-19response, we have a unique opportunity to come together to centre the lived experience of people with disability, and identify, reflect on, learn from, and advocate for improved responses to people with disability in times of disaster.   

We could spend a lot of time unpacking the reasons for institutional neglect but what we really want to know is, in the context of emergency preparedness, response and recovery, what has to change to ensure that the rights of people with disability are embedded in a meaningful way into all government programs, plans, strategies and policies? How do we clear a path to full inclusion? 

Auslan interpreters are provided. A link to connect to the closed captioning  will be  in the chat box at the beginning of the forum


* Note that the times given are an indication only.

Welcome and housekeeping
Melissa Hale, DARU Coordinator

Opening Address
Andrew Crisp, Emergency Management Commissioner, Victoria

Helicopter Overview to the Rescue
Professor Anne Kavanagh, Chair in Disability and Health, Disability and Health, Centre for Health Equity, University of Melbourne

Key national frameworks, such as The National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework 2018 and The Australian Disaster Preparedness Framework 2018, have been tested and found wanting.  People with disabilities require governments – and other partners in emergency preparedness, response and recovery – to do better.

Professor Anne Kavanagh Measures the protections outlined in the policy framework against the  experience  of people with disabilities, particularly during COVID-19, and provides pointers to where the shortfalls might lie.

And what about the NDIA? How effective has it been as the ‘go to’ agency for people with disability in crisis? How have those people who are disproportionately disadvantaged fared, such as people with complex communication needs, live remotely or are illiterate?

Stretch Break

Disability Inclusive Disaster Preparedness
Associate Professor Michelle Villeneuve, Centre for Disability Research and Policy, University of Sydney

Emergency management is complicated and is usually divided into planning, response and recovery. The planning phase is crucial in order to identify  the risks, who is more vulnerable to those risks and develop a plan of action for when the disaster strikes to stay safe. Whole conferences have dedicated themselves to thinking about these things. Might it be that local solutions – that are inclusive of people with disability – are what really works?

Michelle Villenueve- led the DISABILITY INCLUSIVE DISASTER PREPAREDNESS IN NSW project. She will provide the key findings and steps to making a disaster management plan that is truly inclusive of people with disability.

Stretch Break

Person Centered Risk Assessment
Angela Cook, Project Manager, Community Engagement, Country Fire Authority

The Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness framework is being used to inform the ‘Preparing Vulnerable People’  project at the CFA.  The resources that have been developed as part of the project recognise that people with disability are in the best position to plan for their own safety in the event of a bushfire, because they know what they are able to do for themselves and what assistance is needed before, during and after an emergency.

Angela Cook shares details of the project, the current resources available and the plans for trialing the approach over the coming bushfire season.

Lunch  in the ‘Danger Zone’ - a collection of music videos 

Disaster meets disability 

Disasters amplify the existing fault lines already experienced by people with disability to live an ordinary life. The best way to truly understand the impact of disasters on people with disability is to hear their stories first hand. This session is a case study video, showcasing the real life stories and impacts on three people with disabilities in the midst of 2020’s disasters.

Bridging the gaps and playing safe crisis
Panel Session facilitated by Bridget Tehan, Policy Advisor Emergency Management, VCOSS.


  • Christina Ryan, CEO, Disability Leadership Institute
  • Adrian Terranova, Executive Officer, Gippsland Disability Advocacy Inc.
  • Michele Watson, Coordinator for Community Programs, Aged & Disability Services and Deputy Municipal Recovery Manager at Yarra City Council
  • Angela Cook, Project Manager, Community Engagement, Country Fire Authority

This panel session will distill the issues and failures that have been thrown up so far in this year of disasters, and then move the focus to finding practical solutions to make crisis management inclusive. People with disability have the right to be supported and stay safe through disasters just like everyone else.

Where are the gaps between the policy framework and protections and the lived experience and what needs to happen to close the gap in the future?  How do we ensure that everyone has access to the supports they need to stay safe?

Next steps and wrap
Melissa Hale, DARU Coordinator

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