Under Australia’s new Disability Strategy 2021-31, all governments, as well as community organisations and businesses, are required to include people with disability in their emergency management and disaster response and recovery planning.

The risk for people with disability is even higher for those experiencing intersecting issues limiting their capacity to respond during a disaster, such as financial stress, precarious housing, or low English literacy. In the City of Greater Dandenong (CGD) 6.8 per cent of residents need assistance with daily activities, and 64 per cent of residents are born overseas. Over the past two years, Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places has been working with the CGD’s sustainability and health and wellbeing teams to build an understanding of climate vulnerability in their municipality and include the voices of those with lived experience in shaping their programs and policies.

Our work together has included a municipal scan of health and wellbeing indicators as they interact with climate impacts, a series of community workshops exploring the cascading impacts of disruption to community services during periods of extreme weather, piloting an organisational resilience-building exercise with a neighbourhood house and community leaders and, most recently, a Disability Inclusive Emergency Planning Forum.

The Forum was delivered in partnership with University of Sydney’s Centre for Disability Research and Policy, CGD and City of Casey, inviting people with disability, carers, disability service providers, council and emergency management personnel, to make recommendations to improve inclusive municipal emergency management planning.

Participants at the forum

Photo by Jack Piper.

The discussions at the forum reinforced the importance of including the voices of those with lived experience in planning. For example, one participant, who lives in a high fire risk area, shared that they had sought information on local evacuation centres only to discover that if they were required to leave their home there would be no formal evacuation centre in the vicinity that could accommodate their needs, including a wheelchair accessible bathroom, a raised bed, and shelter for their support animal.

The forum also highlighted the important role of community service and community health organisations (CSHOs) in building the resilience of the wider community. CSHOs – including disability service providers – are instrumental in supporting participants to develop individual emergency plans before emergencies strike and are on the frontline supporting people with disability during extreme weather events. But the organisations themselves are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change through service disruption and surges in demand, raising the risk of flow-on effects for the people they support.

Alongside this work with the CGD, the Centre for Just Places is working with CSHOs and local governments across Melbourne to increase climate resilience. Some recent examples of this work include coordinating a Resilience Community of Practice, with a recent Victorian election platform calling for greater investment in adaptation in the community service and health sector, and the Mobilising Climate Just and Resilient Communities in Melbourne’s West initiative, which brought together 44 CSHOs, as well as policymakers and sector networks to further understand the localised and systemic drivers of climate vulnerabilities in the region.