Walking Tall: How DRR Can be Made Inclusive for All

Nueva Ecija Association of Persons with Disability (NEAPWD MPC)

Lolita Gelle, Eileen Discar, Nilanie Legaspi, Larilyn Leobrera, & Oscar Maravilla

We have come up with a field guide on disability inclusive DRR - providing tips and guidance to ensure persons with disability are included in DRR planning

Persons with disability are actively participating & consulted in DRR plans of the local government.

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Support in building disability-specific emergency GO bags; and Dissemination of DIDRRM field guide across organizations in the Philippines

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I froze. I did not know whether I should stay put or go outside our house. I should have ducked, covered, and held myself in place. But I was not even aware of that back then.

Before TUKLAS, PWDs—actually everyone in the community just let disasters happen to them. Now that we understand the importance of DRR, we can do something about it.

Nilanie Legaspi, or Lanie as she is fondly called, has always known what to do. Self-assured and confident, Lanie did not let the crutches aiding her mobility define her. Coming from a family of nine children, she could have chosen to be mediocre. But Lanie did not, working hard to put herself through school and becoming a leader in her community.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake which hit her native Nueva Ecija in 1990, however, was such an experience that Lani found herself blanking out. Perhaps for the only time in her life, she just didn’t know what to do.

“I froze. I did not know whether I should stay put or go outside our house,” she said. “I should have ducked, covered, and held myself in place. But I was not even aware of that back then.”

Lani did not lose her spirit. The experience made her realize that persons with disability (PWDs) must be ready for anything.

Years later, she got her chance to contribute to that cause. The Foundation for These-Abled Persons, Inc. (FTI) had just partnered with TUKLAS Innovation Labs for an innovative project on disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction (DiDRR). As a member of the Nueva Ecija Association of Persons with Disability Multi-Purpose Cooperative (NEAPWD MPC), Lani happily volunteered her knowledge.

“If persons with disability are to be safer, then we must become more involved in DRR,” she said.

CAPACITY, NOT DISABILITY

PWDs often suffer from social exclusion, high poverty rates, and lack of access to essential services such as education, health, and meaningful employment. Such vulnerabilities become even more magnified during disasters when they are usually last to be rescued or given relief goods. Their specific needs are often not addressed adequately by local government authorities.

“The very name of our organization points to the capacity of PWDs rather than their disabilities,” shared FTI executive director Loi Gelle. She argues that PWDs should be seen not just as beneficiaries but also as partners in program planning and implementation.

Being a wheelchair-user seems to have made Loi anything but steady. She has led FTI in several emergency response and recovery projects, with the most recent one providing housing to PWDs affected by Typhoon Yolanda. Through these experiences, she realized that merely responding after a disaster has already occurred is not enough. If lives and livelihoods are to be preserved, preparedness is a must.

LEARNING TO DESIGN

Initially, Ania relied on national-level data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on casualties and damages wrought by disasters for designing DPS. But what they learned, as they talked to barangay officials, teachers, and community members, is that context is everything.

“As software designers, we sometimes get stuck in a bubble of our biases and preferences,” said Lara. “What we learned through TUKLAS is that the community has to be the center of our project. We have to learn from their practices and pre-existing systems if the simulator is to become a truly immersive experience.”

These discussions gave the Ania team valuable insights into the design of the VR environment, particularly on the typical Filipino house and school. They were also linked by TUKLAS to a DRRM consultant who provided guidance on technical matters and ensured that the scenarios were realistic.

Patrick recalls one particular recommendation that stuck with him. “Anthony, the DRR consultant, advised us to set the VR scenarios during the nighttime. He told us, ‘What you can do at night, you can do by day, but not everything you do by day can be done during the night,'” he said.

SELF-HELP

For TUKLAS Innovation Labs, FTI chose to partner with NEAPWD MPC and Barangay Bakodbayan in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija. They have previously worked together in the aftermath of 2013’s Typhoon Santi, relocating members’ house and livelihood facilities to the barangay.

The cooperative has around 60 members with various disabilities who are engaged in livelihood activities such as woodworking and production of organic fertilizers. With their limited knowledge in DRR, NEAPWD MPC members have felt unprepared and helpless during previous disasters.

Knowing that strength lies in numbers, FTI facilitated a training session for cooperative members on how to run a good self-help organization. It helped Lani and her colleagues improve their skills in areas such as public speaking, facilitating meetings, and delegating tasks. The goal was to strengthen PWDs’ capacity to lobby for their own rights in front of government officials.

REDUCING RISK

Cabanatuan City plays host to several natural hazards—earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and landslides. There was definitely a clear need to raise awareness on how these could affect PWDs. The starting point, as with most community-led projects, was at the barangay level.

“Bakodbayan does not yet have a clear plan for DRR, much less so for Disability Inclusive DRR (DiDRR),” said Loi. PWDs were not consulted, warning systems did not prioritize getting to them first, and facilities were generally not accessibility-friendly.

It is with this in mind that FTI conducted training sessions on DiDRR, which were attended not only by PWDs but also their family members and officials of Barangay Bakodbayan This is crucial because in emergency situations, PWDs have to rely more on these two groups for quick, life-saving actions.

Risk assessment and contingency planning sessions were also conducted. Areas at high risk to particular hazards were identified and plans were made to minimize PWD vulnerability. These were done in partnership with Assistance and Cooperation for Community Resilience and Development, Inc. (ACCORD), a non-government organization with expertise in community-based disaster risk management.

The training sessions helped Lani in her role as field coordinator, ensuring the continuous flow of information among FTI staff, local government officials, and PWDs. Among other accomplishments, she is proud to have helped in the mapping of PWDs living in the the barangay.

“Updating the local government database was a challenge. We needed to know not only the number of PWDs but also their specific functional disabilities,” Lani recalled. This information is indeed crucial to providing PWDs with access to specific services, depending on their disability.

They also conducted an educational tour in nearby Barangay Pagas, which has several best practices in mainstreaming disability inclusion in DRR planning. For one, ramps and PWD-accessible comfort rooms were made available in their evacuation centers. As part of their early warning system, the barangay also had people checking directly on PWDs from house-to-house.

MAKING A CHANGE

In all project activities, an important consideration was to change the mindset among government officials towards PWDs. Lani shares, “Some officials I met only think of us as passive recipients, not equal partners. A few even asked why we PWDs are involving ourselves too much in DRR matters. I had to be patient and engage in dialogues so they would be able to see us as we really are.”

This is also the reason why FTI chose to focus mainly on capacity-building and advocacy-strengthening activities. “Of course, we need things like ramps and sign language interpreters. But before we get there, we have to raise awareness on PWD rights,” said Loi.

Awareness remains insufficient if it is not followed by focused action. “Before, the barangay did not really make an effort to reach out to PWDs,” said Lani. “If we want PWDs to be safe, then accessibility must be a priority.”

Understanding this concern well, FTI took the lead in modeling best practices for the barangay to following areas such as how to facilitate meetings (e.g. interpreters for deaf/mute attendees, blind participants expressly engaged in conversations, etc.) and picking PWD-friendly venues.

“We wanted to show the barangay officials we invite to attend our activities that PWD participation should not be a token participation,” said Loi. “They must be given the means to actively and productively contribute.”

PROVIDING A STANDARD

For Loi, the most significant outcome of the project came with their DiDRR field guide. The document, based on FTI’s learnings from previous projects as well as inputs from PWDs,  provides a checklist on how a disability-inclusive disaster program should look like. The field guide includes a manual on how to create a go-bag and first aid guidelines for each disability.

“Initially, it was not part of our work plan,” Loi shares. But we realized that to really change perceptions about PWDs, we must have something concrete. This field guide provides a standard by which local government units can measure  if their efforts in DRR are disability-inclusive or not.”

The field guide will also be shared with communities in Leyte with whom FTI is currently implementing long-term DiDRR projects.

DOING HER PART

Many things remain to be done after the TUKLAS project ends, but Lani is equal to the task. She is organizing a training on DiDRR for representatives from across Nueva Ecija, targeted next year. Lani also plans to lobby for the conduct of more drills for PWDs, the building of PWD-friendly evacuation centers, as well as the establishment of house-to-house early warning systems.

“Before TUKLAS, PWDs—actually everyone in the community just let disasters happen to them. Now that we understand the importance of DRR, we can do something about it,” she said.