As we already know, years of severe drought and recent record-breaking temperatures have fueled a series of major bushfires across Australia. This tragedy has ravaged local communities and caused indescribable destruction to infrastructure, flora and fauna in the regions.
At the time of this article, 30 people have so far been killed (including four firefighters), a number closer to 1 billion wildlife have perished and an estimated 10 million hectares of bush, forest and parks across Australia have perished.
But the crisis is far from over.
When tragedy strikes, people with disability often find themselves the most vulnerable, disproportionately at risk and the least able to access support and crisis information.
However, there are some remarkable resources and services available. Understanding these materials, having a great contingency plan and early preparation are the triggers to staying safe during a disaster.
As we are amidst the hottest months of the year, Australians must stay aware and stay safe.
Victoria’s Emergency Services are best placed to support anyone in the affected areas, so we strongly encourage you to follow their advice. Official warnings and information about areas affected by fires is available through Victoria’s Emergency website.
VIC Emergency Services:
- VicEmergency Hotline – call 1800 226 226
- In-language VicEmergency Hotline – call 131 450 (Translating and Interpreting Service)
- VicEmergency website – emergency.vic.gov.au/respond
- VicEmergency app – download the app on your device via the App Store (Apple) or GooglePlay (Android)
We encourage you to support community members in your area by passing on these details.
Air Quality & Breathing Difficulties
Smoke from the fires is far reaching. It’s not only affecting air quality in areas close to the fires, it is also posing a threat to people hundreds of kilometres away.
Monitor the air quality in your region via the following tools.
- Environment Protection Agency on EPA AIRWATCH
- World Air Quality Index project
- Air Visual– Australia air quality and air pollution index
- Bureau of Meteorology air pollution roundup
- CHOICE on indoor air quality options
- Information about bushfire smoke in many community languages
Smoke from bushfires is particularly dangerous for people with heart or lung conditions, young children, people over 65 and pregnant women.
Anyone experiencing breathing difficulties should call triple 000 straight away.
Advocacy, Counselling and Support
For those who may need support or counselling during this crisis, there are a number of online and telephone services available:
- Lifeline – call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – call 1300 22 46 36 or visit beyondblue.org.au
- Wayfinder Hub (1800 843 929) is a search tool developed by People With Disability Australia to assist people finding information about disability services, provide advice and referrals, link to appropriate supports and make informed decisions about the life they want.
- National Disability Advocacy Finder is another great tool to finding the support you need.
- Australian Psychological Society bushfire factsheets.
Government support agencies:
Finding accommodation can be a challenge during a tragedy, let alone finding accessible housing with specific facilities. Most of the evacuation centres are not equipped to house people with disabilities and this can lead to additional stress and trauma during the disaster.
There are a few accessible accommodation providers that are willing to assist to find a place to stay during disaster.
- The Accessible Group – The Accessible Group is an inclusive group designed to enhance accessible travel and now have pledged to support the victims of recent bushfires.
- Find A Bed – Find a Bed is a search tool to find accommodation during a disaster for people who have been relocated by the fires and need a place to stay.
- Airbnb Open Homes – Airbnb Open Homes program helps people find temporary housing during disasters and connects generous hosts to people who need accommodation.
Some LAC’s and NDIA offices have been forced to close due to the fires. Click the link below to find a list of the offices that are currently closed:
Please note NDIS can only provide additional support for people with disability after they are out of immediate danger. In an emergency dial 000 or teletype 106.
The NDIA is willing to escalate any enquiries from people affected by the bushfires during this tragedy. They also have the authority to make changes to plans quickly without going through the usual plan review process.
Service providers who deliver essential support and services are urged to continue providing those services and make claims as normal. Where necessary, service providers should also advise the person to contact the NDIA and arrange an urgent plan review. Service providers are encouraged to contact the NDIA on 1800 800 110 or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with ‘Natural Disaster’ in the subject line.
Accessible Bushfire Preparation Information
Following links will provide Easy Read information on how to prepare for bushfire disasters.
- CID NSW– Council for Intellectual Disability NSW
- Red Cross
- Queensland Government
- Two Way Street– AAC Vocabulary board
You can access Deaf Get Ready – disaster preparedness Redi Plan videos through Deaf Society. If your community has a Deaf Liaison Officer (DLO), Deaf Society advises to reach out to them for more information.
- Red Cross carry a lot of information from many emergency agencies and can be accessed via Red Cross
- Expression Australia also has great resources on their website Deaf Emergency Info
- Information on how to contact emergency services through the National Relay Service can be found here. You can also download the NRS app on your device via the App Store (Apple) or GooglePlay (Android).
Other Helpful Information
- Australian Government disaster recovery assistance
- Red Cross emergency grants
- Income support for households affected by natural disasters: a quick guide
Fire Preparation And Planning
- How to make a person centred disaster plan
- More on planning from NSW Emergency
- ABC emergency planning article
- I’m OK website for information on emergencies and disasters specifically for people with disability.
- Heatwave information from I’m OK
- Heatwave tips from Red Cross
- Easy Read Heatwave information from the Council for Intellectual Disability
- Beat the Heat from IDEAS
- Find a Community Legal Centre
- Disaster Legal Help Victoria: 1800 113 432
- NSW Legal Aid: 1300 888 529
- Legal Services Commission of South Australia: 1300 366 424
- Insurance Legal help: 1300 663 464
People With Disability Australia, “Bushfire and Emergency Information”, https://pwd.org.au/bushfire-and-emergency-information/
NDIS, “Bushfires Information and Support”, https://www.ndis.gov.au/news/4143-bushfires-information-and-support