Nothing About Us Without Us: RET’s Disaster Risk Reduction Work in Latin America

Nothing About Us Without Us: RET’s Disaster Risk Reduction Work in Latin America

October 13 is International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, and this year’s theme is “Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future.” At RET, we believe that one of the most pressing issues in the humanitarian and disaster risk reduction sector is the urgent need to ensure that the human rights of people with disabilities are respected. Progress must be made by incorporating the voices of persons with disabilities in all phases of planning and implementation of disaster risk reduction initiatives to adhere to the call for “Nothing about us without us.” People with disabilities have long had their basic rights denied, and it is our duty to break this cycle. We can do this by using the respectful and inclusive terminology when we refer to them (for example, people-first language), ensuring events and materials are accessible and that there are no barriers to their participation in disaster risk reduction and emergency response projects. Their voices, experiences and strengths should be allowed to come to the forefront.

With this mandate in mind, RET implemented the USAID/BHA funded project “Strengthening Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management (CDRM) at the local level” in Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico, and worked in association with Plan International the Dominican Republic. In Mexico the goal of creating a training course to allow search and rescue workers to address the needs of persons with disability in emergencies and disasters was reached with people with disabilities forming the backbone of the team from the outset, with an integral role in all decision-making processes. The team was multi-disciplinary, many of the participants were people with disabilities who also had experience in organizations relating to search and rescue and first response. They were complemented by representatives from organizations who work to address the needs to persons with disabilities, first responders, psychologists, medical professionals, and a range of affiliated others. Additionally, many of those present were family or care givers to persons with disabilities, so a high proportion of members of the working group had personal insight into the world of disability inclusion.

The multi-disciplinary working group in action, Guadalajara (Photo by RET, 2022).

Several simulations were undertaken to help the working group identify what areas within search and rescue strategies required strengthening and then the content of the course itself was structured and created, all with the ever-present assistance and support of the Jalisco State Civil Protection and Firefighters Unit (UEPCBJ) and RET country and regional staff.

Participants in a disability inclusive rescue simulation, part of the ground work for the course creation. (Photo by UEPCBJ, 2022).

A 3-day, certified training course was also created to address the needs of Persons with Disability in Emergencies and Disasters, which is called OICAA (Observe, Identify, Communicate, Act and Accompany). This conceptual training in understanding the issues facing those with disability is complemented with concrete protocols and steps to addressing their needs. The course culminated with a final practical exercise/assessment of satisfactory completion and underwent an initial pilot, revisions and a second pilot, alongside a Train the Trainer (ToT) module. RET believes this training has created a solid foundation to be expanded and replicated in future phases of the project, with the ultimate goal of offering it nationwide.

Here a first responder uses the OICAA strategy to calm a young person with disabilities during one of the pilots of the training assessments. (Photo by UEPCBJ, 2023).

The team who participated in the simulation included a diverse range of abilities and disciplines. (Photo by UEPCBJ, 2023).

As a culmination of this project, in June 2023, RET organized a regional forum in Central America and the Caribbean (CAM) to showcase the good practices established by the project, focusing on local level inclusion and sustainability practices. Endeavoring to embody all accessibility best practices, we took proactive steps to ensure disability inclusion from the outset, selecting a platform that adhered to the WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Guidelines, which include tagging the images and links for compatibility with screen readers, and given our target audience, taking additional steps to provide English and Spanish subtitles throughout the event, as well as interpreting into International Sign Language for all sessions and Mexican Sign Language for the sessions relating to interventions in Mexico.

Multiple government and other important stakeholders presented their project outcomes and good practices and the Latin American Network for Disability Inclusive CDRM (red GIRDD LAC) presented on the importance of disability accessibility in the round table section of the forum, highlighting videos and publications that were developed by the network including the Guide for Accessible Virtual and In Person Events created in collaboration of RET and other network members.

Project participants from OTEA Autismo who were part of the working group presented on the outcomes and best practices gleaned from the creation of the inclusive search and rescue course implemented in Guadalajara. RET is enormously proud of having created such meaningful methodology in an area that had not previously been tailored to include the participation of people with disabilities. RET emphasized integrating these diverse voices from the outset of the project, focusing on how best to utilize their skills and abilities throughout.

The ladder below illustrates participation in action, from passive to active steps. The key practice that stands out in this project is the meaningful inclusion of persons with disability in the creation of disability inclusive DRR initiatives.

Infographic source, Change the Game Academy, 2023

The respect for their experiences as active participants in the multi-disciplinary process was evident, and we believe that the resulting training, the “Course on the Basic Principles for the Attention to Persons with Disabilities in Emergencies and Disasters” (CPAB-PCDED), is both high-quality and innovative – only made possible through the meaningful participation of the multi-disciplinary, inclusive group.

The project has also opened new avenues for exploration, facilitating dialogue with the National Civil Protection Institution (CNPC) in Mexico, with whom we have hosted a series of webinar style trainings on Disability Inclusive DRR for their regional offices across the country. This has also been made available to 1650 public officials and members of the Mexican House of Deputies (Camara de Diputados) and we are pleased to announce that this training will soon be permanently incorporated into the CNPC´s training library.

RET encourages all actors in the DRR arena to ensure the inclusion of persons with disability in their activities, to reduce inequalities and bolster resilience: 13 October is #DRRday – let’s #BreakTheCycle.