Visually impaired residents living in Christchurch during the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes were let down by support agencies, a study has revealed.

Two Massey University professors have completed the report, Disoriented and Immobile: The Experience of People with Visual Impairments During and After the Christchurch, New Zealand 2010 and 2011 Earthquakes, revealing gaps in the response for visually impaired Cantabrians.

Dr Gretchen Good and Dr Suzanne Phibbs researched the experiences of 12 people who highlighted key areas in need of work.

These included communication and technology, support systems, orientation and mobility and personal responsibility.


A key finding of the study noted radio coverage was a vital communication tool for those with a visual impairment.

"The information they were receiving from the news was very general but there was nothing specific, nothing suburb-by-suburb that let them know simple things like which businesses were closed," Dr Phibbs said.

"They also indicated the information they were receiving did more to create fear than give them practical information that would help them day-to-day."

Dr Good said being responsible for ourselves was crucial if you couldn't rely on support agencies.

" ... they could take days to get to you. You have to be prepared yourself and strengthen the relationships you have with your neighbours."

There have been calls to establish a Civil Defence register for those needing special assistance during an emergency but, Dr Good said this may also give people a false sense of complacency.

She said visually impaired people still needed to focus on being prepared as this is what would get them through a disaster.

During the Kaikoura earthquake, there was lack of urgency especially around the tsunami warning, Dr Phibbs said.

"There was ... nothing to say if you have a person with a disability in your home you need to evacuate now since it would take longer to prepare them for evacuation."

She referred to a woman in a wheelchair who, because of liquefaction, couldn't open her door to get outside. The power was down and she was unable to open her garage or access her car.

"She was isolated and sat there listening to all her neighbours leave. She felt sure there was going to be a tsunami and was sitting there thinking she was going to die. None of her neighbours had come to check on her."

The studies' participants also displayed an increased amount of resilience.

"By the time of the second interviews, they had lived through four major earthquakes in the region and had become incredibly resourceful," Dr Phibbs said.

"They got through them mostly on their own or, with very little help and, are great role models for other people with a visual impairment that they can do it too."

Be prepared
Research participants offered the following advice:

• Have a transistor radio and batteries at hand.
• Learn to communicate by text message and keep your cellular phone charged.
• Have at least two people organised to contact you following a disaster.
• Establish good relationships with your neighbours and be a willing contact for others.
• Register with local disability agencies and make sure you update your information regularly.
• Keep shoes under your bed, a flashlight on your door handle and have spare candles available.

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