NEW YORK – Akiko Fukuda, secretary-general of the World Federation of the Deafblind, pressed the international community at the United Nations this week to include the perspectives of the disabled when devising disaster-preparedness plans.
“Up to this point people with disabilities are the target of programs but from now on I think we need to change our minds,” Fukuda, 37, told Kyodo News on Wednesday, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. “We could be an agent of change with our resource called disability.”
The wheelchair-bound Fukuda, who is totally blind and deaf, participated in a press conference and was a panelist at the U.N. headquarters as part of the launch of a campaign to promote the inclusion of the disabled in reducing disaster risks.
Japan will host a major international conference on disaster risk reduction and disabled people next year.
Fukuda explained how she was totally dependent on her interpreter, who uses tactile sign language to communicate with her.
After losing her sight, hearing and mobility 10 years ago, Fukuda said her world turned upside down. After a long recovery, she found a new way to navigate in her dark and silent world with support from friends and her interpreter guide.
Living with multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system, she needs a ventilator to help her breathe.
But the physical challenges have not prevented her from traveling to places such as New York and Uzbekistan to speak out for the disabled.
According to the United Nations, approximately 1 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, live with disabilities.
When compared to the general population, the disabled face higher risks in emergency situations and are disproportionately affected by natural disasters.
The mortality rate of the disabled population is two to four times higher than other populations in disaster situations.
“You may think we are vulnerable, but our weakness is actually a strength to make our world a better place,” Fukuda said. “We know how to be connected to other people; disabilities are an asset.”