Before we get into this one, we need to have an honest conversation about ableism.
Ableism is discrimination and prejudice against disabled people.
Forcing a disabled person to ‘stay put’ whilst everyone else evacuates is saying that it’s acceptable for that person to stay within the zone of danger. This tells us that our lives are considered to be less valuable. To then further defend ‘stay put’ by suggesting that attempts to get us to safety creates a hazard for others is simply ableist. It’s shaming us into increasing our risk of death in order to avoid the possibility of hiddering the evacuation of non-disabled neighbours.
Every disabled person is different. Our circumstances, access barriers, abilities and support networks are different. However, here are some aspects of Sarah’s evacuation plan as an example.
Sarah lives on one of the top floors of a high rise building. She has recently discovered that she is no longer allowed to use her lift in an evacuation as it was not constructed to fire-fighting lift standards. Her ‘right to manage’ board (of fellow neighbours) supported her to create a PEEP within 48 hours of hearing about the lift.
Sarah transfers into her evacuation chair and leaves her chair inside her flat. The wheelchair does not block any exits or corridors.
Her neighbours have supported her to practice evacuating. Descending the stairs, with her Personal Assistant, neighbours can pass by. Her PA can brake and leave go of the chair at any point if this helps others to pass. Yes, they may need to walk single file around Sarah but there’s a bigger issue here: sacrificing a couple of seconds to give Sarah a chance to save her life or making her stay behind on the top floors until it’s maybe too late.
By the time Sarah transfers into the evacuation chair and approaches the stairwell, those that live on the floors above her will most likely have already made their way passed her floor anyway. Only the odd person who’s taking more time would need to pass her on the stairs.
This is Sarah’s plan and it won’t be suitable for others – just like many other effective PEEPs won’t be suitable for Sarah.
Local authorities, fire services, landlords and agents need to think very carefully about the morality of the ‘you cause a hazard’ argument. The pandemic has revealed countless policies which demonstrate that disabled lives are considered to be worth less, for example the use of ‘do not resuscitate’ orders without consent. Shaming disabled people to avoid a chance to save their lives is morally wrong and practically ignorant. It’s time to stop working from “no” and, instead, look for solutions. Our lives are of equal value.
If you agree, please respond to the Government consultation by 19 July 2021.