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  • Writer's picturePeta

Living Through War With A Disability

Trigger Warning.

This is a very heavy but very important episode. I am sure your news feed has been full of updates about the war in Ukraine. I know mine has.

The choice of fleeing your country or staying put despite danger is one that we all hope never to have to face.

Can you imagine living through war while also having a disability?

It's something that I wanted to explore and highlight.

If you want and have the capacity to donate to disabled people of Ukraine: Humanity and Inclusion

Better understand the charity: Charity Navigator

References for this episode:

Contact Peta

Instagram @petahooke


Episode Transcript:

Peta [00:00:00] Trigger Warning: Before we get out of this week, I want to say that there is a trigger warning for this episode. This episode does include disturbing descriptions of violence towards people with disabilities. It is not appropriate for children. And if you do not fill up to hearing about this subject matter, I completely understand. And I hope to have your ease next week if this episode has been triggering for you. You can contact Lifeline on 13, 11 14.

[00:00:37] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta and I'm your host. I have cerebral palsy and I love to enter your questions. Full disclosure, though this was not a question that was sent to me, I feel like I need to speak about it.

[00:01:06] What is it like to have a disability during a war? Now, no doubt this is going to be a pretty heavy episode, but I think it's important for context. I'm recording this on the 3rd of March 2022. OK. Without any further ado, let's get into it.

[00:01:41] Like many of you, I'm sure my social media feed has been full of the war in Ukraine. This was originally not the episode that was going to get published today. But it truly hit me when I was listening to another podcast, the BBC Global News podcast, and the headline was War in Europe. It's scary for all of us, regardless of race, religion, gender or disability. But particularly when you think about disability, for me, it is truly frightening. As many of you understand, when you have a disability, life is a little bit more complex. We just can't pick up and leave. If I was in that situation. As weird as it sounds, the first thing I would grab would be my charger from my wheelchair. Other than my dog, obviously, but that defines my ability to move. To physically escape. And then I think about all the people over there in Ukraine with disabilities. And all the things that they would have to take with them to try and survive.

[00:03:18] I mean, even on a practical level, what would someone like me do if the power went out? I would have to conserve how much I use my wheelchair. How many times I use the bathroom every day? It's a reality I hope never to have to face. This is by no means the first war. The world S. and disabled people have always existed. But through my research, I realised that when you put in the search terms, even when looking at academic journals, the terms disability and war mainly bring up results about people coming back from war and being disabled as a direct result of that war. There is little information of what it is like to live through a war when you have a disability.

[00:04:26] In 2018, the UN reported that more than one billion people worldwide, or about 15 per cent of the global population has a disability. An estimated nine point seven million people up until that stage with disabilities have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict. So when you think about having a disability during a war. You obviously have a high risk of getting injured during the fighting. When we think about people with physical disabilities. What happens if the shelter, the bomb shelter is inaccessible? What happens to people who have low vision or who are blind and may require support to flee? What happens to people with intellectual disabilities? I read a story about a man who is in his 40s and he lived in Cameroon. He had hearing in intellectual disabilities. Tragically, he was killed by soldiers because he did not answer their questions. I repeat he had hearing an intellectual disabilities. Of course, when you talk about people with disabilities, many of us rely on mobility devices or assistive devices to be able to live. I have an accessible home, for example, I have a wheelchair. Some people with intellectual disabilities use special apps on their phones to communicate, particularly when they're nonverbal. What happens when those assistive technologies are no longer there?

[00:06:28] I read an experience of a 13 year old girl in the Gaza Strip and her experience with her physical disability. There were electricity shortages in Gaza during the time. Leaving her without electricity for up to nine to 14 hours a day, making it difficult to charge her wheelchair. When your wheelchair is not charged, how can you flee if you're in danger? Some residents of Gaza reported that while they were able to charge their scooters or wheelchairs. They were nonetheless trapped in their homes because many of the buildings were inaccessible to begin with that they had to flee to or they had been damaged and they were not able to access the safe haven over the rubble. People with disabilities are more likely to experience issues of accessing food. Sanitation and health care. During times of war. I can't imagine what it would be like for those who are also on medication. How do you maintain your medication and how do you source new medication when you run out?

[00:07:58] When I was listening to the Global News podcast on the BBC and they were speaking about the trains that were leaving eastern Ukraine. They spoke about the thousands of people trying to push on to the carriages. I mean, golly, I struggle to get on a train during Melbourne's peak times. I've often missed two or three trams before I could get on the next one. I can't imagine when everybody else is desperate to get on the made to find them living or dying. Them being kind enough to give me enough room to enter a train carriage. People with disabilities during war are more likely to experience stigma and abuse. Including from their families and the communities. And of course, through all this, there's a mental health impact.

[00:09:06] In 2020, Human Rights Watch documented that many people with disabilities experienced psychological distress as a result of the conflict. Many people with disabilities reported that based on the traumatic experiences that they had experienced during the hostilities, this only added to the anxiety given their knowledge of past experience. And what would happen in the future if more attacks occurred? The Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights have a report which they published in 2019. And they said that people with disabilities are subject to targeted killings. They're often used as human shields. And are at an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. They are more likely to be killed or injured as a result of inaccessible emergency information. See, that's something I didn't even think about what happens when you're blind or hearing impaired. Hearing impaired, for example, if the only access to information is through radio or vision impaired, as many of us rely on rolling news coverage.

[00:10:37] Refugee and displacement camps, their facilities lack comprehensive procedures to identify refugees with disabilities and consequently fail to ensure that they have equal access to essential services, including food, water, shelter, medical care. In the aftermath of conflict, persons with disabilities are routinely denied access to justice for violations carried out during conflict. The impact of armed conflict of persons with disabilities are largely ignored as a topic by all actors. I wholeheartedly agree with that. Based on the very, very limited research that I have done, I am astounded by the lack of recognition of people with disabilities during times of war. As I said before. Many academic journal articles when they discuss war and disability, they are discussing disability as a direct result of conflict rather than having a disability through other reasons or through birth and then living through a war. People with disabilities have been wholly ignored as far as understanding the impact and how we can best support people during a crisis.

[00:12:18] This week, which I would link all this research in the description, but CNN this week published a short story about a family in Ukraine. They spoke to a lady named Yulia. Her family had been hunkering down alongside her elderly mother, her two daughters and a cousin, Julia's cousin and her younger daughter went down underground in the car park that had been turned into a bomb shelter. She, though, stayed behind with her mother and her older daughter. Yulia's mother is 82 years old. She cannot walk on her own, and there's no way they can get her down to the car park because they live on the seventh floor. Yulia older daughter, Arianna, is 25. And she has autism. Yulia told CNN she can't go down the stairs. She doesn't understand what's going on. She keeps asking me whether there will be any more shaking. She wants to go to the sea or at least the pool, and I have to explain to her that there is a war right now and we can't do that. Yulia went on and said, my youngest daughter, who was able to access the basement was really hesitant to leave us. There are evacuations and chances to get away. There were trains and local transport running free of charge. But I cannot leave my mother, she said.

[00:14:08] I hope that's giving you a bit of a better understanding of how difficult it would be to have a disability during war. It certainly helped me better understand. If you do want to help people with disabilities during this time, I found an organisation called Humanity and Inclusion. The charity's purpose is to help people with disabilities who are in war-torn or who have fled war-torn countries. And provides services, including physical therapy, mobility devices, trauma counselling, education. Access to financial support. And kits that meet their basic needs. And I'm going to be frank. Australia is going through a lot right now with the floods in. Queensland and New South Wales. And I do not want to offer any sort of pressure. A lot of us are really struggling right now. And just by listening to this episode and being willing to better understand, I think the people of Ukraine would be very grateful. But if you do have the capacity, I will leave all the details to the charity in the description. I do urge for you to do your own research on this charity, but based on my research, I believe it is an appropriate charity to link to this episode.

[00:15:51] That was a big episode, a heavy one. But an important one nonetheless. Thank you for listening, as always. If you did enjoy listening, can I encourage you to leave a rating and review shaming on social media or sending a question for a future episode of the podcast? You can email me. You can send me a DM on Instagram, or you can contact me through my website. All the links are in the description, along with all the links to my research for this episode. I'm the charity Humanity and Inclusion. Thank you for listening and until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye.


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