How the blind coped with Christchurch's earthquakes


Earthquakes are scary enough for most people, but imagine what it was like for the blind during the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes.

A Massey University study by Dr Gretchen Good and Dr Suzanne Phibbs explores the experiences of 12 visually impaired people who went through the devastating disasters.

We've all heard what we're meant to do during an earthquake: move as quickly as you can to shelter, under a table or under a door way, but for the blind the luxury of being able to see where to go isn't possible.

"I could hear crockery falling and breaking in the living room and in the kitchen and I thought 'I don't know what to do,'" said an anonymous study participant.

"I've been told many, many times during an earthquake go and stand under a door jamb but I couldn't even get there."

Dr Gretchen Good with her assistance dog Caz and Dr Suzanne Phibbs (supplied)
Dr Gretchen Good with her assistance dog Caz and Dr Suzanne Phibbs (supplied)

Dr Phibbs says the study shows how the visually impaired dealt with the disasters.

"Participants demonstrated creative problem-solving abilities, resilience and community spirit. However, our findings indicate that older visually impaired people are among the most vulnerable in disasters, and more work needs to be done to prepare them," she says.

Seven people who were re-interviewed following the February 2011 quakes had learned about emergency preparedness through trial and error and they ultimately managed to cope and maintain their independence through four major earthquakes.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.

It has been shared by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and shares suggestions for disaster preparedness for those with impairments, including keeping shoes nearby, storing food and have established relationships with neighbours who may be of assistance during disasters.