When floodwaters began lapping in the streets near Tammy Royle's home in Townsville in 2019, she knew she had to leave.
The Digital Inclusion Project helps people living with a disability access emergency information during natural disasters
Townsville is the first regional city in Queensland to adopt the program
Volunteers with a lived experience of disability will teach others in the community how to use digital devices
"Because I live alone and I'm a wheelchair user, I wasn't sure where I could evacuate to and whether I'd be able to get around and use the facilities," Ms Royle said.
"It was pretty scary being on your own. Being vulnerable is hard."
The 43-year-old lives with cerebral palsy and emergency services arranged her safe refuge at a local high school during the major flood event.
Ms Royle said one thing made her feel less isolated during her ordeal.
"Having my mobile phone with me and having all the [emergency] contact details was very important," she said.
Ms Royle is now using her experience to help other people with a disability fully prepare themselves for natural disasters.
Closing the 'digital divide'
The Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN) is expanding its Digital Inclusion Project to Townsville, the first regional city to take part in the pilot program.
"We know Townsville is no stranger to emergency situations and disasters," Michelle Moss, QDN acting chief executive officer, said.
"We know from the devastating 2019 floods across the area and the impacts of those.
"[Some] people with disability rely on others for their very basic support needs … being able to eat and personal care.
"If people can't access support, it's a really critical situation. A mobile phone or an iPad or computer really is a lifeline for people to stay safe."
Ms Moss said the extent of the digital divide came to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic, when accessing everyday services like telehealth or online grocery shopping became a challenge.
"Regional and rural communities certainly experience additional barriers and lower levels of digital literacy," she said.
"We want to make sure no person is left behind, especially people with disability."
Skills a 'necessity, not luxury'
The program has so far been rolled out in Brisbane, Ipswich and the Gold Coast, supplying donated devices to eligible members of the community.
It teaches participants digital skills, including how to access emergency information, essentials like food and medicine, and how to stay connected with family and friends.
Ms Royle is among the volunteers who will teach Townsville locals the basics of navigating their devices — skills she describes as "a necessity, not a luxury".
"Getting onto the internet, getting internet banking, getting onto the MyGov website, knowing how to use your phone, how to charge it and take a photo," she said.
"If you don't have access to the internet and devices you can rely on, that makes life exceptionally difficult even if you are able bodied, but especially if you are disabled."
Ms Royle said these skills were vital to people with a disability leading independent lives.
"Sometimes it can be overwhelming to figure out and navigate all this," she said.
"It's helpful to feel useful, it's not a feeling that somebody in my position gets to feel very often.
"It's lovely to be able to help in some way … and hopefully, through my experience, I can make things easier."