This month I am pleased to introduce Patrick Gleason, Shriver Center Staff Writer, as our guest blogger. Patrick will be introducing us to the topic of Emergency Preparedness for people with disabilities.
Nobody’s ever asked me to be a victim before.
That sentence resonates in my head as I pull my wheelchair up next to a backboard. I am participating in a mock decontamination drill at a local hospital. These drills are yearly requirements, but I will be the first individual with an actual disability to participate for this hospital (instead of someone pretending to have a disability.)
As I am gently transferred from the chair to the backboard and sent down something like a conveyer belt with two individuals dressed like Star Wars storm troopers on either side, I can’t help but think, What have I gotten myself into?
Understanding the need for being prepared
That experience marked my first true understanding of emergency preparedness and response (EP/R) for individuals with disabilities. Prior to that, my only real exposure to emergencies involved downed trees or the occasional power outage.
Since then however, over the past few years I have been forced to come up with my own solutions during several emergencies.
• Using the light from a cell phone keypad to shut off my house alarm during a storm; the power was out, my parents were gone , and I couldn’t find a flashlight.
• Borrowing a security guard’s cellphone to locate my mother; we were separated at the mall during an unexpected fire drill.
Many challenges faced
My examples are obviously small-scale. However, people with disabilities often experience devastating impacts during emergencies and disasters, including separation from critical adaptive equipment and assistive technology, service animals, support from family, friends and caregivers, and critical services. The American emergency response system traditionally has not taken into account the needs of people with disabilities, as they are not often part of the emergency planning process.
We at the Shriver Center are working to change that.
Self Advocates take role in training
Nate Trull, a longtime self-advocate who also serves as a consultant to the Shriver Center, is also well-versed and committed to educating individuals with disabilities on EP/R. Beginning with his experiences at the rank of Life Scout, his interest blossomed to include serving as chairman of his own advocacy group Powerhouse, and offering free, ongoing, EP/R training and tips to advocacy and provider agencies throughout Massachusetts. He was also invited to attend a 2011 EP/R conference sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“I love focusing on EP/R work for people with disabilities because I help them take charge of their own lives and help themselves,” Trull says with a trademark smile. “There is nothing I would rather do.”
September is Emergency Preparedness month; we hope these blogs will help you think about your personal emergency preparedness from a variety of perspectives!