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Thursday, October 25, 2007

In Case of Fire

Under normal circumstances, today's world is pretty accessible for those of us with disabilities. But in a natural disaster or even just a really bad storm, all bets are off.

As I was watching coverage of the California wildfires yesterday, I saw an interview with a sign-language interpreter talking about the difficulty in making the deaf community aware of evacuations in the area. I got to thinking about what would happen to someone like me in the event of an emergency like that. It's similar to my feelings when I watched on TV, as the Hurricane Katrina disaster unfolded. In all honesty, it was clear to me that there's a good chance that I probably would not have survived.

I shudder with fear every time a huge snowstorm is predicted. In the event of a power failure, I cannot power my ventilator and I can't charge its back-up batteries. We do have a gas-powered generator, but in a prolonged power outage, what would happen when we ran out of fuel? The obvious answer is to throw all of my supplies in my van and drive to the nearest medical center. But what if roads are impassable? Or what if I couldn't even get out of my house, as in the case of a big snowstorm? You can try calling 911, but are they going to be able to rescue you when there's three feet of snow on the ground? Take me out of my wheelchair and I'm bedridden. And consider this -- I live with my family. What if I lived alone and depended on people to get me out of bed in the morning? Firefighters could knock on my door all day, but I wouldn't be able to get to the front door to alert them of my situation.

Natural disasters like the fires raging in California are difficult enough for people without disabilities. Having a disability is just an added challenge. However, in every tragedy, it seems that you can almost always count on the kindness of strangers. You read about it all the time when things like this happen. Without such assistance, people with disabilities, who might ordinarily be quite independent, may be less likely than other people to get through such a tragedy.

If anyone out there with a disability has survived a natural disaster, please feel free to share your story...

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