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Safety is the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury. There are many levels of safety, and many ways to establish a sense of safety. In the aftermath of the shooting in Texas, safety has been on my mind and I’m sure the minds of many others. It’s appeared in the news, in recent years more so, about the poor procedures that disabled people have to deal with within a public, work, or educational space concerning safety in emergencies.

Yes, there are drills so everyone knows what to do in the case of a real emergency and that is great. In those cases, because it’s not a “real” situation what tends to happen are a few kind words to the disabled in this situation to attempt to reassure them that it’s not real, it’s OK, and they ARE safe. The sad reality is that the people around those with disability have good intentions and mean well, but they don’t have a plan of action in place around how to handle navigating the safety of disabled people. Honestly, most probably don’t know where to begin.

It goes against the popular belief because it’s widely accepted and thought that those with disabilities aren’t aware of their surroundings.” Some may only understand it on a toddler level, or not fully grasp the danger that is truly taking place or could, but when you see and hear people around you confused and panicked we as disabled people know it’s not good. There is a realm of truth to the saying that actions speak louder than words in this situation. Typically, what I’ve known to take place, is the exit is different for disabled people than it is for everyone else in an attempt, I assume, not to cause injury with everyone rushing around. While that is a good idea having those with disabilities separate from everyone else in the confusion of a real situation is a huge problem. How are those that come on the scene to rescue and offer help supposed to know where they are? They probably wouldn’t even think to ask.

As a child within the school system who has a disability, we had our route we knew we needed to go and were unable to use an elevator in a fire, for obvious reasons, but it did leave me and the other students separated from the rest of the school. Being someone in a wheelchair, often, what occurred was the fire alarm ringing, especially if it had been pulled by accident, and a teacher or assistant doing what looked like what I call a “grab and go”.

I knew what the alarm meant but having someone swiftly unlock the breaks from my chair and take off with me as fast as they could WAS SCARY! It does add another layer of trauma to an already traumatic event when things aren’t prepared for and handled in a manner like in my experience. Trust me when I say to this day if a fire alarm goes off it scares the heck out of me. What’s dangerous about that is I live with PTSD and can easily go into a freeze response which is no help to me in navigating my way out of something like a fire. Of course, there are always cases of people in wheelchairs who unlike me cant use their own power to get themselves out of a situation like that but the same thing still applies. When it’s poorly handled it has effects because they do realize what is going on around them. I should also mention here that removing someone from a wheelchair isn’t always the best option either. It’s not a black and white situation ever.

It’s extremely important to have proper procedures in place for those with a disability and their own unique challenges. A general idea will fail in one way or another even with the only goal being to get them out alive. Even keeping everyone calm can look very different with a disability in the mix. It’s important for everyone involved to have some level of understanding of the specific needs and challenges those with disabilities face.

When it comes to assistive devices and what their functions are the person can determine if that’s something that truly can be left behind in that case of an emergency. Wheelchairs have parts that can easily fall off because there are many parts of a wheelchair that are meant to be removed. Even the simple act of knowing basic parts of a chair that can easily come off or how they do can be extremely helpful. While I’m great about knowing that stuff even in the calmest situations people take that guidance as an attempt to tell them what to do or how to do it. There is no time in an emergency, especially for an attitude of, I know better than you because I’m bigger, stronger, or trained. The truth is I could easily not be able to express those things in an emergency and really shouldn’t have to if I truly know what to do. The things to consider are really an endless list dependent on the person with the disability.

Just because I may be disabled doesn’t give anyone the right to decide if I live or die. Or to assume if I die it wouldn’t be as bad as if someone else did. Just because I can’t move freely of my own will doesn’t give you the right to control me under the identity of “help”. Just because I can not physically remove myself from a situation doesn’t mean I can’t be held hostage or a bullet was an accident or my own fault because I didn’t get out of the way fast enough. If you want to give those with disabilities a chance to live and have a sense of safety the very least you can do is make it a fair chance.

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