Preparing for Those “Ugly” Choices

Scott Ellis

Scott was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

Being prepared is important for everyone, but it is especially important for people with disabilities, senior citizens, and people with unique needs

The Independent Living movement is based on the philosophy of people with disabilities having the right to control our lives.  The right to make decisions about our needs, the barriers we face, and how to address those needs and handle those barriers.  Along with those rights come the responsibilities such as planning and assuming the consequences of making choices--the good ones, the bad ones, and sometimes the ugly ones.   An “ugly” choice can be choosing between sheltering in-place or evacuating with your power-chair to a general population shelter when a hurricane is bearing down on you.

Being prepared for emergencies and disasters is a logical extension of the Independent Living philosophy.  Everyone needs to be prepared, but for people with disabilities living independently, it is a vital responsibility that they must make those “ugly” choices and be prepared for the consequences. Being prepared helps people with disabilities stay in control as much as possible during disasters because they have done a self-assessment.  As a team, we know what our disability needs will be during most emergency situations.  It is then up to us to plan for those situations so that we stay safe, in control, functional, and able to assist others around us, or help the responders trying to help us. 

I want to say this again: People with disabilities can stay in control and functioning during a disaster or simple emergency if we have done our self-assessment, done our planning, gathered our resources, and executed our plans to the best of our abilities.  That is a basic Independent Living stratagem and a basic Emergency Preparedness tool.  Together these instruments empower people with disabilities to survive!

No plan fits everyone.  This is especially true for people with different disabilities.  This is where the Progressive Center for Independent Living (PCIL) comes in.  We are a resource for any person with a disability, and we a resource for the Emergency Management community as well.  We bridge that gap of misunderstanding and misinformation between the two communities.  PCIL works extensively with first-responders through PCIL training courses. We include staff and board members with disabilities who are members of the Mercer County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who have been deployed for real-world emergencies such as flooding.  As active responders, we operate in both communities for the benefit of all.

I started this by saying that I was honored that what I do every day is viewed in the Champions of Change context, but I view it more a as a firefighter.  A task needs to be done to put out the fire and I’m doing that task, among many, to put out the fire.

Scott W. Ellis is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator of the Progressive Center for Independent Living. 

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