(via The Gazette)

Kudos to Gazette staff writer Daniel Chacón for his straightforward and balanced report about the unmet needs of and paternalistic response to persons with disabilities who were affected by the Waldo Canyon fire. Like other residents of El Paso County, the needs of people in the disabilities community are varied, our perceptions of what works or what does not work can be different based in part in the nature of our disability. Furthermore, those with intellectual disabilities have different needs and thoughts about the evacuation and follow-up services than do those who live with a mood disorder — as I do.

Patricia Yeager is right on target when she invites emergency management officials to meet with residents who live with disabling conditions and their family members to discuss ‘what works and does not work.” Hearing from those who are directly affected by public policy and practice in disaster preparedness and post-evacuation services is healthy.

It’s quite sad, but not altogether unexpected that El Paso County officials refuse to accept Yeager’s invitation to the listening session on the 30. I hope the board of commissioners will give the public a forthright answer about their refusal to participate or change their minds and send representatives to the meeting.

Now for my two cents worth on such emergency planning efforts. However it may develop, please don’t stack the committees or task forces with social workers, doctors, and psychologists or family members. Persons with disabilities are tired of being ‘taken care of’ or seen as needy, incompetent and helpless. On this aspect of how to better handle another Waldo Canyon disaster let’s consult the experts in the room: those with canes, service dogs, wheelchairs, interpreters and other tools of daily living. And if you should hear the word bipolar or schizophrenia uttered by the person sitting next to you, try not to flinch. Hear us out — like others in the disabilities community we are resilient, thoughtful and want to give back to the community as we seek better ways to survive a natural disaster.

The international slogan of the disability rights movement is; “Nothing about us without us.” This could not be more true in the efforts of local government to learn from the fires of 2012 and make inclusion planning part of the recipe, and not an afterthought.

Steve Bell, DBSA Colorado Inc.

Colorado Springs