The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Being Emergency-Prepared for People with Disabilities

I was questioned one day on what I would bring with me to a deserted island. I spent some time thinking about this because I have a physical disability. I have complicated hereditary spastic paraplegia (spg4). It is a rare disease that gradually increases spasticity in the body. With this disease I now use an electric wheelchair to be mobile in the community.

The question got me seriously thinking how prepared I am for the next, or any, emergency.  I wear an emergency alert button where, if I were to take a fall, I can press the button and get the help that I need.  I make sure to have some canned items and bottled water around the house but how prepared am I in actuality?

So, I created my personal plan. The biggest and most important thing is knowing and having a copy of your emergency contacts. This list should contain three emergency contacts. One of the contacts needs to be an out of state contact. You will have a greater chance of getting through to them with local land lines tied up and in use for emergency dispatch units only. The second contact should be an out of county contact who will have more means of communications open to them. The third contact is a neighbor (or family member close by) who has keys to your house and that you have trained on your own personal evacuation techniques.


Personal evacuation techniques can vary person to person. Every person with a disability needs to figure out what reactions they will have in an emergency situation. I know for myself I might have severe spasms and this could make verbal communication hard for me.  So that means I need to have things written down so others could understand what is being communicated.

The greatest responsibility is knowing your community resources. Silicon Valley Independent Living Center ( will be having classes this next year on building your own emergency kits filled with food, water and other key necessities. Visit me at this year’s Abilities Expo in San Mateo, where you can learn more about the different strategies you need to know. Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities workshop will run Friday from 1-2 p.m. You also should contact your local fire department at 1-408-615-4900 and request a file of life. This simple paper provides your emergency information, medications you are currently taking and your emergency contacts to your first responders.

I hope my story has provided you with a few guidelines you can put in place as you become your own first responder and I do hope that I will see you out at one of these community gatherings. I look forward to seeing you at come by the San Mateo Abilities Expo.

Eliza Riley is a disability advocate and an ambassador for Abilities Expo She spent time as a AmeriCorps fellow working with CADRE in emergency services and specializing in people with disabilities. She looks forward to seeing and hearing from you at


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