A few weeks ago a dozen people who self-identify as disabled gathered at UMass Amherst to begin a conversation on emergency preparedness and accessible emergency response.¬†FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, defines those individuals who will most likely require help during a disaster as having “functional needs.”

“We are great listeners”

The most common skill named by participants with established functional needs is listening. We aim to prove that the capacity of people with disabilities to contribute to emergency response and emergency recovery begins here. Participants outlined a sequence of creative interaction stemming from high quality and careful listening:

  1. People with functional needs (i.e., various kinds of permanent or temporary disabilities) are great listeners.
  2. After we listen, we always question.
  3. And after we question, we become change agents by proposing solutions.
  4. Through the actions of listening, questioning, and proposing solutions we are viewed as leaders.
  5. As leaders, we remain engaged and participate, participate and participate.
  6. Meanwhile, we have fun! (In evidence throughout our meeting.)

Listening leads to preparedness, improved emergency response, and quicker recovery

The group, which plans to meet again and welcomes new participants, is engaged in a self-study at the individual and community level. The guiding action research hypothesis is that by increasing quality listening, individuals with pre-identified functional needs will become better prepared for emergencies, and first responders will become more skillful with accessible emergency response.