LivAbility Magazine
ILLUSTRATION: A dark stormy sky with high rising water and a red jeep appears to be caught in the water. There is also a cactus and an A-frame house.

By Gary Karp

Those of us who have been around the world of disability understand something very basic: anything can happen to anyone at any time. That was certainly the case for me. I woke up an 18-year-old walking person on the Fourth of July, 1973. By noon I was paralyzed with a spinal cord injury at T12.

It’s our human nature to not want to think about the worst. We may not be able to prevent every possible trauma from occurring — but there is a lot we can prepare for. Emergency planning should be on everyone’s plate — especially if you or a family member has a disability.

Arizona is not prone to the kinds of disasters that strike other parts of the U.S. Hurricanes, earthquakes and snowstorms just don’t come our way. Still, there’s plenty on the list of what we might face — a major fire, a jet crashing through a neighborhood, electricity going out in the middle of summer, or a terrorist attack.

What will you do?
There is a lot of planning that you can — and absolutely should — do for potential disaster.

• Have a plan with your family about where you will meet in a crisis.
• Always have extra water and food on hand at home and whenever you go out.
• Keep extra medical supplies around, such as catheters or medications, including some extras in the car, or at someone else’s home.

This and other guidance is available from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Association web site, If you surf publications, you’ll find one called “Prepare for Emergencies Now: Information for People with Disabilities.”

FEMA is making an increasing commitment to people with disabilities in disasters through their Office of Disability Integration and Coordination. When the worst happens, and local resources are exceeded, the disability integration cadre is part of FEMA’s federal response and recovery team sent to help survivors. They make sure people with disabilities get access to all programs and services. They also work to ensure people retain their pre-disaster independence as much as possible.

When disaster strikes, the first response is always local. And people are ready. There is a massive, unseen culture of emergency preparedness at all levels of government. Every town, county, city and state has emergency management personnel and plans. The American Red Cross has resources always at hand, as do voluntary organizations and church groups. Stop by your local fire department to ask for guidance. That’s how these things work — people step up to help each other out. You can, too.

That’s how these things work — people step up to help each other out. You can, too.

Above all else, take the time to think about the unthinkable, and take the measures available to you to ensure your safety and quick recovery following disaster.

Gary Karp

Gary Karp


Gary Karp has been writing, speaking and conducting trainings on disability since the release of the first of his four books, “Life On Wheels: For the Active Wheelchair User” in 1999. Gary is a full-time wheelchair user since his SCI at T12 in 1973 at the age of 18. Learn more at