*A version of this article also appears in Community and Public Health Nursing Tenth, North American Edition, 2021, p 693
I went to the “Active Shooter Response” workshop at work to stir things up. As a wheelchair user, I knew the currently popular “Run. Hide. Fight.” model didn’t take people like me into consideration. I was prepared to draw attention to every point that didn’t apply to people with various disabilities and put the facilitator on the spot for alternative solutions. I wanted to make people think, but I quickly realized I had a lot of thinking to do myself.
The facilitator shared some interesting tactics that seemed useful, like creating obstacles between yourself and the shooter, finding a hiding place, and the difference between cover and concealment. Then it was time test our new skills. I felt surprisingly good about adapting what I’d learned.
The first drill began with a police officer rushing in, screaming for everyone to “get down”. I stood out like a spire when everyone else collapsed to the ground. My glaring vulnerability felt like a gut punch. I could drop out of my chair, but then I’d be stranded. My only hope to save myself is to stay in my chair, but where does that leave me with the officer? I’m at the mercy of his training and ability to quickly evaluate the situation.
We reset and drilled again. The “shooter” stormed in, and my colleagues ran from the room slinging furniture behind them, slowing down the faux assailant...and me! Their impromptu barricades effectively trapped me with an armed aggressor.
In that moment, my cautious optimism melted into terror. The well-intentioned light I meant to shed on the need for inclusive emergency preparedness seemed so petty when people were running for their lives. The A.D.A, accessibility, inclusion, even the kindness of strangers, all the social strategies I had come to rely on for helping me navigate life were suddenly off the table, and I can’t even be upset.
My colleagues have families they desperately want to go home to and lives they want to go on living just like I do. You can’t really know how a person will react in a crisis, and I have no right to expect anyone to put themselves in danger for me. I don’t even want that. In a world where active shooter drills have become necessary, and weather events are becoming more and more extreme, have I finally met my match?
My fellow disabled citizens and I will continue to keep an eye out for ways to disappear in a wheelchair and fight off attackers with crutches and canes, but we all must learn how to be aware of the people around us and create protocols that give everyone at least a chance to survive.