In response to missteps in recent disasters in California and South Carolina and pressure from disability advocates, the Red Cross announced on Dec. 16 that Paul Timmons of Portlight Strategies will serve as disability integration coordinator for the national provider of emergency assistance and disaster relief. Portlight Strategies, based in Charleston, S.C., is the only known national and international disaster relief agency that focuses on serving people with disabilities.
“I’m super excited that Paul has agreed to do this because I think that he’s got a tremendous amount of credibility with the disability community and I think he speaks disaster,” says Brad Kieserman, vice president of Red Cross Disaster Operations and Logistics.
Timmons, who has Guillain-Barre syndrome, will be responsible for building disability infrastructure within the Red Cross. This includes building relationships, improving service delivery and implementing disability specific training. “Kieserman’s embracing of our interests and his embracing of the Red Cross getting our issues right has just been a game changer,” Timmons says. “It’s allowed us to get the conversation out of the American Red Cross headquarters and out into the field where it should be.“
According to Timmons, fixing the divide between the Red Cross and the disability community will require constant community organizing. “We can’t train our way out of this,” he says. “We can’t meet our way out of this. We can’t conference call our way out of this. We have to organize our way out of this.” He encourages the disability community to stay involved in the process.
Because of serious issues such as Red Cross shelters not being accessible, there is tension between the Red Cross and the disability community admits Kieserman, but he’s optimistic the situation can be fixed. “I hope that going into the new year with Paul and Portlight now under contract with the Red Cross, and with the Red Cross committing to increased emphasis and focus on disability integration issues, we will have the opportunity to turn the corner,” he says.