Fire Emergency: How one WOW member became an advocate for change

My name is Selvije Mulaj, I have had a disability since birth. I received my first wheelchair at the age of two. I had a pretty normal childhood considering I was in a wheelchair.  I learned in the fifth grade that by speaking my mind and advocating for myself, I could help others like me. 

Such was the case during my second year of college and I found myself in a building that had been evacuated except for a very nervous security guard and me. The guard had a radio and was listening to what was happening down in the basement where a fire had started. I was in a situation where I was relying on someone who could easily run away from me and choose not to help. At that point, I made a decision to advocate for myself, and told the security guard I could go down the stairs, but he would have to bring my wheelchair down since we were on the 4thfloor. 

As I crawled down the stairs from level to level, I remember him throwing my wheelchair down each floor.  At one point, I recall yelling at him to calm down and be careful because he could break my chair.  As I left the building, my counselor from the Office of Disability Services asked if I was alright. This was frustrating for me because it was after the fact. Why was no one else prepared to help me?

A few days after, I had a class in one of the other buildings. I wheeled up to a memorial plaque that held the names of students who were killed in a fire several years prior.  Looking at those names, I thought of my own situation of being left with that nervous security guard during the emergency evacuation and I realized that I had to make my voice heard and share my experience with the administration. I told my counselor what I was planning to do and even though it didn’t sit well with the Office of Disability Services, I knew I had to set it in motion. 

I made an appointment to speak to all of the Deans and I explained what happened during the fire. The guard lost his job, and although it was not my intention, that was the result.  For months, the Deans and I worked together to set a plan in place to ensure the fire department would know where to find people with disabilities on campus.

The final plan consisted of making sure that there were fire drills that were to be performed at least twice each semester and in the case of a fire, a list of disabled students and their class schedules would be placed in the lobby of each building so the fire department could locate them quickly. It took some time, but by my last year of college, each building went through a fire drill and had the lists in place.

I learned from this experience that nothing happens overnight, however people need to speak up in order for things to change.

~Written by Selvije Mulaj

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