By Carl Manning, American Red Cross 

Pat Brady was sitting on his cot in the Red Cross shelter, pondering what he’s going to do next after his Houston home filled with water thanks to Hurricane Harvey.

Sharing the cot was Beau, the tail-wagging white furry dog given him by a neighbor on the day of his wife’s funeral five years ago. Since then, they’ve been inseparable.

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Red Cross volunteers Dionne DeMille and John Hill talk to shelter resident Pat Brady in Houston. The volunteers are part of the Disability Integration team, which started last year, to ensure that everyone in a shelter and volunteers have equal access to all programs and services. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

“He’s about all I’ve got now,” Pat said. “He’s really a gift from God, a gift from my wife.”

He teared up as he talked about how he and Beau escaped the flooding and found their way to the shelter. Like so many others at the shelter, Pat faces an uncertain future. His home had three feet of water but he’s hoping to get it cleaned and repairs made so they can return.

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Pat Brady, a resident of the Red Cross shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Dallas, plays with his beloved dog Beau. They have been staying at the shelter since forced from their home by Hurricane Harvey, (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

Like many at the shelter, Pat has a disability that requires him to use a wheel chair. For him, walking is problematic because he often loses his balance and falls. He’s grateful that a Red Cross volunteer provided him a wheelchair so he can get around easier.

Recently, Pat met with Red Cross volunteers John Hill of Pikeville, Tenn., and Dionne DeMille of St. George, Utah, two members of the Red Cross Disability Integration team that focuses on making sure all clients and volunteers have equal access to all programs and services.

Created as a separate Red Cross activity a year ago, this is the first time to be pressed into service for a major disaster response, said Shari Myers, the Red Cross national disability integration coordinator.

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Shari Myers, national Disability Integration coordinator for the Red Cross, makes notes from a phone call. She oversee the new Red Cross activity that focuses on making certain all Red Cross clients and volunteers have equal access to all services and programs. (Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)

“People with disabilities don’t have special needs, they have needs and they need to be able to maintain the level of independence they had before the disaster,” she said. “Just because they use a wheelchair, they aren’t helpless.”

John and Dionne have checked out the shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center to make sure that all needs are met. In some cases, it may be providing sign language between a volunteer and shelter resident, or to make sure a resident with medical condition has a place to stay, or that a person with a service animal can stay in general shelter population area.

“We don’t define people by their disability. The question is what you need to be as independent and successful as you can be,” said John, who has numbness on his left side because of a workplace accident.

Dionne is deaf but that hasn’t stopped her from doing what she wants. When not volunteering for the Red Cross, she works as a registered nurse.

“I know how it feels to be treated like you’re not as good as others, and I don’t want to see other people go through this,” she said.

John and Dionne talked at length to Pat about his needs, and he assured them that with the wheelchair, he’s able to move around without assistance, although shelter volunteers do take Beau on his regular outdoor trips.

After they left, Pat said he was impressed with their efforts to make sure his needs were addressed.

“A lot of people don’t recognize how hard it is sometimes to do what comes easy for others,” he said. “It’s good to have somebody advocate for those with special needs.”

Pat looked down at Beau with a wistful look, perhaps thinking of those years in that home with his wife and now hoping he and his beloved dog can return there. He looks around the large hall filled with cots that’s now their home.

“If this has taught me one thing, it’s that people are good, they are very good,” he said.