San Francisco Improves Access to Emergency Response System for People with Disabilities

San Francisco, CA – July 25, 2012 – In a precedent setting agreement announced today, San Francisco has adopted an improved emergency response system to protect and address the needs of people with disabilities who use wheelchairs and other mobility aid devices.

In 2011, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Chavez & Gertler LLP, two civil rights law firms, wrote to the City and County of San Francisco on behalf of Bryan Goodwin, concerning his traumatic experience with the city’s emergency response system.

Mr. Goodwin was travelling on a San Francisco sidewalk to catch a bus home when he fell from his wheelchair. He sustained injuries that required medical attention and was transported by ambulance to a hospital in San Francisco. Mr. Goodwin’s motorized wheelchair could not be transported with him in the ambulance. The emergency personnel phoned a taxi company to pick up the chair and then left the scene.  The taxi did not arrive, and the wheelchair disappeared, never to be recovered.  

Mr. Goodwin is a person of short stature who relies on his customized wheelchair for mobility.  Because of the loss of the wheelchair, he could not return to home or work and was forced to spend several days in the hospital until a suitable temporary replacement chair was found.  

In response to Mr. Goodwin’s experience, the City and County of San Francisco worked with DRA and Chavez & Gertler to improve its emergency response system, to ensure that people with mobility disabilities who require assistance or are detained in the course of response actions are reunited with their wheelchairs, scooters, oxygen tanks, and similar equipment after they are transported to a hospital or safe location. People with mobility disabilities are often reliant on their mobility aids for activities of daily life, including traveling to and from work, school, and social and cultural activities.  When such mobility aids are not available, people with disabilities are excluded from mainstream life and often left homebound.  The improved emergency response plan adopted by the City and County of San Francisco includes the following commitments:   

  • Emergency response (fire and police) personnel who encounter individuals who require emergency transportation, and who are in possession of mobility devices and other durable medical equipment that cannot be transported with them, will contact the Department of Emergency Management to request that the City’s Mobile Assistance Patrol, paratransit contractor, or other transportation service provider come to the scene to pick up and transport the equipment;

  • Response personnel will tag the equipment with the owner’s name, contact number, and the hospital or other location where the owner is to be transported;

  • An SFPD officer will be requested to standby and safeguard the equipment until the transportation service arrives to retrieve it;      

  • The Department of Emergency Management will maintain updated, current and accurate contact information to ensure the availability of 24/7 transportation providers able to transport the equipment; and

  • The City will ensure that emergency responders receive annual training to implement these procedures, and will monitor the success of the program.

Bryan Goodwin said, “I am pleased that the City responded to my experience with these cooperative efforts, and that San Francisco will now be better prepared to respond to the needs of people like me with disabilities during emergencies.”

DRA and Chavez & Gertler stated that they applaud San Francisco for its leadership in recognizing and responding to the needs of individuals with disabilities. They are hopeful that San Francisco’s new emergency response plan will serve as a roadmap for municipalities across California, leading to better emergency response services for all its residents and visitors with mobility disabilities, as well as the elderly.  Nance Becker of Chavez and Gertler noted: “we hope that other cities and counties around the country review their emergency response systems and look to San Francisco’s plan as a model for addressing this critical access issue.”

“Our Police, Fire, and Emergency Management leaders collaborated with Mr. Goodwin and DRA to develop a thoughtful and practical policy. I think their effort shows how the City understands that access to all aspects of emergency services is a civil right,” said Carla Johnson, Interim Director, Mayor’s Office on Disability.


Larry Paradis, Co-Director of Litigation of Disability Rights Advocates, 510-665-8644

Nance F. Becker, Attorney, Chavez & Gertler LLP, 415-381-5599

Carla Johnson, Interim Director, CCSF Mayor’s Office on Disability, 415-554-6789