Blind Berks woman surveying Dorian shelters for Red Cross

Volunteer Lampton Harry of Jackson, Mississippi, and Laura Szweda of Berks County conduct a disability integration shelter survey at a pet-friendly shelter in DeLand, Florida.

A Berks County woman is putting her personal experience of being blind to work in helping others with disabilities who have been impacted by Hurricane Dorian.

Laura Szweda, a disability integration specialist with Reading-based Abilities in Motion, has been deployed to Florida with the American Red Cross.

Szweda said she and her team are conducting disability integration shelter surveys to ensure that the shelters and their activities are inclusive and accessible to anyone with an access or functional need.

"So basically we're down here to make sure everything is ready for them, and they are independent and maintain their same lifestyles while in the shelter," explained Szweda, who lost her sight in 2000.

This is Szweda's second deployment with the Red Cross. In July, she traveled to southern Texas and Louisiana to help with flood relief efforts.

This time, she'll spend at least two weeks on her deployment, but where she goes next within or from Florida will depend on where Dorian creates the greatest need for shelters.

When the time comes for her return to Berks County, Szweda said she hopes to put the experience of her deployments to use in educating others how to prepare themselves for emergencies.

"What's fascinating in Florida, and even in Texas, is since they've been through so many hurricanes, they run TV commercials about being prepared for weather," she said. "Down here there is the mentality of being prepared, not just when hurricanes are coming around."

Emergency preparedness, Szweda said, is something everyone should take seriously, no matter where one lives.

"Make sure you don't have the attitude of 'it won't happen to me,'" Szweda said, "because the way things are going now, it absolutely can happen, as more and more disasters are happening that you need to be prepared for."

Szweda's experience in emergency response includes working as an EMT before she lost her sight.