January 26, 2018

Post Hurricanes―United Spinal Association Helps with Housing, Mobility Equipment and Daily Needs

As a national nonprofit serving people with spinal cord injuries and disorders for over 70 years, United Spinal Association gets its share of disheartening stories from wheelchair users who reach out to us for support. This past year, however, our organization’s resources were stretched to capacity with three destructive hurricanes––Harvey, Irma, and Maria–– that severely impacted disability communities in many U.S. states and territories.

Bill Fertig - Director, United Spinal Association Resource Center

Calls for help flooded in to our Resource Center­­. It became quite evident the storms took their toll on our community in ways many were unprepared for. Equipment was damaged by water, loss of electricity stranded power wheelchair users, and downed trees cut off access to shelters, medical care, supplies. As a wheelchair user, I can relate to the challenges this can pose. When you must contend with a natural disaster on top of all the other hurdles, the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. The question for United Spinal was, how would we provide our members and the larger disability community desperately needed resources?

Fortunately, with a generous $500,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to coordinate and support weather-related disaster relief, United Spinal launched outreach efforts this past fall that renewed hope for thousands of wheelchair users and other people with disabilities affected by these unprecedented storms.

Through our local chapters, we’ve distributed over 200 and counting micro-grants to people living in hurricane impacted areas for accessible housing, mobility equipment and general subsistence needs. In December, we also sent a delegation to Puerto Rico to provide aid to the disability population recovering from Hurricane Maria, distributing inverters to recharge wheelchairs, solar lamps, batteries, gasoline containers and other equipment. It was rewarding to join our Puerto Rico chapter on the ground, offering support to many who have felt they’ve been forgotten. Hearing the heartbreaking stories of wheelchair users that lost everything added a sobering perspective. That is, our work is far from over! There are still thousands of people who need our help, in Puerto Rico and across the country. This isn’t just about recovery, but ensuring measures are in place to protect our community during future storms.

Through initial funding and public donations, we’re slowly, but surely building a solid foundation to meet these goals. Our sights are currently on expanding our Resource Center’s capacity to handle disaster relief inquiries, as well as creating case management services to meet the high volume of requests for assistance, now and down the road. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of in my years of service to the disability community, it’s that we can achieve amazing things together.

There are a variety of ways you can support United Spinal’s hurricane relief efforts. Click here for more information.

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