2,350-Mile Walk from Canada to Key West Spotlights How People with Disabilities are Affected by Extreme Weather


Newswise — “Canada to Key West,” a 2,350-mile walk to raise awareness about the impact of increasingly frequent extreme weather events will start on June 21, 2019, the day of the summer solstice. The Association of Academic Physiatrists is a co-sponsor of the walk, which will focus on improving disaster preparedness for people with disabilities.

The mission of Canada to Key West is being highlighted in a session on climate change and its potential impact on people with disabilities this week at the Association of Academic Physiatrists Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was devasted by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and thousands of citizens were left without power, clean water, medical supplies and access to medical services for months. Puerto Ricans with disabilities were the most vulnerable of all during the disaster and its aftermath.

Canada to Key West will include professionals in academic medicine, whose goal is to raise awareness about extreme weather, and how it affects persons with physical and cognitive disabilities. During the 2,350-mile route, walkers will visit rehabilitation hospitals in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Richmond and Charleston to engage with academic partners about more effective mechanisms and planning to help people with disabilities during extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods, polar vortices and heat waves.

Members of local communities are invited to form teams, or walk or roll with other participants, mayor’s offices on disabilities and community groups. Funds raised by the walk will be donated to the United Spinal Association.

An estimated one in five people lives with a disability today. These individuals are more vulnerable during extreme weather events and their aftermath. It can be difficult to impossible for someone with a disability to evacuate during a disaster. Along the walk, participants hope to meet with government, academic and community members to discuss communications and response plans to aid people with and without disabilities during extreme weather events.

“I find it terrible that you can find hundreds of pictures of pets being rescued in floods or hurricanes, but you never see the person in the wheelchair, because often, they are not saved,” said Marcalee Alexander, MD, an AAP member who founded the walk with Craig Alexander, MD. “Polar bears are considered the symbol of climate change, and we don’t acknowledge that people with disabilities are being affected now. I want to find the unsung heroes with disabilities that have face dextreme weather disasters, so they can tell their stories.”

The Canada to Key West walk will begin on historic Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada, where former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a summer home. Pres. Roosevelt contracted polio as a young man, developed lifelong paralysis, and was a lifelong advocate for rehabilitation research. The walk will continue through major cities on the East Coast, ending in Key West, Fla.

On Sept. 22, 2019, “The Day for Tomorrow” has been designated as the day for people to show their support for persons with and without disabilities, and the challenges everyone faces due to extreme weather events. This is the day before the United Nations’ climate summit and autumn solstice, and the walk teams will be in Washington, D.C. Dr. Alexander says she hopes the Day for Tomorrow will become an annual event.  Other plans include a documentary film to highlight the cause, and the development of a new nonprofit organization to provide tele-rehabilitation services at no cost to persons with new or preexisting disabilities related to extreme weather, she adds.

To create a walk team, donate or get involved, visit www.canadatokeywest.org or the event’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

 

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About the Association of Academic Physiatrists

The Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) is a professional society with a mission to create the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery. The only academic association dedicated to the specialty of physiatry, its members are leading physicians, researchers, in-training physiatrists, and professionals in 21 countries and 44 U.S. states. With a keen focus on research and education, the AAP holds an Annual Meeting, produces a leading medical journal in rehabilitation: AJPM&R, and leads a variety of programs and activities that support and enhance academic physiatry. To learn more about the Association and specialty of physiatry, visit physiatry.org and follow us on Twitter at @AAPhysiatrists.

About United Spinal Association

Formed in 1946 by paralyzed veterans, United Spinal is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio. Membership is free and open to all individuals with SCI/D, with over 53,000 members across 50 chapters nationwide. Known for its revolutionary advocacy efforts, United Spinal played a significant role in writing the Americans with Disabilities Act, provided important contributions to the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Air Carrier Access Act, and was instrumental in attaining sidewalk curb ramps and accessible public transportation in New York City, which created the standard accessibility model used in many United States cities.

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