United Spinal Association, a national disability rights organization, has joined the nationwide relief effort for victims of Hurricane Katrina. This morning the Association deployed a wheelchair accessible bus and box truck to Louisiana, filled to capacity with supplies and equipment which will be donated to a New Orleans Resources for Independent Living (RIL) Center. Among the donations are 30 new manual wheelchairs, two power wheelchairs, two hospital beds, a Hoyer lift, 30 new wheelchair cushions, and a number of canes, crutches, and walkers. To ensure recipients are properly fitted for their equipment, United Spinal will be sending support staff, including a wheelchair technician and specialist. United Spinal will also donate the 33-foot bus that is being used to transport the equipment. The total value of the donation is estimated to be $50,000.
“The people who are going to be receiving these donations truly need it,” said Yovanka Archaga, C.P.A., Executive Director of RIL, one of the largest personal care attendant service providers for individuals with disabilities in the southern region of Louisiana. RIL benefits include care services, supported living programs, and transportation services. “Our consumers have lost so much, and we are going to take these gifts to give it right back to the community. Hospitals are overloaded and it’s amazing how much we have taken for granted, consumer’s medical needs are just another luxury that has been taken away as well.”
Not wanting to sound ungrateful that the lives of her staff and consumers have been spared, Archaga is forging forward with her efforts to rebuild the Center, despite the fact that the community is at a standstill. With her voice shaking, Archaga describes what she feels was a miracle—that after being under two to three feet of water, and with three and a half feet of mold on the walls, all of RIL’s 25 to 30 computers, and their $10,000 server, functioned normally after being drained. “It was just amazing that they still had power,” she says. “That just tells me that God is saying that Yovanka has to keep goingâ€¦that tells you we are doing something good.”
“We have all seen the images of this unprecedented catastrophe and the suffering that has been endured by the people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast,” said Gerard Kelly, Executive Director of United Spinal Association. “United Spinal Association has great concern for our members and non-members that have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. Knowing firsthand the daily challenges faced by the disability community under normal conditions, we can only speculate as to the added difficulties imposed by these extraordinary circumstances.”
Through the cooperation of John Lancaster, Executive Director, Council on Independent Living, United Spinal connected with the New Orleans Independent Living Center currently operating out of Baton Rouge. Kelly remarked, “We are ecstatic to have been able to put together the various items we are donating, as well as to donate a lift-equipped bus; we know they will all be put to good use by people in dire need of them. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to serve the people in New Orleans and other places who are presently facing such enormous challenges.”