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A bellweather for climate change and disability: educational needs of rehabilitation professionals regarding disaster management and spinal cord injuries

  • Alexander, Marcalee1, 2, 3
  • Alexander, Jagger4
  • Arora, Mohit5
  • Slocum, Chloe2
  • Middleton, James5, 6, 7
  • 1 University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Birmingham, AL, USA , Birmingham (United States)
  • 2 Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard School of Medicine, Charlestown, MA, USA , Charlestown (United States)
  • 3 Telerehabilitation International, Birmingham, AL, USA , Birmingham (United States)
  • 4 Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA , Nashville (United States)
  • 5 The University of Sydney, John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research, Sydney Medical School, Northern Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney, NSW, Australia , Sydney (Australia)
  • 6 NSW Agency for Clinical Innovation, State Spinal Cord Injury Service, Sydney, NSW, Australia , Sydney (Australia)
  • 7 Royal Rehab, NSW Spinal Outreach Service, Sydney, NSW, Australia , Sydney (Australia)
Published Article
Spinal Cord Series and Cases
Nature Publishing Group UK
Publication Date
Nov 15, 2019
DOI: 10.1038/s41394-019-0239-z
Springer Nature


Study designCross-sectional survey.ObjectivePersons with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by extreme weather disasters and climate change. Individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) are especially at risk due to inability to control their body temperature and mobility concerns. We surveyed rehabilitation professionals in the field of SCI to determine their experiences, concerns and educational needs regarding natural disasters, climate change and sustainability and the effects on their clientele.SettingOnline survey available to an international cohort.MethodsThe survey was developed by the authors and conducted in 2019. It was distributed amongst various international health care organizations whose members care for persons with SCI. Descriptive statistics and chi-square test for association were performed using Microsoft Excel 2016.ResultsOf 125 respondents, 50% were from Europe, 18% from North America, and 18% from Asia; 74% were physicians and 13% physical therapists. In total 57.6% believed climate change had impacted their client’s health and well-being. Respondents from North America were significantly less likely to report climate change had an impact on their patient’s health than those from Asia or Europe (p < 0.01). In total 82.5% of respondents thought professionals should be concerned with sustainability and 85.5% were interested in further education.ConclusionsMost respondents acknowledged a need for more information related to the disasters, climate change, and disability. Results underscore the need for further research, professional, and consumer education.

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