These are the hallmarks of effective advocates willing to press and keep pressing for needed change, and these are all attributes of Germán Parodi, the winner of the 2019 Speak Up for Better Health Award.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Germán survived a spinal cord injury at 17 when he was shot in the neck as a carjacking victim. The spinal cord injury left him ultimately quadriplegic, and the tracheostomy surgery left him initially with damaged vocal chords. He lost his health insurance within a month now that he had a pre-existing condition. Seeking better health care and more accessible housing, Germán and his grandmother, who was his primary caretaker, moved to Philadelphia in 2004.

This was only the beginning of his journey, however, and during the last 15 years Germán not only quickly recovered the ability to talk, but has developed a powerful voice, speaking out on behalf of people with disabilities locally, nationally and internationally.

Local Action on Access to Care and Services

In Philadelphia, Germán has worked closely with the Liberty Resources Inc, Philadelphia’s Center for Independent Living, and serves as president of Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania to ensure that people with disabilities have access to health care services and supports so they can live independently in the community instead of in costly nursing facilities and other institutional settings. He has led efforts to increase accessible and affordable housing opportunities for people with disabilities, preserve pre-existing coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and protect civil rights under the American with Disabilities Act.

Germán is acutely aware of the non-medical issues that are so crucial to the health and wellbeing not only of people with disabilities but all people. “Housing, accessible transportation, these are the kinds of issues that are central to my health, to my life and to the lives of millions of people.”

A New Focus on Disaster Relief

When his native Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, Germán and other disaster relief first responders boldly rushed to the island to offer aid, durable medical equipment and peer-to-peer support to thousands of islanders with disabilities who lost everything.   

This experience broadened the scope of his advocacy, and earlier this year he reprised this role in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. “People with disabilities are two-to-four times more likely to die or be injured during a disaster,” noting how access to electricity for a breathing machine, or special formula can be a matter of life or death.

Together with colleagues and as Co-Executive Director at The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies, he is now advocating systematically to improve disaster relief and emergency preparedness for people with disabilities in the United States and worldwide. Recently, he was tapped to represent the Partnership as the United Nations Focal Point for Persons with Disabilities in the Américas, advocating and empowering disaster risk reduction community resilience for persons with disabilities around the world.

Germán has also collaborated with Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, helping draft and then supporting the introduction of new legislation to improve U.S. efforts to respond to natural disasters and ensure that displaced victims with disabilities have seamless Medicaid access and receive urgently needed long term services and supports, shelter, attendant care, and durable medical equipment & supplies before, during, and after disasters. 

“We all have a voice,” he says.  “If we put them together, we can make change.  We can create any future we desire.” 

Center Communications Team