People With Disability And The Climate Crisis

We all need to understand how people with disability are impacted by the climate crisis. People with disability all over the world need to be included in conversations and planning for climate change and climate related natural disasters. Their representation is crucial.

Climate change is hitting some harder than others - for people with disability it brings a unique set of potential impacts and consequences. The voices of people with disability are so important to listen to and include in conversations about climate damage, resilience and adapting to these challenges. People with disability bring resilience, learned through having to constantly adapt, and this makes them well equipped to lead discussions and strategy on climate change.

Here are some excerpts from articles that explain the impact of climate damage on people with disability:

"People with disabilities have been living with the consequences of climate change just as long as the rest of the population. However, the disability community is the most vulnerable to the rapidly occurring wildfires, hurricanes and air pollution since many of them live with already compromised health conditions." From this article called "Is It Too Late That The Impact Of Climate Change On People With Disabilities Is Getting Discussed Only Now?"

From People With Disability Australia on why they're supporting action on climate change:

"In 2019, the United Nations passed a resolution about human rights and climate change that include "recognizing that persons with disabilities are among the most adversely affected in an emergency, sustaining disproportionately higher rates of morbidity and mortality, and at the same time being among those least able to have access to emergency support".

"Human Rights Watch says that "Governments need to reach out and listen to people with disabilities, who are among those who feel, or will feel, more acutely the adverse effects of environmental change, and will be important leaders in fighting it."

From this UN article called "The impact of climate change on the rights of persons with disabilities":

"The adverse impacts of climate change on individuals with multiple vulnerability factors, including women and girls with disabilities, require adequate measures that take into account their specific requirements and ensure their participation in disaster response planning for emergency situations and evacuations, humanitarian emergency response and healthcare services.

The meaningful participation, inclusion and leadership of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations within disaster risk management and climate-related decision-making at the local, national, regional and global levels, lies at the heart of an approach to climate action that is respectful of the rights of persons with disabilities."

We have also found some articles, podcasts and documentaries to help navigate the important topic of climate justice and people with disability:

  • "The Right to be rescued" is a 15 minute documentary prompted by Hurricane Katrina and the rescue plan that didn't include people with disability

  • Video - "People with Disabilities are More Vulnerable in a Changing Climate"

  • Video - "Climate Change and Disability: Presentation and Workshop"

Here are two excerpts from this article in Croakey on some of the ways the environmental movement has excluded people with disability, I encourage you to read the full article, which has really valuable information and insight:

"Social media is full of people proclaiming their hatred of the terrible plastic straw and its scourge of the environment despite evidence that other plastics are far more harmful.

But the big problem with all this is that a plastic straw ban will take away a safe, hygienic and cheap way to have a drink for disabled people, that has no real alternatives.

As health journalist Andre Picard says "the straw, and the bendable plastic straw more specifically, is a remarkably successful example of an accessible technology, and it should not be banned mindlessly any more than it is discarded thoughtlessly."

Alice Wong, a US disability activist, relies on plastic straws. She explains that these calls for a ban will have real consequences for her. "I live in a world that was never built for me, and every little bit of access is treasured and hard-won. Bans on plastic straws are regressive, not progressive."

Read the full article here.

"Similar exhortations to ban pre-packaged fresh produce overlook how important these products are to people with disability. Again, this is often met with such strong hostility and whataboutery that any conversations become exhausting. It sometimes feels as though these tiny accessibility improvements are an affront to non-disabled people.

Public transport isn't accessible to many disabled people, nor cycling, making those environmental choices out of reach. Many people with disability rely on air-conditioning or don't have the financial resources to access renewable energy on their homes.

None of this means that people with disability don't care about environmental issues, or don't want to be a part of efforts to address climate change. In fact, there is much expertise and knowledge that disabled people can bring to these campaigns."

By Allison Licence

Allison Licence is a Sydney-based freelance writer and 1 Million Women volunteer who is passionate about the environment and finding ways to live more sustainably.

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