Little mention of the disability community, despite higher risk of climate change impact
“Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health,” says the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and it “will put people at increased risk of climate-related illnesses and injuries”.
But although climate change is likely to cause disabilities and health problems, there was little mention of the disability community in the IPCC report.
“People with disabilities are additionally exposed to some of the consequences of climate change,” said Dr Esther Woodbury, senior adviser to the Commission on Human Rights. She lives with reduced mobility.
Persons with disabilities were likely to be left behind during critical events, such as natural disasters such as floods and fires, and there were many risks for persons with disabilities not being able to be evacuated, a- she declared.
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“There are likely to be more climate refugees in the future and, as we know, people with disabilities are massively discriminated against in many immigration contexts in New Zealand, so that is a real concern for me.”
Chapter 13 of the IPCC report, on climate-resilient development in Europe, mentions people with disabilities but very briefly, and in relation to transport:
“At the city level, there are examples of good practice in climate-resilient development that consider social equity and integrate a gender-inclusive perspective into its sustainable urban planning, including the design of public spaces and public transport to ensure that women, people with disabilities and other groups can access and feel safe using these public facilities.
But the issue of access to environmentally friendly transport was far more important than the safety of people with disabilities using public facilities, Woodbury said, noting that much of society was “critical” to the car use.
In her doctoral research in 2012, Woodbury examined car use in the disability community. She found that some people with disabilities did not use public transport because it was unsafe, difficult to access, or people with disabilities experienced negative attitudes from bus drivers and other passengers.
“Having access to private transport meant that people with disabilities could participate on an equal footing with people without disabilities.”
Chapter 7 of the report discusses how climate change will affect physical and mental health and well-being. He predicted “increased risks to mental health and well-being” associated with changes caused by climate change impacts on “climate-sensitive health outcomes and systems”.
Woodbury stressed the importance of planning ahead to create an inclusive and environmentally friendly future by designing it to be “accessible, affordable and acceptable”.
She said people with disabilities were aware of the environmental concerns of car use and if there were more options they would use their cars less. But they were overwhelmingly put in a position where the only way to get mobility was through private transport.
Being able to leave home independently and have some autonomy over their mobility was also important for their mental health, she said.
“If we’re pushing for increased use of public transport, the whole system needs to be accessible,” Woodbury said, with wheelchair-accessible bus stops and ramps to curbs, otherwise people with disabilities would be “cut off” from using public transport.
“I think it’s really important that people with disabilities are part of the [climate change] the conversation themselves and the conversation should be about the disproportionate effects on people with disabilities,” Woodbury said.
Áine Kelly-Costello is a blind and chronically ill storyteller, and an activist for disability and climate justice. She said there was “eco-capacity” in the climate change movement.
The push for the use of electric vehicles (EVs) was an example of eco-capacity.
“There are now minimum noise standards for electric vehicles, which is an essential safety measure, especially for those of us who can’t see them moving,” Kelly-Costello said. “So we have to keep an eye on whether these are sufficient for real-life safety.
“Calls for more electric vehicle subsidies should also push for subsidized electric vehicles for people with disabilities, including those large enough to accommodate wheelchairs,” she said. “Vehicles themselves must be designed in such a way that they can be modified, and charging stations must also be accessible.”
As for the framing of disability and illness in the IPCC report, it was “deficit-based and disempowering,” Kelly-Costello said.
“The narrative in the IPCC report that climate degradation is making people sick, resulting in a population-level health burden with shortened life expectancy, strikes me as limiting and fatalistic,” he said. she stated.