The world is facing unprecedented environmental crises, from climate change to biodiversity loss. These issues disproportionately affect marginalized groups, including disabled people. Extreme weather, increased pollution, and other impacts threaten disabled people’s health and ability to access healthcare, housing, transport and other necessities.
This article summarises findings from the UK charity NPC’s “Everyone’s Environment” research paper. NPC held discussions with disabled people across the UK to understand how environmental issues affect them and what they want to see from government and charities.
The Research Findings
NPC’s deliberation groups engaged 63 disabled people across 4 sessions between April and August 2023. Participants had a diversity of disabilities, ages, genders, ethnicities and locations across the UK. The goal was to centre the voices of those most impacted.
A range of disabled people were included . Across all UK regions, including physical disabilities, learning disabilities, long-term illnesses, and a mix of genders, ethnicities and ages.
Key takeaways included disabled people wanting policies that improve quality of life while benefiting the environment, as well as accessible communication from government on environmental issues.
The Struggles Faced by Disabled People During Environmental Crisis
Disabled participants shared how increasing extreme weather exacerbates health issues, makes treatment more difficult, and disrupts access to medical care.
One person shared: “I have to constantly vary the dose of my
medication in response to changing climate.”
Another discussed declining green spaces:
“The UK is no longer a temperate climate.” Many felt climate anxiety
on top of managing existing conditions.
What Disabled People Want
Disabled people want environmental policies that also increase accessibility, through things like housing insulation, regulated accessible transport, and upfront investment in inclusive design.
“Spending money upfront will save us money in the future.”
They want greater representation in policymaking and priority on communicating climate impacts accessibility.
Key Points about Disabled People and Environment Crisis
Disabled people already face barriers to living the lives they want, without the added challenges of climate change and environmental degradation. These include lack of accessible housing and transport, poverty, and inaccessible information.
Climate change is already negatively impacting disabled people’s health, exacerbating existing conditions and making treatment more difficult. Examples given include increased damp worsening respiratory conditions, higher temperatures increasing illnesses like Lyme’s disease, and pollution driving long-term health problems. Disabled people felt that climate anxiety is exacerbating existing mental health conditions.
Disabled people see opportunities for environmental policies to also improve accessibility and quality of life, through things like better insulated housing, regulated accessible public transport, and upfront investment in accessibility.
Top policy priorities for disabled people are increased income, support to cover disability-related costs of climate impacts, exemptions from some climate policies that would harm disabled people, and accessible information on climate change.
Disabled people want more representation in climate policymaking, through their organizations and individual voices. They have solutions to contribute but often feel left out of the conversation.
Disabled people wanted policymakers to use regulation alongside subsidies, to prevent inaccessible solutions being rushed into. For example, financial incentives for technologies that may not work for disabled people’s needs.
Disabled people wanted a centralised source of accessible information on climate impacts, like health advice, emergency planning, and easy read climate resources.
Disabled people highlighted the need for policymakers to actively listen and proportionately represent disabled people in climate institutions. Disabled people’s organizations play a vital role.
Disabled people wanted parity with non-disabled people in things many take for granted - independence, choice, time with family, suitable housing, work flexibility, healthcare access, transport, time outdoors. Climate impacts threaten these further.
Role of Charities and DPOs
Participants want charities and Disabled People’s Organizations to help advocate for their rights regarding climate policy. They also called for these groups to make climate information accessible and support Disabled people’s health through the crises.
Disabled people are on the frontlines of environmental crises, but too often left out of finding solutions. Charities, government and others must centre their voices and needs in policymaking and climate action. The environmental movement must be inclusive to succeed.
Some more research on disabled people and climate change:
OHCHR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) has conducted an analytical study on the rights of persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. The study emphasises the importance of meaningful participation, inclusion, and leadership of disabled individuals and their representative organisations in climate-related decision-making.
The Guardian reports that people with disabilities are being “systematically ignored” by governments worldwide in the context of the climate crisis. The first comprehensive review of the issue found that few countries make provisions for the needs of disabled individuals in their climate adaptation plans, and none mention them in their greenhouse gas emissions reduction programs.
UCL (University College London) has a research project on disability and climate justice. The project highlights the fact that disabled people remain on the fringes of the climate justice agenda, with limited attention given to their specific needs and vulnerabilities.
US EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) provides information on the health impacts of climate change on people with disabilities. The agency states that disabled individuals may be more vulnerable to climate change than the general population due to various factors, such as heat illnesses and mental health effects.
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) reports on a new study by McGill University’s Disability-Inclusive Climate Action Research Program (DICARP), which found that most climate policies worldwide do not consider the rights of people with disabilities. The study highlights the disproportionate impact of climate change on disabled individuals, such as extreme heat, and the lack of inclusion in climate mitigation and adaptation plans.
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Disabled People and Climate Change FAQs
How does climate change affect disabled people specifically?
Climate change impacts like extreme heat, natural disasters, and increased pollution can disproportionately harm disabled people by disrupting access to care, exacerbating health issues, and destroying accessible housing.
What are some policy solutions disabled people suggest?
Policies that increase accessibility, support incomes, and provide representation for disabled people in climate policymaking. This includes things like subsidies for home adaptations, regulated accessible transport, and exemptions from taxes/bans that would harm disabled people.
How can I make climate action more inclusive for the disabled community?
You can support disabled-led advocacy groups, make sure events and messaging are accessible, include disabled voices, and consider how every climate policy could impact disability rights and health.
How does climate change affect mental health?
Climate change can induce stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and trauma related to losses now and in the future. Disabled people already facing health issues may be especially affected.
What are disabled people’s organizations (DPOs)?
DPOs are groups led by and representing disabled people. They play a crucial role in advocating for disability rights and inclusion in climate policy.
How can I be an ally to the disabled community on climate issues?
Listen to and amplify disabled voices. Support policies that increase accessibility, representation, and income supports. Challenge ableism when you see it. Help make climate solutions inclusive from the start.