The climate crisis affects people with disabilities in unusual ways. Why?

Despite being wheelchair-accessible, Israeli minister Karine Elharrar was unable to attend the COP26 summit on Monday.

People with disabilities often feel left out of conversations about climate change since they feel ignored or left out of the conversation.

In a crisis, people with disabilities suffer the most, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The climate crisis will make these emergencies more frequent, from wildfires to flooding.

Can we do anything to mitigate the effects of climate change on disabled people?

A dehydration or heatstroke can cause disabilities

Montreal, Canada, was hit by a heatwave in July 2018. The temperature rose to 35.5C (95.9F) for days. The number of people who succumbed to heat-related illness reached 61, with many going to the hospital. About a quarter of the 61 were diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Prof. Sébastien Jodoin, a professor of human rights, disability, and climate change at McGill University, says that is 500 times the share of the population they make up.

The symptoms of schizophrenia are often treated with antipsychotic medication. In addition to making the patient more susceptible to heat damage, it can lead to severe dehydration deadly.


Communication between authorities and communities at risk exacerbates these situations, according to Professor Jodoin.

He says schizophrenia patients tend to have fewer friends and tend to be poorer. There is a direct relationship between disability and climate change vulnerability, thereby increasing or engendering vulnerability.”

Heatwaves and wildfires are likely to increase with climate change as hot, dry weather is a risk. Rising temperatures also make flooding and extreme rainfall more likely.

The events in Montreal are a preview of what’s to come, according to professor Jodoin.

As wildfires spread in California, companies shut down power to prevent power outages. In Santa Rosa, California, Gerald Niimi, a patient with chronic lung disease who relied on a ventilator, had been battling chronic lung disease for years.

He lost the ability to breathe when the power went out. The couple fled their home and desperately looked for a vent that would work, but they could not find one. Two days later, Gerald died.

In a statement, Pacific Gas & Electric acknowledged it did not notify thousands of customers, including hundreds with medical conditions, before shutting the electricity off.

Some Californians with disabilities had difficulty fleeing their homes during the wildfires. Emergency centres providing water, bathrooms, and safe spaces were inaccessible for those who could escape.

Floating dinghies and flooding

Sinzig, Germany, was hit by sudden flooding this summer, killing 12 nursing home residents who were unable to flee. Politicians and scientists blamed climate change for the flooding.

Professor Charles Williams of the University of Bristol is a climate scientist and researcher who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. Because he uses a wheelchair, he would not get into a rubber dinghy to be rescued.

In Sinzig, Germany, after 12 residents died, flowers were left at this assisted living facility.

Following Hurricane Katrina, which caused severe flooding in New Orleans in 2005, similar stories surfaced. The National Council on Disabilities, based in the United States, said disabled people have difficulty accessing support.

Those with disabilities had difficulty accessing evacuation buses, emergency shelters, and local safety information since many evacuation buses did not have wheelchair lifts.

There have been five times as many weather-related disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, in the last fifty years. What should be done to improve support for disabled people?

The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) organization’s Andy Greene thinks disabled people need to be more involved in climate change discussions.

For instance, the crackdown on plastic straws is one example of how governments often overlook the impact of laws on disabled people.

plastic straws vanish from china as ban kicks in - cgtn

A ban on single-use plastic straws adversely affected some disabled people

A public outcry prompted legislation banning single-use plastic straws following a Sir David Attenborough documentary on the impact of takeaway containers on the oceans.

Plastic straws are still available to most disabled people as they use them to drink independently. Although the new law offers medical exemptions, Mr Greene says many disabled people are still adversely affected by the new law.

Metal and pasta straws, for example, are complicated and can cause damage if the person drinking from them were to slip or spasm. They can also collapse quickly, and people who have trouble picking up a cup need bendable plastic.

Despite being a tiny group, disabled people [who use straws] are directly impacted by the ban – but it has a minimal impact on global warming and climate change.

It’s another instance of how disabled people have been forgotten.

These types of discrimination are now referred to as eco-ableism. Activists and decision-makers are frequently criticized for failing to realize that some environmental actions – for example, removing accessible parking spaces to make way for cycle lanes – make life harder for the disabled.

What should be done about disabilities?

A few side events will focus specifically on disability and climate change at COP26. The first event will cover climate resilient urban design, while the second event will discuss the effects of climate change on disabled people’s health.


The government often disregards the “specific needs of people with disabilities”, says Jodoin. COP26 presents an opportunity for him to advance disability rights, however.

As far as tackling climate change is concerned, Dr. Williams is optimistic. Currently, the problem is a lack of motivation and willpower both on an individual and political level to make changes.

In the last decade, attitudes have changed dramatically. The trend needs to continue in the future.

edited and proofread by: nikita sharma

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