At the recent United Nations climate negotiations in Egypt, disability activists urged governments to include persons with disabilities in plans to address climate change. In response, Member States adopted a “comprehensive decision” and a climate action plan referring to the disabled community. However, these measures are still insufficient to meet the needs and demands of people with disabilities.
According to recent reports, people with disabilities have been systematically ignored in UN climate negotiations and in national climate policies around the world. In an unprecedented effort to tackle the climate crisis, the United States has an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that domestic and global climate action does not leave people with disabilities behind.
Globally, over one billion people with disabilities face rising sea levels, reduced access to clean water and food, and risk of death as a result of climate change. People with disabilities are two to four times more likely to die or be seriously injured during disasters such as hurricanes, heat waves, and floods. Hot weather poses serious health risks, including for those with multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Research suggests that people with psychosocial disorders are three times more likely to die from heatwaves.
Poverty and other forms of discrimination exacerbate the problem. A study following Hurricane Harvey in 2017 reported that people with cognitive and physical disabilities were more likely to live in flooded areas, and many of them lived in public housing.
This increased risk is unavoidable and unavoidable. This reflects a lack of inclusive planning, life-saving medical equipment during blackouts, accessible emergency information, and accessible transportation, reinforcing patterns of social and economic exclusion.
Disability groups have had to lead and bridge the gap in the response to disasters like wildfires in California and hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the government continues to downplay the Disability Act, as evidenced by the successful federal lawsuit in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that New York City’s emergency plans violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, giving the government legal responsibility to protect people with disabilities in climate-related disasters. I have clearly confirmed that there is
The Biden administration has taken promising steps. One of President Biden’s first executive orders, he created a working group focused on the risks of climate change, especially to children, the elderly, the disabled, and the vulnerable, and the Environmental Protection Agency is working on climate adaptation. recognizes people with disabilities as a ‘vulnerable group’. Action plan. However, it is unclear if these moves will lead to concrete measures or ensure his ADA compliance.
Climate solutions developed without input from people with disabilities, their representative organizations and allies risk being exclusive and inaccessible. Consider a seemingly simple strategy to reduce emissions, the world’s highest climate goal. For example, protected continuous lanes for bicycles make cycling through greener city streets faster and safer than cars. However, redesigning roads and adding bike lanes would separate bus stops from sidewalks and make them inaccessible, creating other disabilities for visually and hearing impaired pedestrians as well as wheelchair users. may occur and violate the ADA.
Bike lanes should be designed to circumvent these barriers while allowing accessible cycling (this includes creating spaces for adaptive bikes used by people with disabilities). some of which are tricycles and other wider shapes). This reduces carbon emissions and enables universal access.
In fact, all measures to reduce carbon emissions should account for 1 in 4 American adults with disabilities. New EV charging stations built through the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Program must be ADA compliant and physically accessible to people with mobility devices, people of small stature, and people with limited manual dexterity. .
At the local level, San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan calls for input from the city’s diverse disability community to design transportation systems. Current measures include an adaptive bike-sharing program. The San Francisco Hazard and Climate Resilience Plan was also developed by a team that includes disability planners and includes establishing accessible evacuation strategies. Boston’s Heat Resilience Plan recognizes that residents with disabilities living in public housing are at increased risk of medical emergencies during heatwaves. Air conditioners and fans were distributed to these residents as part of a pilot program. Other cities should imitate these practices.
Ultimately, an inclusive approach to climate change action will improve the security, flexibility and accessibility of climate solutions across society. For example, the National Federation of the Blind has advocated for Congress to mandate that electric vehicles make noise. This is a life-saving change for people with visual impairments, children and distracted pedestrians. Accessible EVs and charging stations, along with accessible public transit stations and car and bike sharing programs, are expanding transportation options for America’s growing population of seniors.
The Biden administration, Congress, state and local governments have an opportunity to leverage green economy funding, boosted by the Control Inflation Act, to make America more sustainable and inclusive. Moreover, by improving domestic policy, the United States can strengthen its moral authority to guide other nations toward comprehensive climate policy, and improve its ability to provide support and guidance.
Thirty-two years after the ADA was enacted, the United States can once again lead the global movement for disability rights. Climate action that includes people with disabilities saves lives and contributes to the transition to a more equitable and effective low-carbon world.