Climate Change
12 Aug

Climate Change Impact on Individuals with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities often are overlooked in the conversation about climate change, extreme disasters, and emergency solutions. Since disabilities can differ, individuals with disabilities can be hard to serve, but as climate change becomes an increasing problem, societies and government bodies need to consider these individuals as well.
As a rule, people with disabilities are often at higher rates of social risk factors such as their economic status, unemployment, and education levels. Lower education levels and lower incomes place individuals with disabilities in a difficult position to provide for themselves and respond to emergency situations.
While governments are becoming aware of the social and economic factors that affect areas hit by natural disasters, communities are realizing that the changing climate is affecting livelihoods day-to-day, and not just when disaster strikes. Climate change is beginning to cause sunny day flooding, forest fires, droughts, and heavy precipitation.
As climate change increases, the disabled population needs to be considered in climate change responses, solutions, and emergencies.
“There's very little research on the topic,” said Aleksandra Kosanic, a geography researcher at the University of Konstanz who has cerebral palsy. “The disabled population needs to be considered and taken into this conversation around climate change and climate change risks.”
Disabilities influence approximately 1 in 5 people within the United States. The percentage of people impacted above the age of 65 is almost half while only about 17% of Americans between ages 21 and 64. With disabilities influencing so many of our older loved ones, it’s important that plans are in place to help as severe weather patterns increase due to climate change.
Unrelated to climate change but definitely influencing global warming is the 2020 pandemic of COVID-19. This pandemic emergency has resulted in government bodies seeking ways to mitigate risk for their populations, including individuals with disabilities. This global emergency has hit the economy and society in life-changing ways.
One country that’s seeking to use the pandemic as momentum to alter their system is South Africa, where President Cyril Ramaphosa wants to build an inclusive new economy that serves the 7.5% of the population with disabilities. The new global reality reflects starker poverty lines, and within this economic insanity, the rights of people with disabilities could be so easily overlooked.  
“The majority of persons with disabilities are part of our vulnerable population as a result of chronic poverty and living in rural communities, especially those with spinal cord injuries and psycho-social disabilities. So, an active, engaged and coordinated response that is disability inclusive is needed now and in the long term,” said Professor Theresa Lorenzo of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Division of Disability Studies and co-lead of Inclusive Practices Africa (IPA), a new UCT research grouping.

Other countries should take note of this opportunity to foster disability inclusion. And for South Africa, this means developing systems that will generate changes now and in the longer term, past the COVID-19 pandemic. An obvious place to start and continue is in education, specifically programs that feature business development and skill transfer.

Another element is social protection. Studies revealed that social grants in South Africa had not only been used to relieve hunger and provide assistive devices but that it had also been used to start small businesses by individuals with disabilities. While this is a great step, environments also play into economic opportunities since rural communities don’t have the same level of opportunities or assistance.

Community and family participation is crucial in helping care for individuals with disabilities, ensuring that these individuals are connected to the resources, opportunities, and training available to them. When men and women with disabilities are supported by their families and communities, they are much more likely to be successful in their training opportunities. Everyone benefits from understanding disability discrimination and education.

Climate change and global emergencies such as COVID-19 alter the world we know, but these events disproportionately impact disabled populations. And it’s vital that our countries, governments, and communities take steps to care for every part of our society, including individuals with disabilities.

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