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How climate change affects disabled people

a boy with an amputated leg walking on a flooded road using crutches
a boy with an amputated leg walking on a flooded road using crutches Image credit:

Climate change is one of the hottest topics at the moment and with the world focused on the COP26 conference taking part in Glasgow everyone must be included, but when it comes to disabled people the atmosphere seems polluted with ignorance.

Boris Johnson having to apologise to a disabled Israeli minister because there was no sufficient accessible transport, a lack of cups next to the water coolers, longer queues than Alton Towers on a bank holiday weekend, people with disabilities have seemed to have been forgotten on one of the most important global crisis in history.

But why is climate change so important for disabled people, don’t they have enough to contend with trying to pass their PIP assessments?

The fact is climate change can cause serious health problems, cast your mind back to July 2018 when Montreal, Canada was hit by a scorching 35.5C (95.9f) heatwave.

A quarter of patients admitted to hospital suffering from heatstroke and dehydration had schizophrenia as they are vulnerable to extreme hot tempertures.

Prof Sébastien Jodoin, a climate change specialist from McGill University, who has multiple sclerosis, said: “People who live with schizophrenia tend to have less of a social network, they tend to be more poor.

"These are the underlying effects of how disability will increase vulnerability or engender vulnerability, to climate change."

In 2019 when companies in California were forced to close to prevent the spread of wildfires people like Gerald Niimi was in a serious situation.

Relying on an oxygen ventilator to control a chronic lung disease he was forced to move so he could find a new vent. Tragically he was unable to recover one and passed away two days later.

At least Niimi was physically able to flee his home, unlike thousands of other disabled residents who were trapped in their homes.

Earlier this year 12 disabled care homes in Sinzig, Germany were flooded as a result of climate change.

Dr Charles Williams, a climate scientist and research fellow at the University of Bristol, has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). He told BBC News: "As a wheelchair-user, I would not be able to get into a rubber dinghy to be evacuated."

Hurricane Katrina which swept New Orleans in 2005 caused havoc for disabled people, most of the evacuation busses were not suitable for wheelchairs, emergency shelters were inaccessible and there was little accessible information available for people with vision loss and hearing loss.

Closer to home David Attenborough made life difficult for a percentage of disabled people when he called for a ban on plastic straws, despite the law making exceptions many places do not provide them for those who can’t drink from paper ones.

Andy Greene, from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: "Disabled people [who use straws] are a very small group, but this ban has a real impact on them - while having a minimal actual real impact on the structural effects of climate change and global warming."

One of the side events at COP26 will focus on climate change and the impact on disabled people, hopefully providing cups not made out of paper next to the water fountain!

Dr Williams added: "Only time will tell if these attitudes will change. There has been a dramatic shift in the last 10 years, but this needs to continue."

Within the next 2 decades, global temperatures are likely to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius.