When the inevitable hurricanes threaten New Orleans, it’s hard for India Scott to know where to go. In the city where she was born and raised, she stayed in hotels, emergency shelters and, during Hurricane Katrina, the famously crowded Superdome.
But it’s always a bet to choose where to take refuge. Many places that are safe for most people are not safe for her because they are not accessible to people like her, people with disabilities.
Scott has used a wheelchair all his life; she was born with a disability. Even when the weather is calm in New Orleans, she is reluctant to leave the house to visit friends or go out to shop or eat, as places outside her home cannot guarantee that she will be able to maneuver even basic things like going to the bathroom, going through an entrance, or going to bed.
Scott’s home in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans is cozy with features required by code but often missing, like widened entrances for his wheelchair. It has a bed lower to the ground which is easier to get in and out of. But because she lives near a levee, she leaves that comfort behind whenever a major hurricane or tropical storm is forecast, as rising flood waters that would defy anyone would surely be fatal to her.
“I do my best to make my house comfortable,” she said, “but if that water ever comes through, I’m in trouble.”
Scott said she couldn’t rely on the city, state or federal government in the event of a storm, only friends. She said there was no adequate support for people with disabilities before, during and after disasters from emergency management agencies at all levels of government.
“We are alone,” she told The Associated Press through tears.
Experts and activists echoed his view, telling the AP that people with disabilities are excluded from planning for emergencies and disasters, and face barriers that able-bodied people do not encounter when disaster strikes. disaster.
As climate-related disasters become more frequent and severe, most countries around the world are “neglecting their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of persons with disabilities in their responses to the climate crisis”, according to a June report by the Disability Inclusive Climate Action Research Program of McGill University and the International Disability Alliance.
Researchers found that only 32 of the 192 countries that signed the Paris climate agreements of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2015 make reference to persons with disabilities in their official climate plans. Forty-five countries reference people with disabilities in their climate adaptation policies and no country mentions people with disabilities in their climate change mitigation plans. According to the report, many of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change – the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom – do not include people with disabilities in any of these plans.
This is despite the fact that 185 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, drafted in 2006, which states that countries will take “all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities in…. humanitarian emergencies and the occurrence of natural disasters”. The United States was one of eight countries that signed the treaty but did not ratify it.
People with disabilities are not a small segment of the population. According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people worldwide were living with a disability in 2011, or 15% of the world’s population at the time. The organization plans to publish an update on the prevalence of disability in December.
More recently, researchers from the Disability Data Initiative estimated that the percentage of people with disabilities averaged 12.6% in 41 countries for which they had data, as of 2021. One of them, Sophie Mitra said the WHO figure of one billion is likely to have grown since 2011.
“We always fail people with disabilities, especially marginalized people, before, during and after disasters,” Marcie Roth, CEO of the World Institute on Disability, told the US Congress during testimony in July. “We need your help to take urgent, immediate and life-saving action (government agencies) can take to serve disaster-affected people and communities who are left behind and left behind.”
A clear example of this failure occurred during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021. Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, who uses a wheelchair, was prevented from accessing at a conference by police officers. A day later, after the incident became public knowledge, conference organizers and the British government built a ramp for her to attend.
“What happened to the Minister of Energy happens to us all the time,” said Yolanda Muñoz, a McGill University professor and co-founder of the Disability Inclusive Climate Action Research Program, co-author of the June report. “But, of course, that doesn’t make the headlines.”
Another climate activist, Pauline Castres, who previously worked for the United Nations and who has a disability, lamented the return to the in-person climate talks that accompanied COP26 in Glasgow. “I’ve always found these meetings quite restrictive in terms of who can attend and who can participate,” she said. “We called (virtual events) one of the few good things that came out of the pandemic.”
But the problems people face go beyond access to international conferences and occur at national, state and local levels. When people cannot access climate planning discussions, they are more likely not to be included in emergency management plans.
And the climate crisis isn’t just affecting people with physical disabilities, said Grace Krause, policy manager for Learning Disability Wales, in a 2019 blog post. Krause said it was “alarming” to see how little information about climate change was presented in an “easy to read” format for people with certain cognitive impairments. This format uses short sentences, an active voice, and an explanation of all complex words and ideas in a separate sentence.
Choosing fonts that make text easier to read for people with dyslexia is another way to make climate communications more accessible.
In 2019, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling on governments to take disability-inclusive climate action, but there’s still not much action from the branch. official UN climate policy, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. .
There were two disability-related events at COP26 – one on designing cities that are both climate resilient and accessible and the other on mental health and climate action – but these were parallel events. Disability inclusion in climate action has rarely taken center stage.
Julia Watts Belser, a professor at Georgetown University who uses a wheelchair, said the inclusion of people with disabilities in climate mitigation and adaptation planning “is deeply important” to her. She leads an initiative exploring the intersection of climate change and disability in Georgetown and teaches a course called Disability, Ethics, Ecojustice.
“I think about wanting us as a society to invest in the infrastructure of our communities so that we are better able to adapt and respond,” she said, “so that we don’t let people behind, so we don’t leave people to die.”
Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.