On June 28, 2022, SAEDI Consulting (Barbados) Inc., hosted our second webinar of the year which centred on the theme of ‘Climate Resilience and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’. This topic is part of our webinar series this year which spotlights vulnerable and marginalized groups: persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, women farmers, the LGBTQ community, the elderly and others.
Persons with disabilities (PWDs) are disproportionately impacted by disasters, sometimes implicitly considered as helpless victims, and in worst-cases, denoted by some as those least worth saving. We want to shift the conversation to support PWDs as active contributors to disaster preparedness. As we work toward building an improved eco-social world, we must do so in a way that allows these perceptions to shift, allows PWDs to lead and inform what is and what is not working.
For this second webinar in our 2022 series, we were fortunate to be joined by four esteemed speakers working in this field:
Andwele Boyce, Senator(Barbados)
Priya Penner, The Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies
Minerva Miller, Transformational Community and Disability Advocate
Daniel Chambers, Assistant President – National Society of and for the Blind
They shared important insights from their work and personal experience, providing a unique opportunity for all of us including SAEDI Consulting to listen, learn from them, and to be able to explore some key lessons learned. These lessons included:
Understanding the rights of people with disabilities is crucial for understanding resiliency
Andwele Boyce, Senator in Barbados served on the Barbados Council for the Disabled from 2010 to 2014. He shared the importance of understanding the rights that people with disabilities have, from an international or policy context, sets the ground work for how we adapt and respond to the challenges brought on from climate change in what is an evolving process of learning and adaptation.
Understanding the rights of persons with disabilities can be viewed as a pathway to climate resilience. The primary document from a human rights stand point for PWDs is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. While the document does not speak directly to disability and climate resilience, largely due to the fact that discussions around climate change and persons with disabilities is relatively new, understanding the framework and issues that apply within the Convention can serve as a jumping off point for creating new pathways toward a more resilient and inclusive future.
Some of the articles in the Convention that are especially critical to this work, are:
It is important to note, while many countries have signed on and ratified the convention, there is still work to do in terms of action on these areas and greater implementation.
Ensuring inclusion of PWDs is essential for creating effective disaster response and climate action plans
Priya Penner, who works with the only US-based and disability-led organization with a mission focused toward equity for PWDs, spoke about the need for inclusion of PWDs in creating plans to adapt and respond to climate change and natural disaster risks.
In a disaster context, PWDs are considered to be 2 to 4 times more likely to experience an injury, target or attack, or loss of life during disaster incidents and generally, more likely to experience and suffer human rights violations. Many countries are not including PWDs in national climate change plans, for example in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In the majority of NDCs, disability is rarely, if at all, mentioned. This lack of inclusion further disadvantages PWDs, making them more vulnerable.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can be used to guide work and evaluate responses. One of the ways this can occur is through Article 21 which says that State parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that PWDs can exercise a right to freedom of expression and opinion, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others.
This includes being inclusive of and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, and alternative methods of communication to allow PWDs to share and contribute meaningfully their voices to issues of climate adaptation and vulnerability at all levels, international, regional, national, and locally. It is necessary to implement a cross-sectoral approach for disability-inclusive climate action that includes disability focal points at all levels.
Supporting greater inclusion of PWDs in adaptation planning and policies and addressing how we respond to climate emergencies, enables more timely, effective responses that can serve to prevent PWDs being further disadvantaged. It also serves to promote greater diversity and inclusion in national policies and plans.
Effective communication channels and data collection are important for connecting with PWDs in climate and natural disaster emergencies
Part of promoting greater inclusion of PWDs in climate disaster preparedness and planning includes ensuring we support effective data collection and effective communication channels for PWDs. In the context of the Convention, this issue is applicable to Article 21 (appropriate and inclusive communication methods) and Article 31:
Article 31 – state parties engage in the collection of appropriate information, including statistical and research data, to be able to formulate and implement policies that support the convention
Data driven policy is important for ensuring that policy is responding to reliable information. Proper data collection also provides the ability for vulnerable groups, including PWDs to better be reached and assisted in the case of climate emergencies. This can occur through measures such as a disability census and translating this raw data through geo mapping to attain visual representations of the locations and needs of individuals with a disability.
In situations where this data does not exist, organizations can sometimes implement alternate measure for effective communication and access to reach PWDs in emergency situations. Daniel Chambers, who serves as the Acting President of the National Society of and for the Blind in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, shared how their organization used alternate communication methods, through the use of mobile chat groups, to notify persons of evacuation assistance during the La Soufriėre Volcano eruption. This made finding individuals in need assistance of moving them to shelters possible during the recent disaster. They were also able to use these communication networks to get food supplies to members that needed them.
During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, they have used technology and zoom methods to meet with their members and stay connected, in a situation that left many feeling isolated and in greater need of a sense of community. The volcano has also helped act as a catalyst for the organization to further collect data on who in their community required assistance and support.
Understanding disability can serve as a catalyst for innovation
Minerva Miler, a transformational community and disability advocate shared with us the important interventions that can occur before and after climate emergencies and where these preparation and adaptation measures leave space for added innovation and resiliency.
In preparing for disaster response, early planning is crucial. In addition to evacuation plans and ensuring necessities for disaster preparation, this can include less expected measures, for example, learning skills for operating in water and swimming instruction as an ongoing preventative safety measures.
Innovation and inclusion can also occur in the built environment, after a climate or natural disaster event by ensuring that construction efforts are considering universal design principals when rebuilding after a disaster and ensuring that building codes mandate and implement access for PWDs.
Overall, there are opportunities for everyone to learn from PWDs, who are often noted as being the most prepared for climate and natural disaster events, in terms of the level of planning and preparation methods undertaken. We have seen this for ourselves in some of the work we have done for UN Women in the past, in Dominica, where the They highlighted a level of planning and risk management that we should all learn from while also being mindful as well of the gender inequality of risk that can present itself in times of disaster and emergencies.
We can take these lessons learned and start to implement them and use them as guiding examples for how we create an improved eco-social world that includes disability-inclusive climate action. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.”
We sincerely wish to thank all of our panelists for sharing with us on what it means to have inclusive climate resilience for persons with disabilities. We also wish to thank our participants for joining us and providing their thoughtful questions and comments to the discussion. To hear more of and from their talks, check out our website.
Around these virtual conversation series, we explore the factors that drive, spur, include and deter participation of vulnerable and marginalized groups, as well as what more is needed, to reach the goal of inclusive and just societies. We look forward to having you join us at our next one!