People with disabilities can help the fight against climate crisis

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By Partinella Ngozo

People with disabilities have expertise in critical thinking skills that can help build more resilient communities when disaster struck, yet they are left out in critical decision making process that includes policy formulation, this publication can reveal.

Climate change has impacted hard on people with disabilities, they are affected by extreme weather events, and pollution. The community, however, is stereotyping people with disabilities and they are left out in critical decision making yet they possess great problem solving skills.

In an interview with this reporter, Chrisphen Ncube, one of the people with disabilities said that there is need for behavioral change in terms of how the society view people like him. He said that climate change has indeed impacted his life but unfortunately they are not included in policy formulation, thus their needs as people with disabilities are not being met.

“Climate change has affected us and we could really contribute to the disaster management policies and the environment dialogue, however, that seems difficult because most people view us as inferior. Everyone in the community looks down upon us as if we are children of a lessor God. If I am looking for a place to stay they ask where can a ‘disabled person’ get money to pay rent? People view us as worthless human beings who can’t think or work. I make detergents with this one hand, I crash stones using the only hand I have. I work to feed my family but the society view us in a different way why can’t I contribute to policy decisions when I have the brains to think,” said Ncube.

Speaking during the Climate Justice Talk-Show (an online platform on climate justice) on the topic ‘Climate justice is disability justice’, Perseverance Javangwe who is the founder of the initiative said that there is need to recognise the importance of people with disabilities in fighting the climate crisis because their skills are beneficial in different sectors i.e disaster management.

“Disability justice recognises that all bodies have strengths, vulnerabilities, and needs that must be met. As disability activist Patty Barne writes, ‘we are powerful not despite the complexities of of our bodies, but because of them.’ The framework of disability justice emphasises interdependence, accessibility, and collective struggle. People with disabilities have strength in building strong interdependent communities that we can all learn from as to how to respond to climate disasters.

“People with disabilities have learned to be experts at creative problem-solving in a society that refuses to center their needs. These groups can teach us about how to be more resilient when disaster strikes due to their skills and support networks they already formed to deal with adversity.

“People with disabilities reminds us that we all need strong interpersonal relationships and community support we can count on in difficult times. Our climate voices affirms that no one should be left behind in the unfolding climate crisis,” he said.

Climate change is heavily impacting people with disabilities but it is discouraging to note that they are being left out on the mainstream environmental discourse yet they possess critical solving skills that can build strong communities.

Persons with disabilities and disabled persons’ organisations have invaluable knowledge, experience, and expertise about how to make disaster risk management activities responsive to their needs. It is vital to include them in the design, implementation, and monitoring of these activities.

The founder and Director of Ruvimbo Simulation Centre Dr Gilliet Chigunwe who was a guest at the same event stated that people with disabilities should be accorded an environment that allows them to bring the best off them. She said they play an important role in building strong communities.

“Persons with disabilities have strengths in building strong independent communities, all they need is an enabling physical and social environment. An environment that is handicap free and one that celebrates differences.

“…we should follow suit by including the experiences and perspectives of people with different types of disabilities when taking action to address climate change. Our platforms and awareness on climate change skills should reach out to all, able bodies and those with disabilities. It takes us all to make this world a better world for everyone,” she said.

Besides having a seat on the table for people with disabilities they also face physical, informational, communication and other barriers that prevent them from participating in full. Accordingly, development institutions, governments, and other key stakeholders must take every effort to break down these barriers. This includes ensuring that physical or virtual sites for meetings and consultations are barrier-free, providing accommodations such as sign language interpretation and braille materials when needed, and providing information in accessible formats.

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