Transcript: Climate change and disabled people

A conversation with Susie Fitton at Inclusion Scotland about Cop 26

Podcast Episode: Climate change and disabled people

Category: Disability 



What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Michael: On this podcast I went to find out how the climate change is impacting on people’s lives with a disability. We’re going to hear from Susie Fitton. Susie works for Inclusion Scotland and they were involved in the COP26 and they had a workshop also, at the conference as well. So, I spoke to her about the work that they’re doing from Inclusion Scotland.

So Susie, can you tell us what’s the Inclusion Scotland’s involvement in COP26?

Susie: So, Inclusion Scotland applied for Observer status at COP26 which means that we, as an organisation, can actually attend the blue zone at COP; so, the UN controlled zone. And we’ve also been working with international partners to try and make sure that disability issues are actually discussed in the blue zone. So, we’ve been working with McGill University in Canada and the International Disability Alliance, based in New York and the European Disability Forum, which is based in Brussels to try and organise a side event in the blue zone at COP. And we will be presenting our report, It’s Our Planet Too, so, climate change, disabled people and climate action in Scotland. And we’re going to be presenting that report at the side event.

Michael: You know, I’m just looking at the report here Susie. Why is that important, do you feel, that people with a disability have a say? And why has it never happened before?

Susie: So, disabled Scots and disabled people globally are basically on the frontlines of the climate emergency. They’re more likely to be hit hard by climate impact; so, things like flooding or extreme weather or heat waves. These things can be really problematic for disabled people because they’re more likely to be living in poverty, they’re less likely to be evacuated safely, they might have higher health risks. So, they might be more likely to be made ill by extreme weather and they’re less likely to have insurance that rebuilds their homes.

So, the impacts of climate change could, even in Scotland, maybe very significant for disabled people but to date there are issues as disabled people and our rights as disabled people, have been largely ignored by international responses to climate change but also national responses to climate change. And that picture is starting to change but obviously it has taken a long time. And I think in many ways, the kind of environmental debate and discussions about the environment kind of symbolises many of the structural inequalities that disabled people face in lots of areas of their lives. And the fact that disabled people are not considered as key stakeholders or they’re not considered as people who need to have a seat at the table.

And obviously we saw with the recent situation at COP with the Israeli energy minister not being able to get into the world leaders’ summit as a wheelchair user. That in many ways there’s no expectation that we will be decision makers on these issues and therefore, we’re often excluded from these discussions on climate change and from high level negotiations and things like that. So, in many ways the kind of discourse on climate change is a perfect symbol of the barriers that many, the social barriers that disabled people face, trying to participate in politics and in public life, you know to participate in ways that gets their voices heard.

Michael: Yeah, we were talking about that before we started recording. I mean the Israeli minister, I mean I think that’s shocking and like you know a big event like that, you would think that they would be better kind of organised as well. It is kind of, I don’t know if embarrassing is the word that you would use but embarrassing for, not only for that event for the whole COP26, as a whole, you would say.

Susie: Well, I think all it really symbolises is that accessibility is something that needs to be thought about at every level and at every scale because I know for a fact that the organisers of COP26, so the UN and the UK government cabinet office, were making all the right noises in terms of saying that they wanted COP26 to be the most accessible COP and the most inclusive COP. And I know that they had worked with partners to try and ensure that the event was accessible. But I think what this incident shows is that it wasn’t necessarily getting into the SECC that was the problem, it was, potentially, getting from a hotel or a train station to the event itself. So, it’s about making sure that not just … you know, accessibly isn’t just on the day itself, it’s about making sure that transport systems and signage systems, and other routes to the event were accessible to disabled people. And I think, you know, this event really symbolises that we’ve got such a long way to go in terms of making, particularly in this case, public transport accessible.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, that’s a big issue all over Scotland or kind of like all over the world. So, but the event that you’ve ran with Inclusion Scotland; I can’t believe it, it’s been 30 years and basically your workshop at the blue zone at the COP26 will be the first time in 30 years and it’s made history. And it’s good to see but it’s also quite sad to hear that it’s not been at the top table for years.

Susie: So, yes, I mean it’s a historic moment for the disability movement but it’s been far too long coming, I think. As I say, disabled people are … you know, we make up 15% of the global population. We’re very vulnerable to climate impacts like flooding, and heatwaves and extreme weather and it’s long overdue that disabled people are considered to be an important part of the global response to climate change.

Michael: So, without going into too much detail of the report; can you give us a wee highlight, a wee flavour of what’s actually going to be spoken about or what’s kind of like in the report?

Susie: So, essentially what the report talks about is the double whammy that disabled people Scots face in relation to climate change. Because despite a growing recognition that disabled Scots maybe harder hit by the impacts of climate change, we find that current efforts to tackle climate change, in Scotland; so things like tackling emissions, reducing waste or addressing plastic pollution or planning for future emergencies in Scotland, these efforts to tackle climate change can actually exclude and discriminate against disabled people themselves; particularly if our human rights as disabled people or our requirements for daily living and ideas for inclusive climate action are not listened to. So, just to kind of explain that a little bit so, efforts to reduce emissions via zero carbon policy making, so, things like active travel schemes that promote walking and cycling or car free zones, or low emission zones, or energy efficiency in the home or promotion of electric vehicles. All of those things have the potential to actively discriminate against disabled people who rely on cars or who need support from other people who drive cars who can’t afford electric vehicles or who find accessible and adapted vehicles difficult to get hold of or very expensive to buy or who find the infrastructure to charge vehicles inaccessible.

So, I think what we’re trying to say with the report is; yes, we agree that we need urgent action to address climate change, we are facing a climate crisis and a climate emergency and disabled people are on the front lines of that emergency. So, we definitely need climate action but what we’re saying is we need to listen to disabled people, and we need to involve disabled people and we need to make anything around climate action; so, policy, engagement, protest and all of the things that go around climate action, we need to make those things accessible to disabled people and we need to ensure that people aren’t excluded and discriminated against and that they’re involved in action to address climate change.

Michael: What’s the views of some of the members from Inclusion Scotland but also what’s the views of people with a disability outside of Inclusion Scotland as well? Because, I’ll tell you why I’m asking you that because I was speaking to somebody the other week about, “Oh what do you make of COP26 coming up? What’s your views?” And they said, “Do you know Michael, disabled people is an afterthought.” And I thought, “Well, that’s a bit kind of alarming if one person is saying that, with a disability as well.” Would you agree with that? And also, what’s the feedback, as I said, been like?

Susie: From members? So, we have done a variety of work to engage our membership on this. We ran a webinar on UN Earth Day to speak to members about climate change and disability issues and what came back from many members was that they felt alienated from the discourse on climate change. And they felt like they were afterthoughts and they were overlooked as disabled people and what people talked about was this concept of eco ableism. And it was this failure by non-disabled people and environmentalists to acknowledge that many of the things that they’re promoting might be difficult or impossible for disabled people to do and it may be impossible for disabled people to lead, what is being badged as, a greener and a more sustainable life and that some of these things might actively disadvantage them. So, we talked about things like spaces for people schemes that disabled people are finding, creating access barriers for them in town centres.

We talked about the hoo-ha over plastic straws and the fact that disabled people needed to be involved in the policy making around that because some disabled people need plastic straws to eat and drink conveniently when they’re out of the house or even in the home. And the idea of banning plastic straws was really frightening for some disabled people because they felt that that was going to have a direct and negative impact on them in terms of their day to day lives and it was like a classic example of where otherwise fairly laudable environmental policy; I mean, I don’t think anyone would argue with the need to address plastic pollution and nobody wants to see plastic straws kind of littered on our beaches and in our marine environments particularly. But what disabled people were saying was that their needs needed to be taken into account and we needed to have an exemption on the ban on plastic straws for disabled people who need them.

So, I’ve been working with Zero Waste Scotland on creating an exemption and trying to create communications around it and decent training around it so that disabled people can request a straw if they need one. Members also talked about other aspects of eco-ableist so, feeling excluded from events like COP on climate change for accessibility reasons and other reasons. People talked about climate change protest being inaccessible or difficult or the methods of protest being alienating for disabled people. So, people blocking roads or impeding use of public transport, that was going to alienate some disabled people who need taxis for example to get around and might be stuck in traffic jams or who need to use public transport to travel. So, what members really said to us was that it was really important that a disabled people’s organisation was actually working on these issues cos for a long time there had been a kind of, a lack of involvement of our organisations in this arena and in this space. So, by and large we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from members that they’re pleased that we’re working on these issues and they are concerned about the impacts of climate change and they are concerned about a kind of lack of inclusion and involvement of disabled people in these decisions.

Michael: Okay, thanks Susie.

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