Disability justice

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Disability justice is "a framework that moves beyond the legislation-centric approach of the disability rights movement; a social movement guided by ten principles: intersectionality, leadership of those most impacted, anti-capitalist politic, commitment to cross-movement organizing, recognizing wholeness, sustainability, commitment to cross-disability solidarity, interdependence, collective access, and collective liberation." -Sins Invalid, adapted by Michelle Xie [1]

  • "All bodies are valuable, hold beauty, and are deserving of care. This extends to our community bodies, to the bodies of our plant and animal kin, and to our shared planetary body itself, the earth." -Sins Invalid
  • Every body is integral to any movement toward justice. Ableism believes that some bodies are superior to, and thus more valueable than, other bodies. -Sins Invalid
  • "Disabled people are not disabled due to their impairments, rather they are disabled by structural and systemic barriers within society." -Jake Clarke

Sometimes approaches to climate can reinforce ableism, and this is represented by the term eco-ableism. See our definitions page on ableism for examples of eco-ableism.

Disability justice is a climate justice issue

Disabled people are marginalized and are equally deserving of liberation

  • 80% of disabled people live in the Global South, regions most impacted by the climate crisis and exploitation. [2]
  • "From homeless encampments to local jail cells, the social, political, and economic disparities among disabled queer and trans people of colour put our communities at the frontlines of ecological disaster.” -Patty Berne
  • Disabled people are not 'hoarding resources' or 'draining the system', two phrases often used to demonize disabled people for collecting disability benefits. The ultra-rich benefit from blaming disabled bodies, while they continue to benefit from the system.

Environmental racism and natural disasters cause disabilities

  • "If we ask ourselves why Black and brown communities have higher rates of asthma, we also must look at where they live." -Daphne Frias for Stanford Social Innovation Review.
  • Injuries obtained living through a natural disaster (e.g. earthquakes, hurricanes etc) or from being exposed to toxic chemicals (e.g. Mercury, see environmental racism) may cause acute or chronic disability.
Natural disasters disproportionately harm disabled and other marginalized people
  • Structural barriers become a matter of life or death during disaster. People with disabilities are 2-5 times more likely to die in a natural disaster. [3]
  • "When we aren’t included before disaster strikes, how will we be effectively accommodated during a crisis?" "Risk is created that could have been planned for and perhaps avoided."-Daphne Frias for Stanford Social Innovation Review 
  • Disability justice is migrant justice. "Climate change is accelerating forced migration at a time when disabled people find it increasingly difficult to cross borders — not simply because of the physical demands, but also because of political opposition." -Julia Watts Belser
      • Disabled people may be unable to enter countries because their diagnosis or condition is considered 'burdensome'. -Julia Watts Belser
      • Migrants may struggle to access the services they need (health services and long-term medical, financial, and social support). -Tiffany Yu

Specific examples include:

  • "Some members of the disability community are especially vulnerable to extreme heat events due to increased sensitivity to keeping our body temperatures cool enough." -Tiffany Yu
  • Natural disaster can cut electricity, "which is especially problematic because so many disabled people need electricity-powered medical equipment to survive." -Tiffany Yu
  • Droughts and flooding cause food and water insecurity. "Because of other social factors like the disproportionate number of disabled people who are caught in an endless poverty cycle, the disability community is especially vulnerable during these shortages." -Tiffany Yu
  • Disabled people may be unable to evacuate from disaster and/or may lose "critical mobility and accessibility devices (wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, hearing aids, communication devices)." -Tiffany Yu
  • Post-disaster, "the prospect of rebuilding a home that had been built around an individual disability can also be daunting and expensive ― particularly considering disabled workers typically earn significantly less than their able-bodied counterparts." -Jenavieve Hatch for Huffington Post

Eco-ableism reinforces oppression

  • "Prioritizing personal ownership of environmental impacts over corporate responsibility fuels ableism and discrimination toward people with disabilities."-Daphne Frias
    • See our eco-ableism section of ableism for examples.
    • Disability is one of the first forgotten or first attacked experiences when discussing climate accountability or solutions. It's important to recognize disabled people caring for their needs are not to blame for the climate crisis. True accountability lies in those hoarding resources and wealth (the ultra rich).

There can be no climate justice without addressing immediate survival needs

  • "Disabled people are so busy just surviving. We have to self advocate all the time for access to employment, education, benefits or healthcare. It means unless there is a flood at my door I’m not thinking about the climate so much. We need to get people out of poverty because you can’t do anything about the climate if you are completely ostracised from participating in regular life.” -Pauline Castres
  • "When issues like discrimination, access to adequate healthcare, unemployment, and poverty are among our top concerns, climate change tends to be an afterthought. When we are fighting for basic human rights and equality, how do we have time to think about climate change? Being concerned about and fighting for climate justice is a privilege." -Tiffany Yu
'Survival of the fittest' is an oppressive mindset
  • Accepting the loss of some lives to the climate crisis as 'inevitable' is oppressive. "We aren't just talking about physical vulnerability; ableism, racism, class inequality and other forms of oppression work together to compound and intensify risk." -Julia Watts Belser
  • Access to wealth makes it easier to evacuate, and white supremacy translates "into the political clout and communal resources that make climate disruptions more survivable in the first place — better infrastructure, less exposure to environmental hazards and more robust public assistance during and after crisis." -Julia Watts Belser
  • We all deserve to have our needs met on a planet that has enough resources, but that are hoarded by a minority. Capitalism describes disabled individuals as a drain on our resources. In contrast, it is capitalism that drains us, and drains the earth's resources. 


See the following video by Climate Atlas of Canada for a quick overview of how disability justice intersects with climate justice:

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to kenzie@lehub.ca.

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