Understanding disability and climate justice

Overall understanding and further resources and research

A guide to resources in understanding the links between disability and climate justice. Starting with overviews helpful to those getting an overall understanding, and then going into resources for those educating and researching on these intersections.

This page is part of the Disability Debrief resource guide to climate change, lovingly compiled by Áine Kelly-Costello. It is made possible by support from readers and CBM Global.


  • Disabled perspectives. The resources in this section take a birds-eye view on the intertwining of disability and climate justice. For newcomers to understanding these intersections, disabled or not, it’s a great starting point. There’s also a guide for journalists.
  • Climate activism. Interviews and articles from disabled climate and environmental activists, along with a guide on making accessible climate protests more accessible. Recommended reading for climate movement organisers thinking about including disability intersections in your work.
  • Literary and artistic responses. Soak in these creative, spiritual and deeply reflective pieces that zoom out to themes like interdependence between humans and the natural world, and finding equilibrium and hope.
  • Making climate change accessible. An assortment around the theme of broadening how we communicate about climate change to reach into our community, from adapting sign language, to audio described imagery and plain language resources.
  • Education. Many of the links on this page would make excellent class readings. Here are some further links on advocacy, curriculum and syllabus resources.
  • Theoretical Approaches. For researchers and all those interested in framing, here’s a round-up of scholarly thinking on the underpinnings of disability and climate intersections. Questions of ethics and disabled agency feature strongly.

Disabled Perspectives

Start with…

Where disability and climate meet. (Áine Kelly-Costello, Disability Debrief, 2023.) an invitation to think about the bountiful sources of connection where disability and climate justice meet, and a tour through some of them which links to the work and insights of many other disabled folks.

Going further...

“Disabled people bear witness to the risks and realities of climate change. We face the violence of climate crisis more intensely. But we also bring crucial insights for navigating climate disruption, for living with and adapting to a changing world.”
“The disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on disabled Indigenous communities is yet another aspect of a colonial genocide that has never ended. … Through the leadership of Deaf, disabled and ill Indigenous people in the climate movement, there’s an opportunity to end the destruction wrought by colonialism and ableism around the world.”
“It is time to rethink the siloed way in which we work and instead collaborate across movements — whether it’s the fight for gender, disability, ethnic and other rights — acknowledging each and every individual’s layered and overlapping identities. It is the moment to build allies and engage from a local to global level, and provide long-term funding that takes into account the proposals and lived experiences of social groups such as Indigenous women with disabilities.”
“After a recent discussion of disability and disaster, a colleague of mine threw up his hands. “It’s terrible,” he told me. “But what can you do? Some people just aren’t going to make it.” Once I got over my outrage, I realized my colleague had unwittingly named a core problem facing those of us organizing for climate justice: the assumption that some folks simply aren’t cut out to survive.”
“Progress towards reaching net zero and keeping the increase in global temperature below 1.5°C is slow, patchy, and often focuses on low hanging fruit and the least financially disruptive solutions. If we must continue to push for systematic change and policy action at local, national, and international levels, we must also learn to build support networks and create systems and places that welcome people regardless of their perceived economic value or income."
“Sometimes when we’re trying to fight back against individualism, we can think of community as this super intentional practice that is really exclusive; as if you have to be organizing with people in order to have a valid community. But your community can literally be anyone: Who do you eat a meal with? Who do you laugh with? Who do you go to in times of crisis? This crisis is going to change this world and the people in it, and so it’s imperative that we make sure we have those people around us that we can lean on.”

Climate activism

Context from disabled climate activists:

“I think if you’re consulting and amplifying the voices and putting people in leadership that are directly impacted, whether they’re disabled, people of color, LGBTQ, low-income, or a combination of those or any other marginalized identities, you are going to get better climate solutions,” Bresler said. “Disabled people are experts at surviving and thriving in environments that weren’t built for us. We really know how to adapt in the face of climate change, and can really lead the way.” 
‘Tej: As an autistic person, I have had several concerns with the climate protest space. I had raised an issue with XR about sexual predators and other people who threaten the safety of the space. But I’d been told that this was not an issue that needed to be attended to because it was personal and “did not affect the movement.” And there are no spaces for you to calm down if you’re feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed during a protest.It is also assumed by the organisers and the media that everyone who participates in a protest is okay with being photographed. A lot of us cannot be seen in these photographs because disabled folks have the most to lose.’

For climate organizers:

“Ableism is the discrimination or prejudice against disabled people in favour of non-disabled people. Eco ableism is defined as ‘a failure by non-disabled environmental activists to recognize that many of the climate actions they’re promoting make life difficult for disabled people’. Examples of eco ableism include banning plastic straws without accepting that some disabled people need them to drink safely and conveniently, removing disabled parking bays to make way for cycle lanes, promoting active travel without realising that some disabled people cannot walk, wheel or cycle. … To us eco ableism is just plain old ableism. It’s exactly because we live in an ableist world that climate change disproportionately affects disabled people.”
“We don’t need you to be perfect or make it so we can do everything. We do need you  to do your best to include us. ... if you are climbing onto a roof to put up a banner, we don’t need you to make it so that everyone can climb up with you, but some Disabled people might want to help from the ground or home. It is about making sure our voices can be heard and we can play our part.”

Going further...

“Daphne Frias: We are often not included in conversations about climate and environmental justice, which are typically led by nondisabled individuals who create systems that are inaccessible. They have no social or spatial awareness of what it’s like to live with a disability, which I think is very problematic. They end up creating something that complies with federal policy but they’re not creating it for a livable experience, and that doesn’t work.”
“Calling a politician a narcissist for allowing an oil company to expand their business is ableist. When advocating for intersectionality, we can’t just ignore people with personality disorders or less talked about mental illnesses. That’s quite the opposite of being intersectional.”
“I have a respiratory disability. I feel heat and humidity in my body. I remember this moment, three years ago, I was in New Hampshire for the summer. I thought it would be a pretty cool and nice place to be, all this way up north, but we had a heat wave and it was almost 100 degrees every day for a week. I could not breathe. I was coughing and wheezing through that whole week. I really realized that the climate crisis was not only the future, but really the present, for me and for other people with all sorts of chronic health conditions and disabilities. That’s when I decided to start organizing.”
“Don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re lesser for feeling different or operating differently than others. If you see anyone judging someone based off of their brain chemistry, body, or background, stay far, far, far away from them and anyone who enables them. We need everyone in this movement, and that includes you.”
“[Cecile] Lecomte says one reason she's been able to keep going is the close network she'd already established before she became ill — people who were committed to making their activism inclusive. But Lecomte has had to leave some activist groups. ‘There was no awareness of my concerns and not much willingness to think about where there might be problems,’ she says, adding that the ableism manifests not only in people underestimating what a person with a disability can achieve, but also excluding them or treating them with suspicion.”
“Annie Segarra: In my current interpretation of what being an activist is, is doing whatever you can to spark change. Create change. For me that has taken on things such as being visible online. And creating spaces for dialogue. Because little – I say little but I don’t know. I just – I use the word little, projecting off what able bodied activists might think about it, to be honest. It’s not so little to have these organized conversations and dialogue with community and to make yourself visible on the Internet. It’s not actually such a small thing. Even if other people would want to belittle that. I think it takes a lot of vulnerability. I think it takes a lot of effort and time and patience.”
“I’ve been blind all my life. I live in a first-world country and yet I often have to work twice as hard to overcome access barriers that sighted people don’t face. My mother always tells me life’s not fair. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and make it fairer … We just sung to the Vice Chancellor. ‘Do you hear the people’s call? Support divestment for us all. We won’t move until we’re done. We will fight until we’ve won’.”

Literary and artistic responses

For a grounding and sustaining book to return to:

“This book is an offering to explore the spiritual question of how to witness. It serves as a companion to those also grappling with the difficult and often unanswerable questions posed by climate change in the borderlands. By exploring the ways body, mind, and cultures both clash with and long for ecojustice, Rituals for Climate Change offers an often-overlooked perspective on climate-grief, interdependence, and resilience. Disabled people know how to adapt to a world that is ever changing without considering them.”

If a fast-paced plot is more your thing...

  • If We Make It Through This Alive--A new short story about a cutthroat future road race where the past and present of climate chaos and chronic conditions is the backdrop. (A.T. Greenblatt, 2022.)
“This race is a terrible idea, she hears her mom say. You can’t run away from grief. Sure, they’re moving forward, but Sabrina looks in the rearview mirror and imagines the floodwater rising behind her, closing in.”

For something visual...

  • Comic panel on disability and plastics  by Ananya Rao-Middleton for Greenpeace UK (includes text-based version). Teaser: “Disabled people often suffer most from plastic pollution, but many also rely on plastic products for health, independence and dignity. In a new comic, illustrator and disability activist Ananya Rao-Middleton explores this complicated relationship.”

Going further...

  • Moving Mountains: Writing Nature through Illness and Disability. Anthology edited by Louise Kenward, Footnote Press, 2023, UK. From the blurb:
“Through 25 pieces, the writers of Moving Mountains offer a vision of nature that encompasses the close up, the microscopic, and the vast. From a single falling raindrop to the enormity of the north wind, this is nature experienced wholly and acutely, written from the perspective of disabled and chronically ill authors. Moving Mountains is not about overcoming or conquering, but about living with and connecting, shifting the reader's attention to the things easily overlooked by those who move through the world untroubled by the body that carries them.”
  • It’s Not Just You – book by Tori Tsui. On the many connections between the climate crisis, mental health, and responses from marginalised communities. Published 2023. From introduction:
“It’s Not Just You reminds us that the frequency with which ill mental health occurs these days cannot be attributed to the individual alone. Instead, we need to ask how mental health has been influenced by the current state of this world, the injustices that underpin it and the worldviews it perpetuates.”
“I used to treat my body as if it were a limitless resource for me to use to achieve my aims; I worked grueling hours and pushed myself until I collapsed… While I preached the need for sustainability, social justice, and relationships between ourselves and our planet that prioritized communal and interdependent care, my most intimate of relationships, and perhaps therefore the most honest—with myself—was championing these capitalist, hyper-extractive ideals… But this new awareness forced me to embrace attributes I would previously have derided—slowness, incapability, surrender—and to preference a sustainable relationship with my body over productivity; to treat my body as I would want to treat the earth, and to admit that, sometimes, the show must not go on.”
  • Some of Us Just Fall: On Nature and Not Getting Better – memoir by Polly Atkin. 2023. From blurb:
“Some of Us Just Fall combines memoir, pathography and nature writing to trace a fascinating journey through illness, a journey which led Polly to her current home in the Lake District, where outdoor swimming is purported to cure all, and where every day she turns to the natural world to help tame her illness. Polly delves into the history of her two genetic conditions, uncovering how these illnesses were managed (or not) in times gone by and exploring how best to plan for her own future.”
Ruby: “I think drama is very important for our organization, especially for people with disabilities, because sometimes we have no time from the NGOs or from the government, but we decide to produce our drama and deliver our message through drama to the people in our country, communities and NGOs, especially for the the government, for our issues.”
“From the storms battering our shores to the raging fires threatening our homes, the social, political, and economic disparities faced by disabled queer and trans people of color put our communities at the frontlines of ecological disaster.”
“As a disabled person of color, my body, needs, and perspective do not have a home in conventional responses to climate change… When the task to address climate crisis means taking apart multi-layered industrial, governmental, and care systems that I rely on to provide for every necessity, the work of this feels incomprehensible. Where is safety in this time?”
“Slow, halted, or fast. My attention shifts with my environment, the smooth or broken edges of the world, and with awareness of my inner state, my pain threshold, and the way I hold myself to ward off future pain. Inner sensation and outer affordances rise to the level of consciousness. These two ways of perceiving, and the intricate dance between them, fuel my creative practice. I am a poet because I am in pain. My writing brings me into relation with this pain, with joy, with life, in the interstices between words and sensations.”

Making climate change accessible

‘For deaf children, teachers and scientists, talking about things like "greenhouse gases" or "carbon footprint" used to mean spelling out long, complex scientific terms, letter by letter. Now they are among 200 environmental science terms that have their own new official signs in British Sign Language (BSL).’


Start with…

Going further...

“Newton is a Climate Scientist and Ph.D at CalTech University.  He lost his sight at an early age due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. His passion for math and science is coupled with a desire to prove to himself and others that math and science is possible for the blind.”
“Educators have the power and responsibility to change classroom and school system practices now so that the students of 2050 and the parents who raise them benefit from the best climate change and disability awareness education we can offer. In all this, including the full range of voices will make for better, more inclusive outcomes.”
“There's this one child who has Down syndrome…  then when I walk into the classroom and and all the children see me and and even the young guy with Down syndrome sees me. His friends, his classmates see me and they're like, Yes, they're fully grown teacher that looks like our friend! And and then and then often times I will talk about animals and then I will then jump in. Okay. Hello, there little guy nice to meet you. And, and some of them love that!”

Theoretical Approaches

For researchers and all those interested in framing, here’s a round-up of scholarly thinking on the underpinnings of disability and climate intersections. Questions of ethics and disabled agency feature strongly.

Start with…  

“As deaf researchers, we call for integrating disability justice into climate and disaster preparedness policies and practices worldwide. A disability justice approach can embrace the strengths that disabled people bring to disaster planning and climate mitigation and advocacy efforts.”

Going further...

“It is essential to recognize disabled people as valued epistemic agents; to counter and challenge the conditions of epistemic injustice that undermine such efforts; and to call out the social, economic and political processes that undermine the realization of climate justice for all.”