Climate adaptation is the process of transforming our government operations, economies, societies, built environments, and personal lives to better handle the consequences of climate change. This involves things like developing better disaster preparedness and response, reinforcing or relocating infrastructure in high-danger areas, proactively relocating communities, transforming our water management, modifying our food systems, and fortifying government funding and operations against climate upheaval. Climate resilience – which is related to adaptation – involves creating a world that’s resilient to the shocks of climate change, even if that means quickly rebounding from damage instead of preventing it altogether.
Accessible climate adaptation involves the widespread use of disability justice and universal access principles in our adaptation efforts. This happens in many ways, at scales ranging from individual actions to broad policies. For example, an individual who has exceptional difficulty managing extreme heat because of their disability could improve their home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and insulation; get a backup generator or battery to run air conditioning on hot days; find a local cooling shelter and have transportation mapped out for hot days; and, if they decide to move (whether because of heat waves or any other reason), prioritize areas with a low risk of heat waves and find a home with good ventilation and HVAC.
At the policy level, governments could provide funding for people with heat sensitivity to improve their home’s insulation and HVAC; ensure that there are many cooling shelters with disability services, and coordinate accessible transportation during heat waves; and invest in accessible housing in areas with a low risk of heat waves. This process, from the individual to policy levels, could be replicated for different types of disabilities and climate dangers. At an even broader level, adaptation should pursue universal accessibility: this includes things like ensuring all climate-related communications are accessible to people with sensory disabilities and providing independent living and social services at disaster shelters. The participation of people with disabilities in all climate adaptation efforts is also incredibly important: as our mantra goes, “nothing about us without us.” Because of the plentiful impacts of climate change and many types of disabilities, plus intersectionality with various identities and communities, the opportunities for accessible adaptation are endless.
At SOA, we encourage climate activists and policymakers to create truly accessible adaptation, both at the broad level and for specific climate impacts and disability groups. We also develop climate education materials – including on what people with disabilities can do to adapt at a personal level – and implore other stakeholders to do the same. The SOA team looks forward to working with more partners in their pursuit of climate adaptation that includes disability justice, disability rights and universal access.