Disability Inclusion in Climate Change: Impacts and Intersections


  • Marsha L. Saxton World Institute on Disability, University of California, Berkeley
  • Alex Ghenis World Institute on Disability


The community of people with disabilities is uniquely affected by devastation brought on by climate change. This population is increasingly appearing on lists of “vulnerable” among many other groups in the social justice framework. Public policy has begun to include the voices of persons with disabilities among the planning constituencies. Yet the needs of this constituency are poorly understood regarding which measures could realistically enable survival in environmentally compromised circumstance. This very diverse group comprises approximately 10 to 15% of the global population, and within all other sub-populations, a figure that will likely increase with climate change impact. Discriminatory attitudes and policies tend to simplify this multiply intersectional population to “people with special needs.” This simplification ignores the diverse, complex needs and circumstances of individuals with disabilities, for those with visual, hearing, and mobility impairments, and so on, as well as their various socio-economic cross-constituencies such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc. In this context, focus on climate change and disability is disturbingly rare. This article explores key intersectional issues related to disability and climate change impact, recommending an educational, research and advocacy agenda for both the Climate Change and the Disability Rights movements.

Author Biography

Marsha L. Saxton, World Institute on Disability, University of California, Berkeley

Marsha Saxton, Ph.D. is Lecturer in Disability Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and Director of Research at the World Institute on Disability, in Oakland, CA, with special interests in women’s health, medical education, genetic technologies and Personal Assistance Services. She has been a board member of the Our Bodies, Ourselves, Book Collective, and  of the Council for Responsible Genetics, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ethical, Legal Social Implications (ELSI) Working Group of the Human Genome Initiative.