You Don’t Need Ability to be included in Environmental Justice.

You Don’t Need Ability to be included in Environmental Justice.

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“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

The ability I refer to is vision, hearing, speaking, moving, and the various ways of living with impairments or disabilities. These communities are usually not mentioned in environmental injustice. Still, there are 61 million adult individuals with various disabilities in the US, and this means that around 26 percent of adults in the US have a type of disability. So, you may be wondering why those with disabilities and impairments should be involved in Utah’s environmental justice and climate action? 

As a legally blind individual, an environmental researcher, and an environmental justice activist, I will tell you that different forms of ability do not and should not limit those to be included in environmental justice. Communities with disabilities must be included in climate action and environmental justice efforts. Our communities deserve to have our voices heard and to have our everyday needs addressed that impact many communities’ health and futures. 

Like many marginalized communities, those with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental injustices. We face a limited voice in local governance, inaccessibility of public areas/spaces, poverty, and restricted employment opportunities due to transportation. The lack of access and voice from these limitations have major consequences for how communities with disabilities adapt to climate change and other crises. It is not just limitations but restrictions on the right to live and equitable flourish. 

For example, air pollution and COVID-19 have significantly impacted communities with disabilities. We are more likely to suffer from chronic illness and lack of access to healthcare for physical or mental health needs related to Utah’s worsening air quality and the ongoing global pandemic. This can be seen in how more than 1 in 3 American adults with disabilities has an unmet health care need from cost, social barriers, transportation, and much more. Similar social injustices, COVID-19, and the climate crisis are a wildfire of destruction on disability and marginalized communities.

I have experienced some of these barriers and injustices from myself, being an individual who is legally blind. I can remember many times in my life that those with sight tried limiting my education, telling me that I could never be a scientist, segregating me from youth with sight, stereotyping how I should live, and restricting my employment opportunities. From my work as a Development Intern at HEAL Utah, I have realized how much my own story has the power to connect with those struggling from social/environmental injustices and work together to envision a healthier, equitable, and just future. I was always afraid that sharing my story would force limitations on me, but I have accepted my identity and hope others join in environmental justice activism.

Importantly, I hope you all have a great December 3rd and have a wonderful International Day for Persons with Disabilities. Remember, all voices of our communities need to be heard, respectfully listened to, and be active participants of climate action/justice. That is why I deeply cherish my work with HEAL Utah, their inclusive mission, public policy engagement, and grassroots activism. If you want to be involved with environmental justice and activism, HEAL Utah has two opportunities. 

Join us from mid-January to early March at the Utah Capitol Building and Become a Citizen Lobbyist. HEAL Utah provides initial training from a briefing on bills we are working on, and we’ll accompany you as you speak informally with your representatives. HEAL Utah wants to give you the power to push change for your community, whether you have a disability or a concerned citizen supporting environmental justice for all.  

Additionally, HEAL Utah has some Internship Opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to learn from one another mutually. We provide equal opportunities for those with or without disabilities to hands-on learning, actively engage, and be inspired to become community leaders in environmental justice.

Elliott Parkin, is the development intern of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah (HEAL Utah)