Climate change is going to dramatically increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves and other extreme heat events in the coming years with some areas projected to reach well over 100°F multiple times a year. This is dangerous for people of all stripes. The mass European heat wave of 2003 led to an estimated 70,000 excess deaths over a three-week span due to people’s difficulty keeping their body temperature cool enough to survive. This is certainly going to be dangerous in the future.
People with disabilities are also especially vulnerable to extreme heat events for a number of reasons. Assorted disabilities often make it difficult to regulate body temperature. For example, people with high-level spinal cord injuries have a lower ability to sweat when their bodies get warm, so they overheat easily. Other social factors also make an impact. Because of disproportionate poverty, people with disabilities on average live in lower quality housing, which is less likely to have air-conditioning. Some cooling shelters may not be easy to get to for people relying on public transit or who are isolated at home–and those cooling shelters may not have necessary medical or other disability supports, as well.
This all adds up to a major danger for people with disabilities in the face of climate change. In order to protect their well-being, there should be disability-focused efforts to reduce the impact of these longer and deeper heat waves. For example, there can be funding to add air-conditioning where needed, special outreach to people with disabilities on what to do during heat waves (included in accessible formats such as Braille), and focuses on making sure that cooling shelters are easily accessible with appropriate supports. People with disabilities should also be given information on what to do during heat waves: best practices for staying cool, where to find government updates about upcoming heat waves, and how to locate a local cooling shelter if needed. These actions and others can save lives worldwide.
For an in-depth overview of how climate change will lead to more heat waves and extreme heat events and what they mean for people with disabilities, please view the New Earth Disability Heat Waves blog in PDF form: Heat Waves (2 parts) (PDF)
Additional Resources about Heat Waves and Climate Change
- Centers for Disease Control: Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events
- USG CRP: Temperature-Related Death and Illness
- US EPA: Climate Change and Heat Islands
- Inside Climate News: Climate Change to Blame for Deaths in 2003 Heat Wave, New Study Says
Main content end