Disabled people don’t want to cost the earth

This year saw an interesting coincidence of events – the Earthshot prize on the 2nd December and the UN Day for disabled people on the 3rd. As a disabled person who cares deeply about climate change these two events happening the day after each other caught my attention.

It has been my experience that often disabled people are left out of discussions around climate change. When discussion around banning plastic straws was happening I saw a lot of disabled people trying to explain that they needed plastic straws to reliably access liquids and explaining why for many of them non-plastic alternatives simply weren’t viable in all circumstances. Rather than listening to us and trying to work with us to find compromises that maintained disabled people’s dignity and independence with minimising plastic waste there were many non-disabled people who at best accused us of lying and at worst seemed to suggest that our lives were worth less than reducing plastic waste.

There are many other examples where passion for combatting climate change has caused people to disregard disabled people and our needs – Low Traffic Neighbourhoods without exemptions for Blue badge holders or carers, segregated cycle lanes without drop kerbs or tactile paving, pedestrianisation schemes that fail to include places for less mobile people to stop and rest – the list goes on.

However, there are also areas where, by listening to disabled people, far more could be done to combat climate change that aren’t banning things disabled people need to live or excluding us from public spaces. Many employers have active travel schemes such as cycle loans but many schemes don’t include adapted or adaptable cycles – which can often be prohibitively expensive to buy outright – in 2020 I successfully got my own employers cycle loan scheme to start offering a tricycle as part of the scheme.

Health and Social Care is another prime example. In 2019 Incontinence pads accounted for around 2-3% of landfill waste in the UK. These are largely made of plastic and unrecyclable. For people with light incontinence reusable options exist but for more severe incontinence there are no other options. Sterile packaging is largely at least partially made of plastic. There is also tubing, syringes, medication packaging and bottles, and so and so forth all used within health and social care environments.

Granted in some cases this waste will always be unsuitable for recycling as it’s contaminated clinical waste but there is more we can do to develop reusable and/or biodegradable alternatives where possible. That research requires funding and frequently research which benefits disabled people relies too much on disabled people ourselves and those that love us and want to find solutions for the problems we face because the money often simply isn’t there in commercial contexts.

This is why, nearly two years ago, I began to research a motion for conference which sought to try and change this. To include disabled people more in the fight against climate change as well as reduce plastic waste associated with Health and Social Care without compromising our right to live our lives as independently as possible. That motion was eventually accepted for Autumn Conference 2022, sadly cancelled due to the death of the late Queen, While I plan on resubmitting the motion there is no guarantee it will be accepted again but I realised there was a lot of the motion that could be worked on now.

In areas where we have councillors, and especially where we control councils, we have the power to insist disability and older people’s groups are included in conversations about new LTN’s, pedestrianised areas and other traffic reducing and active travel schemes, not only is this more inclusive it is also more cost effective given that in several notable instances failure to do so has incurred additional expense in retrofitting to make things accessible. As employees and employers where cycle salary sacrifice schemes exist we can ask they carry adapted options. Many of our MP’s and councillors have worked hard to get step free access at train stations in their areas and we can keep working on that for all public transport so that, 25 years after it should have been the case, disabled people are not disproportionately forced to rely on cars and taxis because we cannot access public transport independently.

I genuinely hope my motion will be selected again so that other measures, calls for Government research and development funding for measures to support disabled people live more environmentally friendly lives and reduce plastic waste in health and social care sectors can be fought for and acted on. But in the meantime, I hope that my fellow Lib Dems will listen to and support disabled people where we want to be an active part of the fight against climate change while maintaining our independence.

* Charley joined the Lib Dems in 2010, has stood in Local elections in Stoke on Trent and London and was PPC for Eltham in the 2019 General Election and a GLA list candidate in 2021. They have been a Youth Worker, Early Years Teaching Assistant and FE College Governor. They are currently an Emergency Services Worker in London and Chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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  • Neil Sandison 4th Dec '22 - 5:44pm

    Keep at it Charley because you have a disability it does not mean you don’t care about the environment and yes positive action can be taken to count those with disabilities into environmental enhancement and climate change transition. from off road cycle, disability, and walking routes, to raised heat resilient fruit, veg and herb beds in our town centers to absorb carbon, reduce heat and produce oxygen in inner urban spaces.
    Should you produce your motion i would be honored to add my signature. because i have a health problem it does not mean i cannot make a difference.

  • Mary Regnier-Wilson 5th Dec '22 - 10:33am

    Totally agree Charley and was v happy to see your motion be selected.

    Disabled people, both visible and invisible, need to be part of every conversation- in Chelmsford we have a councillor who is in a wheelchair – it’s meant a new focus on the state of pavements as well as roads

  • You raise some very good points Charley that need more consideration in decision making at all levels. Unfortunately, as seems inevitable these days, anything associated with the environment, and especially cars, is something that inflames emotions in all of the wrong ways, with a lot of people arguing in bad faith. However, just because some of the pro-car lobby have a sudden, vocal, but shallow interest in disability rights when their own right to drive their own polluting gas guzzler wherever they like is challenged, doesn’t mean that others aren’t very valid points that deserve attention. And we must support that.

    That’s why ensuring that decision makers have a reasonable grasp of the key issues as early as possible is so important. That isn’t a substitute for continued consultation, but if we have better collective understanding early on, it becomes harder for those with selfish motives to abuse the consultation.

    The value of adequate benches to increase the comfortable walking range for many pedestrians is such a good point and easy to implement. That sort of messaging doesn’t need to wait for a conference motion to implement.

  • Jason Connor 5th Dec '22 - 4:34pm

    There is a lack of understanding or empathy for people with disabilities that’s for sure. And let’s not forget people have visible as well as hidden disabilities. Not everyone is physically capable of or able to cycle, someone with a bowel disease for example, despite the pernicious propaganda put out by the pro cycling lobby who dominate the meetings and surveys on transport issues. I am pleased to say that the local Lib Dems recognised this in recent local elections in my ward.

    The road closure schemes fail to accommodate the needs of motorists with disabilities and limited mobility who use their cars sparingly for carrying heavy shopping, not to nip down the road to buy a paper as is so often alleged or assumed. Pedestrians with disabilities or limited mobility are also at risk of cyclists who fail to stop at zebra crossings and red lights. The latest figures I have show a significant increase. As someone who is registered disabled myself, I have nearly been hit. The installation of a traffic light system for cyclists would help alongside the traffic lights for cars.

    I think disabled people do their best to be environmentally friendly. I ensure as a Council tenant that virtually all my waste is recycled, but it is a struggle for us to make our voices heard. Diversity is about respecting difference and different needs not treating everyone as the same.

  • Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are not No Traffic Neighbourhoods, so sensible design should allow those who need to drive to keep that option. Not only that, but with good design, the improvements that make walking and cycling safer and more pleasant can benefit those who rely on mobility scooters too.

    I think using phrases like ‘pernicious propaganda put out by the cycling lobby’ is exactly the kind of language that needs to be avoided if we want to make constructive arguments for inclusivity that get the attention they deserve rather than fan the flames of a culture war. Don’t forget, deaths due to poor air quality are estimated by Public Health England to be between 28 and 36,000 annually and these deaths disproportionately impact those with heart and lung conditions, who already have to avoid certain places or certain activities.

    We need to be frank about the scale of the problem. Reducing total car journeys and increasing active travel is essential not just to prevent air pollution related deaths, but to keep the planet survivable. There are a lot of things that should be done to ensure people with disabilities are listened to and not unfairly impacted, but it is not going to be possible for any of us to avoid a bit of inconvenience. Without that honesty the consultation process is doomed to fail.

  • Charley Hasted Charley Hasted 5th Dec '22 - 9:53pm

    @Fiona thanks for the constructive comments. I have to say I think there is a massive difference between a little inconvenience and some of what I’m talking about which is things like disabled people finding themselves ghettoised and excluded from certain areas. For instance my borough has exemptions for blue badge holders who live in LTN’s but only in the LTN they live in. That means they can’t go and visit friends or go to shops or events in other LTN’s. I live on a school street so every weekday in term time there are 2 hours where if I need to get a taxi I have to either walk to the end of the road or not go out/come home. Luckily I live close enough to the end of the road that that rarely causes me a problem (but not never) but given my average walking ability I wouldn’t have to live much further up the road for it to cause a significant issue for me.

    But this is what I mean – it rarely seems to occur to anyone to ask “will what we are doing make disabled and older people’s lives *unnecessarily* harder or less independent?” – and like I said I have seen people basically implying or in the worst cases outright saying that protecting the environment is more important than disabled people’s happiness, independence and dignity.

    Disabled people’s live are already filled with inconvenience – we spend hundreds and hundreds of pounds on things non-disabled people don’t have to because of that fact – that means there really is a duty on those working to stop climate change to make sure we aren’t having our lives made impossible by the constant creep of “it’s only’s”- “it’s only walking 200m to get to your taxi to work” sounds like and is a little thing to someone without a mobility impairment. But to me the impact is “You have to give up your job” because I *can’t* walk 200m reliably. If you see where I’m coming from?

  • Helen Dudden 6th Dec '22 - 9:50am

    The floating cycle paths are another situation, that is not safe.

    The RNIB has petitioned the government on the subject.

  • It’s a complex subject and while I support LTNs in theory, it would be ridiculous to insist that they are always all as good as can be. The culture-warification of the issue means that too few are willing to admit that there’s room for improvement.

    Substantial change is urgent, because collectively we’ve been living well beyond the planet’s means for too long, but people with disabilities should not take the brunt and I’m frustrated by the unwillingness for a bit of problem solving to make things better. It doesn’t help that a lot of rules are set in expectation that some people will abuse the system, but how many people need to abuse a blue badge for it to be a problem? The LTNs I’m most familiar with remain open to everyone, just not as rat runs. Couldn’t they trial letting people request access to an extra one or two named LTNs and see how that goes? I appreciate that’s extra admin when resources are squeezed, but that sort of approach could help while preserving most of the benefits of the schemes.

    You raise an interesting point about school streets. We all like to reminisce about the days when children all walked to school, often blamed on the general rise in traffic, but fewer children go to schools within reasonable walking distance. Around here the choice to save council money with fewer, bigger means larger catchment areas, so it’s a policy that makes active travel harder.

  • Apologies, I know it’s bad form to reply to yourself, but I wanted to add that Charley you make a good point about the extra costs as well as the existing extra inconvenience and I wanted to acknowledge that.

    I hope most of us agree that people with disabilities need better financial support in general.

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Dec '22 - 3:12pm

    The comments about LTNs completely excluding motor traffic are surprising. In Holland, surely the best example of these things (and not so very far away) motor traffic is not excluded from LTNs by default. They are set up so that they cannot be used as rat-runs, but disabled people would be able to use taxis or their own vehicles easily enough. Maybe have to drive an extra 100 metres or so, but still as close to your door as before. And what about bin lorries and emergency services?

  • Jenny Barnes 6th Dec '22 - 3:20pm

    The figures I found about pedestrian road deaths pa. were:
    by cyclists 5
    by cars on pavements 40
    by cars total 361
    So I suspect that the number of disabled people killed by cyclist running red lights or pedestrian crossings is going to be less than 5.
    All road users should behave safely, of course., but those in charge of 2 tonne machines capable of 60 mph + need to be a lot more careful.

  • Neil Sandison 9th Dec '22 - 1:04pm

    The best way to make environmental policy work is to be inclusive in the first instance . i am working with cycle user groups and disability forums as well as Sustrans and County and District council to introduce modal shift corridors suitable for shared use by pedestrians , disabled users and cyclists This also includes access to nature reserves and open spaces . ensuring bus stops and buses are suitable for all users . Start with inclusivity insist upon it ,do not take no for an answer . We have some of the best engineers in the world who understand good design and we have to challenge those who offer halfway house solutions solely based on cost . Please Charley come forward with a dynamic motion for the Spring conference .

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