Plastic straws pollution is one of the most discussed issues among environmentally conscious communities. A tragic event like the loss of marine animals caused by plastic straws has inspired many environmental activists to switch to metal, paper, or glass straws which are more eco-friendly and reusable. It also encourages some restaurants to ban plastic straws for their consumers. However, this initiative has also gained criticism from a group of people with disabilities because some disabled people need plastic straws to drink safely and independently; hence, it is considered an act of eco ableism.
Eco ableism is discrimination towards people with disabilities that happens in environmental activism. Eco ableism happens because non-disabled environmental activists fail to understand that their solutions might make some people with disabilities face difficulties. Other examples of eco ableism are removing wheelchair-accessible areas for cycle lanes and shaming people for using motorized vehicles because some disabled people need it for their mobilities. Eco ableism is part of ableism or systemic discrimination and oppression rooted in our society towards people with disabilities. Therefore, ableism does not only exclusively exist within the environmental movement but also exists in other sectors.
The issue of eco ableism has also become a concern during COP 26, where world leaders meet to discuss their climate actions. COP 26 is accused of being eco ableist because of its lack of wheelchair access. Karine Elharrar, a minister from Israel, complains that she cannot attend one of the sessions at COP 26 because the venue is too far to be accessed by wheelchair. The only options available to go there are by walk or shuttle, which is not wheelchair-accessible. So, how to stop eco ableism in an environmental movement?
To ensure that our environmental policies would not be eco ableist and discriminate against people with disabilities, we need to make them involved in policymaking and make sure that their voices are heard. Involving people with disabilities in environmental policymaking is also crucial because they are the most disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
Climate change increases the risk of extreme weather and disasters. In times of emergency, most people with disabilities have challenges in evacuation due to the lack of inclusive infrastructure. In Sinzig Germany, for instance, a flash flood killed 12 disabled people. Furthermore, some emergency evacuation lifts and buses are not wheelchair accessible. Most people with hearing and visual impairment also find it hard to get information during evacuation.
Most cases of eco-ableism are environmental activism that focuses on individual action, such as blaming or shaming people’s choice of using plastic straws and motorized vehicles. When it comes to individual action, it can always be discriminatory because not all people have the privilege to choose sustainable choices. Hence, when promoting sustainable consumption and production, we also have to focus on systemic change which requires all parties involved in the system to be responsible.
Written by: Siti Aisyah Novitri
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