Government must protect people from extreme heat: disability rights groups

Disability rights groups across the country are urging the federal government to do more to protect people with disability from the growing threat of summer heatwaves.

In a letter to federal NDIS Minister Bill Shorten, Disability Advocacy Network Australia (DANA) CEO Jeff Smith and Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon said the government must take strong action to prevent “hundreds of people with disability dying in each city every year” as heatwaves become hotter and longer.

“Heatwaves are the deadliest environmental disaster in Australia and kill more people than all other environmental disasters combined,” they said. “Studies have shown that 89% of heatwave deaths in Australia are people with disability.”

Among other measures, Smith and Bacon have called on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to incorporate the impacts of extreme heat into its planning and funding decisions, government funding for people with disability to more effectively heatproof their homes, overhauling disability service provider procedures to include protocols for heatwave events, and for Minister Shorten to urgently convene a roundtable of extreme heat experts and service providers to discuss the impact of extreme heat and climate change on people with disability.

“We call on you to mobilise the Department of Social Services to update the regulations and increase the resources available to help people with disability across Australia manage this growing risk to their health and safety,” Smith and Bacon said.

Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon said:

“Extreme heat kills more people in Australia than every other kind of natural disaster put together. Nearly 90% of heatwave deaths in Australia are people with disability, and as climate change accelerates, more and more people will be put in harm’s way. People in areas with poor tree coverage, little access to cool public spaces, and in homes without adequate heatproofing are especially at risk

“That’s why we’re calling on the federal government to take urgent steps to protect people with disability from the growing threat of extreme heat. We need targeted funding to support people with disability to reduce their exposure to extreme heat, both in their homes and in public.

“This means funding for energy efficiency upgrades, solar and air conditioning so people can heatproof their homes, increasing accessible transport options so people can safely go out, and providing outreach services to check on people and provide assistance during heatwaves.

“Extreme heat affects everyone, but it does discriminate. As heatwaves get hotter and longer, people with disability are among those most vulnerable to illness and death. The federal government must act now to make sure no one is left to fend for themselves during extreme heat events.”

Disability Advocacy Network Australia CEO Jeff Smith said:

“People with disability are at extreme risk of illness and death as climate change makes Australian heatwaves hotter and longer. If we don’t act now, hundreds of people with disability will die needlessly during heatwaves every year. For many people, summer will become a season of tragedy and heartbreak; for many more, it will become a season not to enjoy, but simply to survive.

“That’s why DANA is calling on the federal government to take the threat of heatwaves seriously and put in place measures to ensure people with disability stay safe and healthy as the threat of heatwaves grows.

“We urgently need NDIS funding and processes that recognise the risk extreme heat poses to people with disability, especially those in accommodation without adequate heat proofing. We need service providers who are educated about the threat and know how to respond to ensure people’s safety. And we need to bring people with disability, experts, providers and disability rights advocates together in a roundtable so we can plan for this threat into the future and take all necessary steps to keep people safe.

“Time is short and the need is pressing. We can’t afford to waste time while heatwaves get hotter and longer, placing more and more people at risk. A government that values and respects people with disability as equal participants in a fair society cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer.”

DANA and Sweltering Cities