Every Person has the Right to Tell Their Own Stories

Empowering Individuals with Disabilities to Share How Climate Change Affects Them in the Global South

Despite only being 23 years old, Vanessa Nakate has the weight of a generation on her shoulders. The climate change activist from Uganda injects every sentence she speaks with powerful emotion and urgency that comes from a lifetime of witnessing the devastating effects of the climate crisis first-hand. In a podcast hosted by Ming Michelle Canaday, Nakate spoke of the exhaustion that prematurely lines the face of Uganda’s many farmers after another crop is lost to the hot dusts of droughts. She speaks of seeing the floods and landslides sweep through cities, washing away children who wanted nothing more than to play in the puddles of a rainstorm.

Above all, she presses that her second-hand experience of witnessing these events cannot possibly be as potent and impactful as allowing the victims themselves to speak out through means of videos and social media. Amplifying the stories of her friends, neighbors, and communities is what she set out to do in founding the Rise Up Climate Movement. Simply put, she is certain that without the thousands of diverse stories of people affected by the climate crisis all over the world, climate justice cannot be reached. Her fear is that the climate crisis is being approached in a way that continuously erases the voices of the communities most vulnerable to global temperature shifts as talks and debates gets stalled in the legislative arenas of traditional global powers in the Global North.

When asked about her perspective on the community of individuals with disabilities in Uganda in relation to climate change activism, Nakate paused for a second. She began by rehashing her commitment to amplifying people to a position in which they could share their stories. To do this, Nakate thinks that it is vital to first educate the community of individuals with disabilities on the encroaching dangers of the climate crisis that will be devastating to people with mobility problems or people who otherwise need assistance during evacuations. After educating the community on the pressing urgency of the problem, Nakate speaks to the need for access to internet or devices that will allow a person’s voice and story to carry across the world.

But even Nakate, a world-renowned climate activist, admits that she hadn’t thought deeply about the sizable and devastating impact the climate crisis would specifically have on the community of individuals with disabilities around the world; “this podcast has really made me [see] how much danger [people with disabilities] face”.

Nakate’s previous lack of consideration to the community of individuals with disabilities is indicative of the need for diverse voices telling personal experiences from the climate crisis, including those voices that are currently being erased or set aside for more convenient public figures in climate change activism. The community of individuals with disabilities needs the first thought of legislators as they draft climate change legislation.

The way to ensure that the community of individuals with disabilities stamps a long-lasting impression? According to Nakate, education, outreach, and social media access would go a long way to beginning the path towards climate justice to all groups affected.

Written by Ryan Trombly

Ryan Trombly was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy when she was eighteen months old. The disability causes right-side hemiparesis that affects the entire right side of her body, weakening her muscles and limiting her mobility in everyday activities. Despite this, Ryan had strived to live a normal, independent life without any barriers and hopes to use her voice to advocate for the disabled community.

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