Disabled people have called for action to open up their access to green jobs, public transport, affordable food and clean energy across their city, as part of a pioneering, user-led climate action plan.
The plan also calls for blue badge holders in Bristol to be allowed to use bus lanes, for action to remove pavement obstacles, free window boxes for disabled people without a garden, and a “library of things” that would allow disabled people to borrow mobility equipment.
And it wants to see improved access for disabled people to carbon neutral personal transport and the natural environment.
The action plan – funded by the National Lottery-financed Climate Action Fund – was led by the disabled people’s organisation Bristol Disability Equality Forum (BDEF), which co-produced the plan with 300 disabled people who live or work in Bristol.
It is believed to be the first time anywhere in the world that so many disabled people have been involved in co-producing a plan to take action to address climate change.
The aim of BDEF’s Community Climate Action Plan is to find ways of acting on climate change that do not create new barriers for disabled people.
Laura Welti, the forum’s manager, said she was “completely gobsmacked” when she was told that the forum’s work was so ground-breaking.
The forum’s work has already sparked interest from other organisations in the UK and abroad, with the possibility of a visit to the US to share its work, and contact from the UK government, Disability Rights UK, the Centre For Sustainable Energy (CSE), climate action researchers, and the Feminist Green New Deal.
Five other disadvantaged communities took part in the Bristol Community Climate Action project, each of them co-producing a climate action plan for their own community.
The project, which aims to identify priorities that will help to deliver the city’s plan to become carbon neutral by 2030, was set up by Bristol Green Capital Partnership, whose members include Bristol City Council, the union Unite and CSE.
Welti said BDEF applied to be one of the project partners because it saw “an opportunity to get in before any work gets undertaken, so we get it right first time, rather than us having to react when they get it wrong”.
Part of BDEF’s role now will be to ensure that local projects that receive government funding for climate action work – for example on clean air zones, pedestrianisation schemes and public transport – pay close attention to disabled people’s needs.
The 65 recommendations in BDEF’s action plan are split between those actions it could implement itself, and those it now hopes to lobby councils, other public bodies and Bristol’s private sector to implement.
It has already had support in principle for the idea of setting up a group of disabled people that would oversee all of Bristol City Council’s climate action work.
And it is seeking funds to set up a new disabled-led social enterprise that would fix and sell affordable mobility equipment that has been reclaimed from the city council’s waste services, as well as running mobility equipment maintenance workshops.
Welti said she was “absolutely delighted” that BDEF had been involved in such pioneering work.
She said: “It’s giving a platform to the voices of disabled people in an area where they have been especially excluded to date.
“They have been largely ignored by the climate action movement and they had not really been considered at all by central government in terms of what happens with the sorts of work that they fund.
“I was completely stunned to discover that this was something so pioneering and radical.
“I just feel that it highlights how far disabled people still are from being considered as part of these larger movements.”
Welti said the work on the action plan had involved many disabled people – particularly those aged between 20 and 40 – who would not normally be so involved in its work.
This has allowed them to “get their voice heard through a disabled people’s organisation rather than struggling against the barriers they have experienced” with mainstream climate action groups.
The forum has already applied for funding to employ a new transport champion, a disabled person who would lobby transport organisations, and offer advice and support on climate-related plans, in areas such as pedestrianisation, access to green spaces, and public transport.
It also hopes for funding to employ a new energy champion, who again would be a disabled person, and would run workshops, provide assistance and advice on energy efficiency for disabled people, and lobby other organisations.
Among other recommendations in the action plan are for disabled people to be given grants that allow them to buy vehicles that use cleaner fuels; for all buses to have at least two wheelchair spaces; and for grants that make it easier for disabled people to buy accessible bicycles.
Other ideas include ensuring all new homes are at least partly accessible; running workshops to help disabled people grow their own food, and to help them cook the food they’ve grown; and ensuring that 10 per cent of the city’s allotments are accessible.
The action plan also says that disabled people should not have to pay charges for driving in the city’s clean air zone – which is being introduced later this year – if driving their vehicle is an access need.
And it calls on the city to build an “example home” that is “fully accessible and has energy that is good for the planet”, which can be used to inspire developers to build other such properties.
Picture: Bristol Disability Equality Forum members in front of City Hall in Bristol last November before joining a march to mark the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow
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