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Heat and Human Rights

If you have a disability and/or are over 65, your help is needed to solve the heat wave crisis!

From Human Rights Watch

Recent climate change-exacerbated heat waves in the western Canada province of British Columbia have left hundreds dead, and older people and people with disabilities are at a high risk.

According to British Columbia’s Chief Coroner, of the 719 sudden deaths between June 25 and July 1, many were “older individuals living alone in private residences with minimal ventilation.”

While there is no reporting yet on the impacts of this year’s extreme heat on people with disabilities, during the 2018 Montreal heat waves, 25 percent of those who died had schizophrenia.

People with psychosocial disabilities have two to three times higher risk of death during heat waves, in part because of the impact of certain medications on the body’s ability to thermoregulate.

Similarly, people with multiple sclerosis have been shown to experience greater pain and fatigue on hot days, and some people with spinal cord injuries don’t have the ability to sweat, the body’s primary way of cooling down and minimizing overheating.

Socioeconomic factors – such as disproportionate rates of poverty, inaccessible transportation, and substandard housing for people with disabilities and older people – exacerbate the problems. For example, notably lower AC ownership or, if housing has AC, the inability to run it regularly.

In this context, Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, is investigating and documenting the impact extreme heat has on the rights of people with disabilities and on the rights of people above the age of 65, in particular their right to life, to protection, health, information, consultation, and participation in the community.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by the heat and is willing to share your story with Human Rights Watch, please contact directly Ms. Emina Cerimovic, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, at, or by phone at: +1-646-427-1814.

To this end, we are looking to answer the following questions:

  • How have recent heat waves in Western Canada impacted people with disabilities and older people? We want to answer this by documenting the experiences of people of different ages, with different types of disabilities, and living in different situations, including people who are unhoused, living in residential institutions, or in remote and rural locations, including Indigenous communities.

  • What protections have been put in place or are planned to be adopted to ensure people with disabilities and older people are protected from extreme heat? Were people with disabilities and older people consulted and actively involved in developing and implementing these policies and if so, how? What steps are being taken to include people with disabilities and older people in climate adaptation and heat action planning?

  • Is information on heat wave risks and relief accessible to people with different types of disabilities and communication needs, and in a variety of living situations?

  • How does the government monitor impacts from heat? Beyond mortalities, does data exist on other health impacts including emergency department visits and hospital stays? Is data collected on these impacts disaggregated by race, gender, type of disability, and location?


Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to!


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