Project to reveal barriers faced by disabled people when adopting eco-friendly lifestyles



Image courtesy of Anna Clark

The potential discrimination faced by disabled people and those living with long-term health conditions when trying to adopt greener lifestyles is to be explored in a new project led by Heriot-Watt University.

A number of environmental policies have been introduced to the UK in an effort to lower greenhouse emissions. But the arrival of these measures can pose significant obstacles to disabled residents and people with chronic health conditions, whose mobility might be impeded preventing them from carrying out everyday tasks such as placing recycling bins on a pavement.

Now a team of academics from Heriot-Watt's School of Social Sciences are to gain a better understanding of this issue and put forward a series of recommendations to mitigate against the current challenges. The project, titled “Eco-Ableism”, is in collaboration with West Lothian Libraries and The Partnership Centre in Carmondean, Livingston.

Together, the project team will host a series of focus groups in West Lothian this summer to encourage local groups and individuals to identify the obstacles they face when efforts are made to enact new eco-friendly policies at a local and national level.  

Eco-Ableism examples include ignoring disabled people in emergency planning, removing parking bays to make way for cycle lanes, and various other environmentally orientated changes which negatively impact those with disability and long-term health conditions.

Professor Steve McLaughlin, Deputy Principal of Research and Impact at Heriot-Watt University, says: “We know from previous research that there are barriers and challenges that many people living with disabilities and long-term health conditions face when attempting to adopt a greener lifestyle. These range across a breadth of other issues, such as being unable to physically transport their recycling bins from their property to the street curb. 

“To help address these challenges, we want to gain a more detailed picture of the issues that exist and speak to those in the community who encounter these problems. We want to learn more about people's lived experiences which will shape and inform our research, and help tackle inequalities.”  

The focus groups start in June and run until August 2022. Once the findings have been collated and assessed, the research team hope to work with local authorities and policymakers to help highlight the issues faced within West Lothian communities and to offer potential solutions. They also intend to share practical support mechanisms that can be rolled out across the community in West Lothian and beyond. 

Professor Kate Sang from the School of Social Sciences at Heriot-Watt University, will lead on the research process while maintaining Eco-Ableism as a community-led project, with people's voices and personal experiences at its heart.

She said: “Eco-ableism can be defined as being a failure by non-disabled policy makers and environmental activists to address the impacts upon and needs of the disabled community when considering climate action initiatives.

“This new project team centre the voices of disabled people to understand their daily life choices when trying to adopt more environmentally practices, to understand the barriers they may face and suggest solutions for more disability inclusive environmental action.” 

This Project is supported by the Scottish Government Public Library Quality Improvement Fund. It follows on from a successful collaboration between Heriot-Watt and West Lothian Libraries last year.

The team is keen to hear from anyone aged 18-years and over, living in West Lothian, who is either registered disabled or who lives with a long-term health condition affecting their daily life. To find out more or to register your interest, visit the Eco-Ableism project website.


Craig McManamon

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