Eliza Hull is a singer-songwriter, performer, and advocate for people with disabilities. Today on International Day of People With Disability, we are privileged to publish an article by Eliza on the intersection between music, accessibility and climate. Read it below!
Photo credit: Simon Brown
I remember the first time I heard someone talk about how climate change was going to negatively and disproportionately affect disabled people. I was involved with the Victorian state advisory group for disabled people, and one of the members suggested that we include the climate crisis and its predicted impacts in any plans going forward. To be honest, at the time I didn’t take much notice. In fact I thought we were being overly dramatic, and wondered why we would focus on climate impacts when there’s so much other work that needs to be done in the disability space. I soon realised how quickly climate change and its associated extreme weather events would negatively affect us all, especially disabled people.
I’m a disabled musician. I have a neurological condition ‘Charcot Marie Tooth’ which affects the way I walk; I fall over regularly and have low muscle tone and sensory loss. I also struggle with temperature, which means on a hot summer’s day my legs are often still freezing.
I didn’t grow up in a particularly green family. Born in 1985, we were in and of an era of blissful oblivion. I never once wondered where my packaged food wrappers were going, or what impact our family footprint was having on the earth. The only environmental education I had at school was about the ozone layer - and that only lasted a week, or so. For most of my childhood and young adult life, the environment and climate change just didn’t feature, and weren’t in my psyche.
Fast forward to 2020, as bushfires and floods raged, and it was the only thing I could think about. Not only was I concerned for my family’s health, as smoke blanketed half of Australia, but I was also deeply worried about disabled people on the front lines of the extreme weather - especially those with intersecting experiences of marginalisation like First Nations people, People of Colour, transgender, or non-binary people.
I heard story after story of how disabled people were being tragically left behind when towns had to evacuate; of how support workers didn’t have time to reach the disabled people in their community or were too busy to look, frantically protecting their own homes and families.
I also heard about the impact of power outages, a commonplace occurrence during floods and fires; of electricity cutting out on people who depend on feeding machines and oxygen concentrators to survive. Losing electricity is always hard, but it’s literally a matter of life or death for many disabled people.
And then I repeatedly witnessed emergency public messages being broadcast without Auslan interpreters present.
Tamara Dowley, who is a Deaf professional working for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, says ‘There is no way for Deaf Australians to access information about climate change in Auslan – our own language. Yet, climate change is now the biggest issue of our time!’
I also haven’t been able to find any information about climate change in Auslan, and yet 1 in 6 Australians are affected by hearing loss.
I’ve changed a lot over the past few years. I’m not only more aware of the seriousness of climate change, but also the impacts my family and I are having on the world. I constantly move from doom and gloom, to hopeful, and these extreme emotions can happen within minutes. I have slowly made changes, and they feel tiny compared to what I know needs to be done. Some of my changes include not eating much meat, donating money to the right environmental organisations, offsetting my carbon footprint when I travel, compositing, and buying less packaged things.
As a musician and a disability advocate, I have found this even harder because so much of our work requires travel to perform. Finding Green Music’s ‘Sound Country Green Artist Guide’ has been incredibly influential in helping me seek out ways to tour in a more sustainable way. Just realising that I can make small changes that positively impact the environment helps me to feel more connected with the cause. Though often I am still left feeling helpless about the harm my quick trips overseas to play shows are causing.
For over twenty-five years, The United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has held annual international negotiations with over 190 countries, called the Conference of the Parties (COP). These negotiations are critical in making effective change for our world.
Some people have organised themselves into groups, or “constituencies”, to gain special recognition by the UNFCCC. Disabled people have a huge stake in the outcomes of these negotiations, but we’re yet to be invited to share our experiences and perspectives.
There are 1 billion people with a disability world-wide. Twenty percent of the population in Australia are disabled, but often we are not given a seat at the table and are silenced, even, as in the case of climate change, when it’s a matter of life and death.
The solutions to me are clear. Disabled people need to be given a say in decisions that affect them. We need input into policy making so that we can embed change into emergency procedures, messaging, and the ongoing impacts of climate change on our community.
Disabled people need to be consulted and considered when emergency services plan for extreme weather events.
Generators, or ideally renewable powered batteries, should be given to disabled people to support them if a power outage occurs. We need to continue to fund local disabled community organisers who are focused on equity.
We need more support and education for disabled people as temperatures continue to increase, so that we are not left behind, or worse killed. We need affordable and accessible accommodation so that disabled people can have places to go to if their houses are impacted by extreme weather.
I have been disabled since I was five, and a professional musician since I was eighteen. For a long time I hid my disability, for fear of discrimination. In recent years, I have become a disability advocate in the music industry, spurring on change, so that emerging disabled artists don’t have to face as many barriers as I did. The industry is changing, but I do wonder whether my advocacy has made enough of an impact. Whilst I might have shifted attitudes, and enabled more representation, is climate change putting all this hard work in jeopardy?
While there’s no silver bullet when it comes to tackling big issues like accessibility or climate change, listening to disabled voices, especially First Nations voices, is essential. Living in an inaccessible world and facing systemic barriers everyday, we’ve adapted to become incredible problem solvers and ingenious creative thinkers - important qualities which are needed at a time of crisis like now. As well as listening, we need to find ways to act in unison. Music, and the stories we weave through them, have the power to unite us and change the world. I've seen this time and time again. It's up to us as an industry to continue the conversation, to rally change and affect policy. After all, there is no music on a dead planet.
Eliza Hull's new EP HERE THEY COME is out now.