The Impact Of Climate Change On The Disabled Communities’ Health In Dominica


DAPD Headquarters located in Goodwill, Dominica. Photo credit: DAPD

Globally, about 1.3 billion people are living with disabilities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this represents 16% of the world’s population, or 1 in 6 of us. 

In many countries, people with disabilities (PWDs) are mainly seen as members of a vulnerable community, and their skills or abilities are often sidelined or overlooked by the wider society. 

On the Caribbean island of Dominica, the same is true. Although some NGOs and human rights advocates continue to raise awareness regarding the plight and achievement of people with disabilities, civil society and the central government are not doing enough to bolster the community toward sustainability and inclusion.

CIJN has identified some of the main challenges affecting the disabled community in Dominica. It is clear that after the passage of Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 & Hurricane Maria in 2017, people with disabilities were exposed to more significant risks of noncommunicable diseases, severe physical injury, anxiety disorders, amplified respiratory conditions, infectious diseases, lack of access to medical care and medication and in some cases, even malnutrition.

However, since 2017, the Central Government established three regional emergency shelters designed to accommodate people with disabilities during natural disasters like a hurricane. According to the Dominica Emergency – Shelter Manual, shelter managers consider the capacities and needs of all persons with disabilities and make deliberate efforts to remove physical, communication, and attitudinal barriers to their access and participation. The Shelters are located in Layou, Jimmit, & Castle Bruce and are built to accommodate PWDs. 

In 2020, the government, via the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) Programme, sought to further aid the community by providing $929,398.49 for the extension of the headquarters of the Dominica Association of Persons with Disabilities (DAPD), located on Canal Lane in Goodwill. The funding ensured the construction of the ground and first-floor extension of the DAPD building.

However, despite these national efforts at advancing infrastructural accommodation for PWDs, our report finds that, to date, transportation for people with disabilities remains a problem; information and warnings do not always reach members of the disabled community around the island, and the lack of mobility also hinders access to medical treatment and care, even during normal conditions. 

Beverly Leblanc believes climate change has worsened the health complications of people with disabilities. Photo credit: Richie Ferrol

Climate Change-Induced Health Concerns

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States,  the increase in global warming and the heat waves that occur as a result, have led to more heat illnesses and deaths among vulnerable groups over the past decade. Just last year alone, 16000 PWDs died as a result of heat waves in Europe. 

Human Rights and Special Education Consultant, Ms. Beverly Leblanc, says climate change has worsened the health complications of people with disabilities even more. “It threatens your health, it includes mental health, access to clean water, nutrition, food, and shelter.” 

Beverly lists out the major issues affecting disabled persons in Dominica. Video credit: Richie Ferrol

Leblanc gave some instances where the prolonged changes in the climate, like drought, water scarcity, intense rainfall and flooding, negatively affect people with disabilities in Dominica. Leblanc says specific issues of physical disability and anxiety concerns, coupled with autism, create high trauma for PWDs.

Beverly gives instances where climate exacerbated health issues of children at the Achievement Learning Center, Located in Canefield, Dominica. Video credit: Richie Ferrol
DAPD President Ms. Judy Sango in Dominica – 07 31 2023. Photo credit: Richie Ferrol

President of the DAPD, Ms. Judy Sango, agrees with LeBlanc, blaming environmental activities, such as hurricanes, for making health care inaccessible for PWDs in Dominica. 

Sango stresses that assistive devices must form part of the distributed relief effort in emergencies. In most scenarios, devices should be tailored to the individual to provide high functionality and independence since they are more at risk of violence and exploitation in times of disaster. This recommendation is also supported by the Western Michigan University’s Journal Of Sociology and Welfare – Volume 28.

Sango also raised another health concern, that is “the re-emergence or emergence of new diseases,” which sometimes follow the advent of natural disasters, intensified by climate change activity.

Judy reveals her experience of the impact of Climate Change on PWDs. Video credit: Richie Ferrol

The Need For Increased Awareness Of The Plight And Achievements Of PWDs

Meantime, a physiotherapist based in Goodwill, Dominica, Dr. Thomas Dada, says the government and NGOs have made efforts to heighten the awareness of the plight and achievements of the community. However, he believes more can be done.

Dr. Dada recommends a greater inclusion of physiotherapy for people with disabilities. “My advice for the government is to incorporate physiotherapy into primary health care, ” said Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Thomas Dada explains how physiotherapy can reduce the increase in major disability cases in Dominica. Video credit: Richie Ferrol

Dr. Dada adds that he has seen efforts from NGOs and the Central government to address the increased health issues that climate change poses upon the disabled community. However, he acknowledges that more resources and a renewed approach to providing medical care to the community are needed.

Broll of property of Physiotherapist – Dr. Thomas Dada, at Goodwill Dominica – Date 08 22 2023. Video Credit: Richie Ferrol

A Call For New Financial Mechanisms To Address Major Concerns Of The Disabled Community

This report reveals finance plays a significant role in improving the lives of PWDs, giving them access to needed healthcare services and transportation. According to Western Michigan University’s Journal Of Sociology and Welfare, more than ever, new financial mechanisms must be created and implemented to bolster economic resilience and reduce poverty in that community. 

PWDs are faced with high costs of living and are more dependent on costly human assistance and assistive technology. Specialised medical services and personal assistance services most times drive the cost factor ‘through the roof.’

Assistive technology is a need in Dominica, but the more expensive devices can cost tens of thousands of dollars. To many, this is not affordable as people with disabilities don’t always have access to health insurance or workers’ compensation.

In Dominica, there are no financial mechanisms established that would resolve or help reduce economic challenges experienced by members of the community. DAPD’s Judy Sango disclosed that she is unaware of any significant national financial mechanism to empower PWDs. “Let me say that I am not aware of any of those measures being taken, ” Sango said.

Sango calls for custom duty waivers for PWDs or NGOs ordering medical items on behalf of People Living With Disabilities.

Judy Sango calls for Financial mechanisms to be created specifically to reduce health related costs for all persons with disabilities. She references the removal of custom duties of medical items ordered for PWDs. Video credit: Richie Ferrol


Our investigation concludes that all climate adaptive and mitigation initiatives of the government and wider society need to include people with disabilities at all stages of planning and implementation. This offers an enhanced layer of physical safeguarding for PWDs and empowers them to improve the resilience of communities nationwide.

The rights of people with disabilities should also be protected, and greater focus needs to be placed on creating and implementing policies that will significantly address climate change-induced health issues, as climate change has worsened the health and well-being of the community. 

Furthermore, the research finds that Dominica is not sufficiently prepared to alleviate the climate change-induced health issues PWDs face. However, there is potential for measures like developing a National Action Plan that could improve the situation.

A government commission is drafting an up-to-date plan for people with disabilities to be presented to the government of Dominica and hopefully for parliamentary approval. Stakeholders hope these proposed policies will remain a high priority in the government’s health mandate, particularly for those living with disabilities.

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