Extinction Rebellion’s mass disruptions in London have dominated headlines and angered many commuters like me this week. The aim of the group is to make people take notice of the serious threat of climate change and force politicians to take action. I’ve certainly taken notice, but not in the way Extinction Rebellion intended.
Let me clarify something first – I completely support action on climate change and I understand the severity of the issue. However, as an experienced campaigner and as a disabled person, I do not support how Extinction Rebellion are protesting.
I am an electric wheelchair user and I cannot use the underground, due to only one in five stations being fully accessible. My commute requires taking a taxi from King’s Cross station to my office. This is not a luxurious choice I am making because I dislike crowded tube cars – I need to take a taxi if I want to go to work, where I campaign to get better support for disabled people.
This is a perfect example of one of the many additional costs associated with disability. The roadblocks have caused increased traffic where cars simply don’t move, which is an inconvenience that Extinction Rebellion want people to experience. But have they considered wheelchair users like me who are sitting in that standstill traffic and have to pay for that time? I don’t believe they have, and this is irresponsible of them.
My journeys into work this week have been more expensive than the average journey I have been doing for the past 18 months due to traffic caused by the roadblocks. I don’t have the option of the underground or getting out of the cab and walking the rest of the way, which means every minute it takes to get to that destination, I pay for. This is not fair to me and others who are prevented from using other transport options.
Yesterday, I seriously considered working from home to avoid the protests but, as someone who campaigns to get more disabled people into work, I could not allow them to prevent me from doing just that. Instead I have attempted to contact the group to explain how their methods of protesting are disproportionately impacting disabled people, but so far they have not replied.
I have worked and volunteered in the charity sector for over five years and in that time I have learnt a lot about how to run effective and inclusive campaigns. You have to consider the impact your campaign actions have on all people but particularly marginalised groups. For their campaign to truly be for all of humanity, how can they ignore the situation of the 1.2million wheelchair users in the UK?
As I’ve said, I am fully aware of the seriousness of climate change and I support action – but I do not support any action that prevents disabled people from living their lives as they wish to. Social isolation is a very real problem faced by the disabled community due to many places are inaccessible and cuts to care packages that support people engaging in their communities. When I see a protest that seeks to make it even more difficult and more expensive for disabled people, I cannot let this go unchallenged.
If anyone at Extinction Rebellion is reading this and want to discuss how to make their campaign more inclusive, I’m more than happy to talk!
Emma Vogelmann is a disability rights campaigner, living with spinal muscular atrophy