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Hi. My name is Spring Hawes. I am here to rely to you the words of Gabrielle Peters. She says:

It is an honour to speak here today.

I live on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, known as Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Like a plot from a Greek tragedy Vancouver’s “world class” aspirations were fulfilled by becoming the world leader in unaffordable housing  and multiple other human tragedies including the deaths of 595 people in a week of climate change induced extreme heat and poor air quality.

In my opinion these things are not unrelated. There is an inverse relationship between the value placed on the accumulation of wealth and the value given to human lives.

There is power in sharing our stories but I do so with hesitation. We exist in a world that at best infantilizes us. We must be given control over how our stories are told, which parts we share and the context we put them in.

We must not be relegated to simply narrating our suffering under the oppression of ableism and poverty without being given the opportunity to share our knowledge and insight that it provides us.

I am disabled, poor and live in social housing. I am also a Commissioner on the City’s Planning Commission. During the heat dome I worked with another Commissioner to write a memo on heat and air quality mitigation measures the city should adopt.

Building hope is my way to cope.

At the same time I developed a headache, nausea, became short of breath and eventually I struggled to put thoughts together.

I felt helpless as in  without help. I knew I could die. At one point I thought I might.

There is a difference between facing the prospect of death because it is part of the reality of being human, and the prospect of death because you have been put in a situation where you should and could survive but have been denied the tools and means to do so.

Disabled poor people are rendered helpless by policy decisions made by people with power we don’t have who deflect responsibility for their choices by telling us it’s our personal responsibility to navigate intersecting systemic oppressions.

Disabled people won’t survive climate change if it isn’t in the plan for us to do so.  And you can’t plan for us without us.

But first I need you to reassure me that the plan isn’t in fact for us to die in order to lighten the lifeboat.

How many times have we seen environmental policies failed to apply a disability lens offloading a burden onto disabled people and robbing us of whatever little accessibility we have?

We need leaders to commit to working with us to create disability-led plans to lessen and address the impacts of climate change. We can and must create a future that celebrates and supports all human life. We must leave no one behind.

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