Heatwaves Are Impacting Disabled People Worldwide

CW: Psychiatric Disabilities & Death:

Extreme heat caused by climate change and insufficient government support creates extreme hardship and distress for disabled people according to Human Rights Watch, citing a report on the impacts seen in Andalusia, Spain, in the summer of 2022.

Disabled people are frequently among the most vulnerable during an emergency, like a heatwave, yet have the least access to help. Such disproportionate impacts are caused by many different factors including a lack of inclusion in emergency and adaptation planning, limited emergency communication, accessibility challenges, isolation, and economic disadvantage.

Studies show that disabled people are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and fatalities. Some are more likely to have health issues that hinder the body’s ability to respond to heat, while others may experience social isolation, which has been associated with increased heat risks.

One study done by the American Geophysical Union found that during the EHE,(extreme heat event) last year people with schizophrenia were much more at risk of serious illness or death than the general population. Antipsychotic medications such as quetiapine, haloperidol, and risperidone, are commonly prescribed to treat schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications can also impair thermoregulation.

People with chronic renal disease and ischemic heart disease were also at a higher risk. In addition, those with psychological disabilities are more likely to die during heatwaves due to issues controlling their body temperature, as well as stigma and social marginalization, which may limit their access to support networks.

Leo Osorio, 9, lives on the outskirts of Seville, Spain, with his parents and his brother, Abraham, 13. Leo has a condition called Epidermolysis bullosa or EB.

Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is a rare group of inherited skin fragility disorders characterized by decreased skin and mucous membrane resistance to stress, appearing as blistering or erosion of the skin and the epithelial lining of various organs. Epidermolysis bullosa is categorized into three basic categories based on the level of the epidermis or basement membrane zone in which the blister forms: simplex, junctional, and dystrophic.

Leo was unable to leave his home in July and August last year due to the extreme heat. The fragility of his skin requires that he remain in an air-conditioned environment. Occasionally, his mother would spray him with mineral water in order to keep his skin moist. His mother, Lidia Osorio worries that this summer’s heat will be even worse than last year’s.

Disability-inclusive emergency plans save lives. All community members’ safety and well-being should be a priority. If an emergency plan is developed without disabled people in mind, millions of lives are at risk.


Alegría, Margarita, et al. ‘Social Determinants of Mental Health: Where We Are and Where We Need to Go’. Current Psychiatry Reports, vol. 20, no. 11, Sept. 2018, p. 95, https://doi.org10.1007/s11920-018-0969-9.

Fine, Jo-David, et al. ‘The Classification of Inherited Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB): Report of the Third International Consensus Meeting on Diagnosis and Classification of EB’. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, vol. 58, no. 6, June 2008, pp. 931–950, https://doi.org10.1016/j.jaad.2008.02.004.

Lee, Michael Joseph, et al. ‘Chronic Diseases Associated With Mortality in British Columbia, Canada During the 2021 Western North America Extreme Heat Event’. GeoHealth, vol. 7, no. 3, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Mar. 2023, p. e2022GH000729, https://doi.org10.1029/2022GH000729.

“Spain: Inadequate Response to Heatwaves.” Human Rights Watch, 26 June 2023, http://www.hrw.org/news/2023/06/26/spain-inadequate-response-heatwaves.

Sabe, Michel, et al. ‘Antipsychotics for Negative and Positive Symptoms of Schizophrenia: Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Acute Phase Trials’. Schizophrenia, vol. 7, no. 1, Sept. 2021, p. 43, https://doi.org10.1038/s41537-021-00171-2.

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