A Summer Spent at the Intersection of Human Rights Issues

Kayla Maria RollandBy Kayla Maria Rolland

This summer, I enjoyed working with the Disability Inclusive Climate Action Program (DICARP), a new initiative and partnership between the Canada Research Chair in Human Rights and the Environment and the McGill Centre for Human Rights & Legal Pluralism.

I spent the summer learning more about issues in climate justice, disability rights, and how these issues intersect. For example, persons with disabilities are more affected by climate change as a result of social, economic, and institutional barriers. Women, children, and minorities with disabilities are particularly impacted. The impacts of climate change on food systems may create food shortages that affect the right to food for persons with disabilities. Issues such as inaccessible transportation may impact the right to housing for persons with disabilities. The right to health for persons with disabilities may be impacted when essential healthcare services are disrupted by climate change. Climate change may also have significant impacts on access to water and employment for persons with disabilities. (1)

In response, those working in the spaces of climate justice and disability rights have argued that states hold legal obligations to protect disability rights in regards to climate change, as a result of instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (2)

DICARP will involve a series of research projects and mobilization activities over the coming years related to this topic. Part of my role with DICARP was researching different activists, legal practitioners, and scholars working at the intersection of climate justice and disability rights from around the world to bring a diverse range of perspectives and experiences to the table. It was interesting to learn about the work currently being done, as well as opportunities to grow awareness. From the perspective of a human rights intern, this was also another opportunity to see the different paths that an interest in human rights may take you.

Another part of my role was helping to prepare for the program’s webinars that will take place this Fall. This included researching best practices for accessible webinars and web content. I learned a tremendous amount, and this was one of the most rewarding parts of my internship as these are skills that I will carry with me going forward, both professionally and personally.

I feel very lucky to have been involved with this partnership in its early stages. One of the benefits of having completed a human rights internship here at McGill is that I get to watch what the program will accomplish in the coming years.


(1) For more information, see the recent report “The impact of climate change on the rights of persons with disabilities by the UN OHCHR here: https://ohchr.org/EN/Issues/HRAndClimateChange/Pages/PersonsWithDisabilities.aspx

(2) For further information, see the report “The Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the Context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change” by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, Inclusiva, and the Center for International Environmental Law here: https://www.ciel.org/reports/the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-in-the-context-of-the-un-framework-convention-on-climate-change-dec-2019/

On Pandemics, and Changing Course

Kayla Maria RollandBy Kayla Maria Rolland

“How would you respond to unforeseen challenges during your internship?”

On my application I submitted to the IHRIP program in November 2019, I wrote about the possibility of culture shock, compassion fatigue, issues posed by my lack of travel experience, and other challenges I imagined I could face through the program. As with everyone else, the idea that a pandemic would ground global travel just four short months later was beyond comprehension.

While undoubtedly disappointed that I would no longer be able to visit the beautiful state of Colorado to spend the summer with the One Earth Future Foundation, I had a really wonderful opportunity to spend the summer with the McGill Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism, working on the Disability and Climate Action Research Programme (DICARP).

The opportunity meant shifting direction from a summer in another country, to a summer working remotely in my childhood home, and from human rights topics related to peace-building to disability rights and climate justice.

Pink stone on sidewalk, painted to read "in it together."

A note from a neighbour, found on one of my daily walks.

On a professional level, the shift has meant exploring topics and human rights issues that were relatively new to me. I am enjoying learning about the intersection between climate justice and disability rights, how global climate negotiations occur, and how relevant stakeholders make their voices heard. As part of my role, I am really happy to have gained greater knowledge of how to make web content and events more universally accessible, and it is a skill I will take with me moving forward.

On a personal level, this shift has meant riding out this crazy time with the people that I care about most. It is not the summer I imagined, but I now couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Not all challenges are foreseeable four months in advance, but I am still very happy with the course I have taken.

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