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“Going out in public so often takes courage. How many of us find that we can’t dredge up the strength to do it day after day, week after week, year after year, a lifetime of rejection and revulsion? It is not only physical limitations that restrict us to our homes and those whom we know. It is the knowledge that each entry into the public world will be dominated by stares, by condescension, by pity and by hostility.”Jenny Morris, Pride Against Prejudice
The DisLabeled Series brings visibility to people with disabilities.
First, let’s look at the word disability. According to the World Health Organization, the word disability is an umbrella word, which covers:
- impairments: a problem in body function or structure;
- activity limitations: a difficulty in executing a task or actions;
- participation restrictions: a problem in engaging in life situations.
This phenomenon has given rise to various models, the two main ones being the medical model and the social model of disability.
The medical model states that disability is a physical problem that should be fixed, whereas the social model of disability views disability as a social construction. In the social model, its solution lies in creating social conditions that can integrate everyone regardless of their physical differences.
“To put it very simply, it is not the inability to walk which disables someone but the steps into the building.”Jenny Morris
History of persecution
No matter which way we look at disabilities, there is an underlying fact that people with disabilities have been and still are targets for brutal prejudice.
As Justin Dart, a disability rights activist, stated, there is an ancient assumption that people with disabilities are “less than fully human”.
Throughout history, people with disabilities were massively killed or abandoned, kept as jesters in royal and imperial courts, experienced infanticide went through involuntary sterilization, were institutionalized without having their needs taken into account (or with no need for institutionalization at all), and were secluded and ostracized. Many religions blame the person’s parents or the person’s past life for their disability.
There was, and there is, an idea that the life of a person with disabilities is a life not worth living.
In Nazi German, some doctors actually stated that the massive extermination of people with disabilities was merciful.
Representation in media
The perverse assumption that a life with disabilities is a life not worth living is still widely inculcated, and mainstream media do not play an opposite role; people with disabilities are either misrepresented or not represented at all in mainstream culture. Characters with disabilities are often played by people who don’t have disabilities, and who do not represent the needs and diversity of people with disabilities. Very often, disabilities have been used to depict villains and therefore used to dehumanize the villain and separate them from the viewer, which simultaneously perpetuates the dehumanization and separation of people with disabilities.
Struggles in today’s societies
Today, around 10% of the population lives with impairments that may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or combined.
It is a very diverse group of people with different needs, but often people with disabilities are viewed as “the same”, while their needs are not properly attended; for instance, it is still not uncommon for people to believe that a person with a physical impairment has an intellectual impairment as well.
People with disabilities also experience other forms of prejudice and social challenges. For instance, a woman with impairment can also experience situations of harassment or abuse and find herself in a more dangerous position than a woman without impairment, because it may be more difficult to report the situation. A black person with a disability may experience a more severe expression of racism. LGBTQIA+ people with disabilities potentially face more severe ostracization and aggression.
Communities are growing everywhere, but there is a lot to be done, and there is a lot more to be understood.
Assistive technology has developed and software has been launched that allows many to have a better quality of life, but technology carries an intrinsic economic and social barrier.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been adopted at the United Nations in 2006, “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”; it opened for signatures in March 2007, and it had the highest number of signatures in history of a UN convention on its opening day. It currently has 161 signatories and 177 parties. However, the convention is far from being fully enforced; for instance, the world report on disability indicates that half of all disabled people cannot afford health care, compared to a third of abled people.
People with disabilities should have as many chances as any other person to live fully and with dignity. It is up for public policies, but also to everyone else, to make sure these chances are real.
What can we all do to make it happen?
That’s what we want to find out with our DisLabeled Series.
In this series, we will publish interviews, stories and a video of people with special needs; we will try to understand their stories, their needs, their differences, and portray what is always beyond the disability: a person.