Disability Rights, Identities, and Narratives

Photo: By NC 2.0/USAID U.S

Disability rights is an increasingly important issue in our society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in four people in this country have a disability. With such a large segment of our population facing a type of disability, it is crucial for the expansion and protection of disability rights. One way in which support for people with disabilities (PwD) can be increased is through the sharing of personal narratives of the experiences and lives of individuals with a disability. Narratives help to educate the public and prevent unintentional bias or stereotypes from causing harm to this community. Giving an individual with a disability an opportunity to open up and share their stories will help empower many of our friends, families, and neighbors and show that every single member of society matters and is appreciated.

Personal narratives are a great way to bridge the gap and inform the general population about disability issues. Oftentimes what people know about disabilities stems from limited education in schools or medical commercials. These outlets tend to focus on statistics and don’t address the issue on a personal level because most of the times they are not consulting an individual with a disability. Even though one in 4 people in this country have a disability, people lack a personal connection that allows them to fully understand the discrimination and ignorance that a person with a disability faces. In fact, it is common for individuals with a disability to have stories where people have stared at them, gawked at them, pointed at them, laughed at them, or even flat out harassed them in public. In all of these cases, PwD are not treated like normal people and are often made to feel ostracized. This disconnect needs to change and this mistreatment of people with disabilities needs to end. If people hear these stories from the viewpoint of a disabled person, then a personal connection is far easier to establish.

A personal connection between both communities is crucial. Empathy and understanding are needed to end fear and uncomfortable feelings when engaging with people with disabilities. It is important for people to realize that disabilities aren’t diseases you can catch. In fact, PwD pose no risk whatsoever to those around them. Listening to PwD talk about their conditions, lives, and how they overcome their disabilities to live a fulfilling life dispels all rumors and falsehoods about disabilities. Stereotypes and prejudice disappear when people see that disabled people are just like them and that disabilities do not define an individual. Each PwD has their own unique identity that is not affected by their disability.

To combat the lack of understanding, misinformation, and stereotypes about PwD and diminish the gap that exists between both communities. It is important to create a safe place for this community. A safe place is an environment where PwD feel comfortable enough to express themselves and share their stories without any fear of judgment or repercussions. Such an environment would make them feel normal and not different from the people around them. It is high time that disabilities were normalized and that PwD are given the same treatment as anyone else. Creating a PwD inclusive space allows the PwD community to strengthen. The benefit of this is that it lets PwD not only advocate for themselves but also to advocate for other people in their community so they might not have to go through the same prejudices.

To create this safe place for PwD it is imperative to promote representation and educate people about individuals with disabilities so that disabilities are normalized in the public eye. Increasing the population’s amount of interaction with PwD is not difficult and is much needed. The earlier this takes place, the better. If society’s youth is brought up surrounded by their peers with disabilities, it would allow both communities to learn a lot from each other. Teaching younger generations how to interact with PwD is a good place to start. Treating these lessons like any other instance where you would educate a younger person about manners and social cues can prevent a lot of uncomfortable situations for people with disabilities. It can also prevent harmful biases from growing in a young child’s mind since their exposure and prior knowledge makes them understand that individuals with disabilities are humans too.

Often times, disability policies have typically been developed for people with disabilities without their direct participation. An element to creating a better environment for people with disabilities is to ensure that they are active in all sectors of the economy. It is a great thing that most public areas are now required to be accessible to PwD. The use of ramps, elevators, sloping curbs, lifts for public transportation, and other methods are required by law to ensure that PwD can navigate through their everyday lives regardless of movement impairments. However, even though these fixtures for creating a more accessible space is mandated by the law, there are many instances where there is only one wheelchair accessible table at a restaurant, or a ramp inconveniently located at the backside of an establishment.  It is not only about making space accessible, it is also about how conveniently these resources are accessible to PwD. The reason that disability friendly spaces are sometimes difficult to come by is that people with disabilities are often not the ones designing these spaces. However, having a person with a disability as someone in charge or as a consultant for these issues can help the ball get rolling. So far society has expected people with disabilities to modify themselves to fit in, but having society bend the rules to accommodate people with disabilities can be beneficial to the growth of this community. Therefore, having people with disabilities in charge and active in leadership roles can spearhead this campaign.

Representation is incredibly important for people with disabilities. The marginalization and ostracism of people with disabilities severely hinder their representation in media and pop culture. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the United States. Yet, the 2017-2018 GLAAD report (report that analyzes diversity in television) found that only 1.8% of characters have a disability making them the least represented minority group in the TV industry. Representation shows the disabled community that they are welcome and belong just as much as any other community.  Representation is not only about quantity, but also about being represented accurately without perpetuating any negative stereotypes. More often than not, people with disabilities are depicted in TV shows and movies as these characters that are trying to overcome their disability. It would be more appropriate to show these characters embracing themselves and having a purpose bigger than overcoming their disability. This supports the argument for having more individuals with disabilities as writers, directors, producers, or media consultants. When someone without a disability creates media from the perspective of an individual with a disability, they struggle to paint a truthful picture. This may cause someone without a disability to make assumptions and maintain stereotypes. Having better quality and quantity of disability representation will expose the population to more realistic experiences of individuals with disabilities. This can help generate truthful interchange between communities.

A simple change in the public’s perception of disabled individuals would go a long way in accomplishing the goal of increasing rights and opportunities for PwD. If people can see past the disabilities and focus on the person, then most of the discrimination, awkward moments, and harmful stereotypes facing the disabled community can be resolved. Both communities advocating for change will allow greater access and accommodations for disabled individuals to pursue higher education, enter the workforce, and engage in public events and venues. People need to learn how to respect the rights of these individuals and help them when needed. It is essential to campaign and use powerful narratives to enact greater protections and rights to this community of people. Effectively normalizing disability by tackling these issues head-on can lead to widespread positive changes.

 

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Book Review: Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

February is Black History Month. For the next few posts, I will review books by Black women who provide insight into the Black experience.

a photo of the book Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston
Source: Ajanet Rountree

Zora Neale Hurston (ZNH) was a cultural anthropologist. With her very being, Hurston occupied a space of protest of the normative within the field of anthropology as she traversed through society and academia as a Black woman from the South. The intersectionality of her life may remain lost on some; however, it is essential to understanding her as an ethnographer, folklorist, and local colorist. She studied under Franz Boas alongside Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, but there is often an exclusion of her work. When listing the cohort of the generations of anthropologists or ethnographers, ZNH is often not among those listed, as the categories for her work are The Harlem Renaissance, folklore, or African American literature. To Boas, ZNH was an anthropologist who, through the application of anthropological methods and techniques, gave insight into Black life in a way no White person could do. In this way, she achieves “racial vindication” and qualitative results through the application of anthropological methods like observation and participation, unstructured interviews, and ethnographic data collection.

Barracoon is the oral history of Cudjo Lewis—or Oluale Kossola–the only living African “cargo” of the slave ship, Clotilda. Kossola was not born into enslavement. He was sold and captured from Dahomey (presently Benin) and brought to Mobile Bay in Alabama. His testimony offers a completely new perspective and firsthand account of colonization. Hurston first reveals insight into her reflexive research on Kossola’s life and story in her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. “One thing impressed me strongly…The white people had held my people in slavery here in America. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people bought me. That did away with the folklore I had been brought up on. It was a sobering thought” (164-8). Employing her trademark of writing phonetically, ZNH allows Kossola to tell his story in his language and style, rarely interrupting his stream of consciousness. This methodology would later become known as emic ethnography. Spending three months in one-on-one interviews solely with Kossola, a Yoruba by birth and a resident of Affriky town, she learns about his life in Africa, his survival of the Middle Passage and enslavement, and his life as a ‘free’ man.

Oluale Kossola was a man to many, but to others, he was an exploit of their contrabanded flesh: “’the black ivory,’ ‘the coin of Africa,’ had no market value.” He and the other enslaved were “Africa’s ambassadors to the New World,” sold as “brisk trade” by the King of Dahomey (5-9). Although she refers to him by his American name, Cudjo, throughout the book, ZNH makes a point to state that upon her initial reunification with him, “I hailed him by his African name as I walked up to the steps of his porch.” As his eyes filled with joyful tears, he exclaimed,

Oh Lor’, I know it you call my name. Nobody don’t callee me my name from cross de water but you. You always callee me Kossula, jus’ lak I in de Affica soil” (17).

By the time ZNH sits down with Cudjo, he is the only one left and finds himself surprised and moved that someone would want to learn about his life. Hurston writes that she told him that she wanted to know all about him, to which he responded:

“Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in the Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’ I want you everywhere you go to tell everybody whut Cudjo say, and how come I in Americky soil since de 1859 and never see my people no mo’. I can’t talkee plain, you unnerstand me, but I calls it word by word for you so it won’t be too crooked for you. My name, is not Cudjo Lewis. It Kossula. When I gittee in Americky soil, Mr. Jim Meaher he try callee my name, but it too long, you unnerstand me, so I say, ‘Well, I yo’ property?’ He say, ‘Yeah.’ Den I say, ‘You callee me Cudjo. Dat do.’ But in Affricky soil my mama she name me Kossula” (19-20).

a photo of a barracoon
barracoon. Source: Creative Commons

Kossola’s narrative differs from the account of Olaudah Equiano and the former slave narratives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Booker T. Washington. Additionally, it is unlike the ethnographic work of Eatonville, Florida as written about in Mules and Men and her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Scholars Natalie S. Robertson and Sylviane A. Diouf provide extensive supportive evidence about the 1927-28 anthropological research of ZNH, the Clotilda and the establishment of Africa town in Alabama in their respective books, The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA and Dreams of Africa in Alabama. Although both books preceded Barracoon’s 2018 publication, they build upon the foundation laid and the way paved for by ZNH, even mentioning current residents of Africatown who met her during the visit. Robertson accurately identifies Kossula as a griot or native African storyteller, trusted to keep and share the stories of tribes over generations. There is “genius that is contained in oral tradition as chroniclers of phenomena and as vehicles for education in Africa…without dependency on written records. Because Cudjo hailed from West Africans who are masters of the spoken word, it was not difficult for him, even as a nonagenarian, to recall the circumstances that led to his capture and forced migration to Alabama” (9). As Diouf points out, slave and former slave narratives reveal what life was like during and after enslavement but the narrative of Clotilda survivors like Kossola “represents a unique group of people who grew up free, spent the majority of their years in bondage during the Civil War, and soon became free again.” Their perspectives also reveal the parts of African culture that adapted, sustained them and continued to unify them (4).

In her signature way, ZNH accomplishes several things with this book. First, she continually restores the humanity that enslavement and separation from Africa stripped away. With the one action of calling him by his African name, she imparted both his personal and cultural identity. By transcribing his narrative in his dialect, she maintains his character and dignity. Second, she allows Kossula to tell his story. Oral history and narrations are cultural and personal heritage. Kossula was the last survivor of the Clotilda; therefore, if ZNH had not traveled to Africatown when she did, this one-of-a-kind perspective might not have been told. Third, she does not gloss over or shy away from the brutality of colonization and the dehumanization that comes with the financial trading of human beings and comes to identify with him. As echoed in Dust Tracks, “Truth is a letter from courage” (31). Regardless of her role as an anthropologist and observer, she finds herself drawn in and experiencing his pain, tragedy, and joy. It is for these reasons that Boas concluded that the work of ZNH contributed to the “knowledge of the true inner life of the Negro” because she was not only a student of history but could “enter into the homely life of the southern Negro as one of them and was fully accepted” (xiii-xiv).

Hurston could have selected any group of people to study, anywhere in the U.S. or world, yet, she chose to return home and study the people she knew and the town she loved. In doing this, ZNH gave value and voice to the “inferior”—people who shared the same skin color and occupied the same category of within the social construction. She reflexively offers a distinct perspective on Blackness because she was Black and studied Black people to know herself more and to debunk the myths and stereotypes about who Black people were, how they arrived here, how they live and continue to live.

 

Additional resources include African American Pioneers in Anthropology and The History of White People

Disability Rights, Health, and Medicine

Disability Symbols. Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

What is a disability?

“A disability is a condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the individual to do certain activities and interact with the world around them.”

Approximately one in five adults in the United States has some type of disability. There are numerous types of disabilities that impact people’s daily lives through sight, movement, learning, or communication, although there are many others. Furthermore, even if two people have the same disability that doesn’t mean they are impacted the same way. Thus, individuals who have a disability do not consist of one general population, but instead a diverse population with various needs. Now the focus is more on how the word disability refers to the three components mentioned in the next paragraph and how there are numerous factors that go into having a disability.

The World Health Organization created the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF). The ICF introduces the word disability into three main categories that are impairment, activity limitation, and participation restrictions. The term disability and impairment do not mean the same thing. Before the 1970s, the common view was that a disability is measured by whether or not an individual has an impairment or a health condition. In the 1970s there was the disability rights movement, which geared people away from this medical view. However, many people still focus on the more traditional, medical model of disability.

Disability and Health

Those with disabilities tend to face health care disparities such as less access to adequate care, both in terms of promoting health and preventing diseases. Some people even go as far as labeling those with disabilities as a medically underserved population. There has been some research on how people with disabilities usually have a lower quality of health and are more likely to experience secondary conditions. Some examples of the health disparities include not having interpreters during medical examinations, adults with developmental disabilities being at risk for secondary conditions such as obesity, seizures, and cardiovascular disease, and women who have disabilities are less likely to get Pap tests and mammograms. Furthermore, some other issues include misconceptions and stigmas surrounding the word disability, shortage of suitable training, lack of proper medical equipment and facilities, lack of accessibility, and little to no individualized accommodations.

Disability Rights. Flickr: Féin, Creative Commons.

The Stigma

While there are medical advances over the years in regards to individuals with disabilities, there is a stigma surrounding people with disabilities. They tend to be seen as individuals incapable of making decisions or helpless. There are implicit or even unconscious biases against individuals who have a disability. Furthermore, there are several articles on how the medical community treats those with disabilities as having less value than non-disabled people. The medical interpretation of a disability is viewed as a pathological disorder and so this perspective focuses on how one can treat or cure it, rather than a social problem. In contrast to the medical model, there is the social model of disability, which focuses on how disability is formed from a social situation or construct, rather than a person’s characteristics. This viewpoint focuses on dividing impairment from disability, rather than recognizing that one is a component of the other.

The National Council on Disability says, “people with disabilities comprise the largest and most important health care consumer group in the United States, yet the Institute of Medicine and others have warned that Federal agencies, policymakers, and health care systems have not yet responded to the broad-ranging implications, for individuals, and for society, of the demographic increase in disability as the population ages.”

Health Insurance

Another barrier is that people with disabilities tend to lack health insurance or adequate coverage for healthcare. The National Council on Disability conducted research and found that few health care training programs address disability issues in their curriculum and most federally funded health disparities research do not look at people with a disability as a disparity population. Furthermore, while Medicaid and Medicare cover some people with disabilities, these programs do not cover those who have private insurance. Private group plan insurances are usually given through employers; however, not all employers offer health insurance and not all people who have disabilities are working. Those who have private group plans through their employer are required to cover basic care for the average working population. Medical equipment such as wheelchairs, ventilators, and crutches are limited in terms of annual payments.

Individual plans charge higher premiums to individuals with disabilities. Persons with emotional disabilities consist of those most uninsured, closely followed by persons with visual or hearing disabilities.

The three key elements of health care insurance are availability, affordability, and coverage for critical benefits. Important benefits can include long-term care, mental health, and medications. There have been national surveys that found people with disabilities have a hard time figuring out the insurance system, visiting specialists, and obtaining medical equipment that is durable. Additionally, numerous essential health care services can be out of their budget, meaning that they go without certain things because they simply cannot afford it.

According to the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, “estimates suggest that these factors obstruct or delay care for as many as 30 – 50 percent of adults with disabilities.”

The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a national survey that found, “health insurance is inadequate for more than one in three people with disabilities who reported delaying care, skipping medication, or going without needed equipment because of cost.”

Accessibility

Accessibility can be broken down into many different components. The two main sections to focus on are communication and physical access.

Physical barriers are objects that are either natural or manmade that hinder or block mobility or access. These barriers can include inadequate transportation, accessibility to the facility and offices, and lack of accessible exams. Something as simple as getting a mammogram exam can provide numerous difficulties because the mammogram machine cannot adjust for height or health professionals are not adequately trained for lifting assistance. Thus, some health professionals conduct exams while patients are in their wheelchairs, which can yield inaccurate results. Other physical barriers include parking at the medical facility, entering the building, and the bathroom facilities, making it more difficult for someone with a disability to receive proper care.

Proper communication and education are required to make a change. Individuals with disabilities should feel they can discuss their challenges without fearing discrimination, while, those in the healthcare field should appropriately discuss, support, and address the challenges people with disabilities face. Research shows there is a lack of awareness and inadequate instruction among health care providers. For example in Connecticut, “91% of primary care physicians said they had no training in intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Without proper training, people tend to make assumptions about people with disabilities and often times they are incorrect. Some stereotypes include thinking that those with developmental disabilities cannot feel pain so they do not need anesthesia, people who are deaf have problems with their cognitive functioning because they are not fluent in standard English, or women who have disabilities do not need reproductive care because they are assumed to be sexually inactive. Making assumptions is not only harmful to the health of the patient but also it undermines who they are as a person. This can lead to damaging the patient-provider trust and provoke people with disabilities to not even bother to seek care. Ultimately, having access to appropriate health care can prevent new health conditions and could possibly stop current health conditions to worsen. In order to be effective and efficient, health care must be inclusive and accessible.

 

Keep up with the latest announcements related to the upcoming Symposium on Disability Rights by following the IHR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

At the Intersection of Disability and Everything Else

Kiribati 2009. A blind man sitting at a Braille machine
Kiribati 2009. Photo: Jodie Gatfield, AusAID. Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Creative Commons.

When someone says the word intersectionality, do human rights come to mind? Maybe but probably not. For some people, intersectionality is a just buzzword used by protest movements or the liberal media, while for others is a means of social identification. It is okay if you have never heard of it or do not understand it or know how to define it, you are not alone. Although it is an identifier and has mainstream vernacular usage, scholars like sociologist Patricia Hill Collins acknowledge that intersectionality is challenging to define, and only slightly easier to identify when recognized. Hill Collins asserts that “scholars and practitioners think they know intersectionality when they see it. More importantly, they conceptualize intersectionality in dramatically different ways when they use it.” Thus, an essential aspect of societal understanding and identification of intersectionality is our knowledge of its dependent relationship to power and inequity. Intersectionality must have a subject (a person or group of people) that experiences inequality (subjugation/oppression) because of its/their relation to power (the dominant with the hierarchical structure).

Intersectionality relies heavily on social constructions like race or gender, but not as a singular point of inequality. The term “intersection” demands another point—an interlocking point–of inequality. For example, intersectionality must critically examine the subjugation experienced by a person with blindness who is a Hispanic trans woman as well as a teenage girl who is Arab and a wheelchair user, respectively. Both are members of marginalized populations: ethnicity – Hispanic and Arab, gender/sexuality – a trans woman and teenage girl, and disability – blindness and wheelchair user; therefore, the intersectional analysis must include at least two points of oppression. The and makes the difference. For this to occur effectively, individuals must determine how they will employ intersectionality as a definition, in addition to a research tool.

In her essay, Hill Collins sheds light on three possible frameworks for intersectionality: a field of study that examines both content and themes that might be characteristic, an analytical strategy reliant upon intersectional frameworks to explain the social world, and a form of critical praxis connected to social justice practice via scholarship. Intersectionality has increased in popularity as society becomes more aware of the work of critical race theorist, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, and with the rise of protest movements. Many people identify Crenshaw as the creator of the term intersectionality, but Black feminist scholars point to Anna Julia Cooper, Audre Lorde, and the Combahee River Collective, among others as describing the concept in their works years and centuries before Crenshaw.

First, as a field of study, intersectionality has positives and negatives. The positives lay in its complementary adaptability with other disciplines and areas of study, yet, it is here that many of the negatives exist as well. Citing Edward Said, Hill Collins notes that “theories can lose their originality and critical stance as they travel from one domain to another” (6). This travel can result in the misrepresentation of the original intent and the exclusion of some scholarship as has happened over time in fields of study like Black feminism.

Second, as an analytical framework, intersectionality must “rethink” constructs, not only as concepts of work and family but violence and identity, and in direct relation to “underutilized” categories of analysis like class and age. It is at this juncture that disability rights activists and scholars demand an increased inclusion. Using Stuart Hall’s theory of articulation, Hill Collins questions how it is possible for two sets of ideas, the expressed and unexpressed, to create the necessary knowledge needed for an intersectional canon (15). Hill Collins questioning aligns with Ellen Samuels’ assertion that disability remains underrecognized as a “legitimate or relevant position from which to address broad subjects” and Michael Berube’s pronouncement that disability must continually battle against gender, race, and sexuality in various areas. Historically, there has been an imbalanced pattern of research due to the heavy focus on the intersections of race and gender; yet, when considering that one in five human beings live with a disability, multiple constraints apply and extend beyond gender and race.

Lastly, as a praxis, intersectionality can contribute perspective by elucidating areas of social inequality as activists and scholars increase their political engagement. Sociologists Hae Yeon Choo and Myra Marx Ferree observe three ways that intersectionality is/can become practiced: group-centered, process-centered, and system-centered. They caution that even in practice, neglect occurs in facets of the intersectional analysis despite best efforts to adequately include, analyze, and identify because as Crenshaw notes, sometimes conflicting political agendas detract from the areas of oppression.

boys with physical disability playing soccer
Soccer – Boys from one of Mumias’ schools for the physically handicapped. Source: Brenda, Creative Commons

The Intersection of Disability and Everything Else

In many societies today, disability, like most categories of marginalization, boxes members as differing from the norm or as the needy and helpless Other. In many ways, disability has become a fetishized difference and a source of ‘inspiration porn’ when foregrounded in the mainstream via social media, television, and movies. What if activists and scholars began to utilize the constellation of knowledge as outlined by Hill Collins and Choo and Ferree through the employment of an analysis of the intersection of disability and everything else? Persons with disabilities are the global majority when accounting for the entire spectrum of disability; thus, we as individuals who make up the collective, have a chance to bring those surviving on the margins into the center of analysis and discussion.

Humanity must begin to see the inclusion of disability as a prerequisite for the dismantling of structural violence and social injustice. Black feminist and lesbian Lorde, in her comments to a New York conference audience, protested that “survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all of our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices” (112-3). If disability replaced either racism or homophobia in Lorde’s quote, how does the level of analysis and research begin to change the conversation surrounding our social understanding of these areas of oppression and subjugation? Intersectionality forces humanity to come to terms with the lack of knowledge about difference while confronting the terror and loathing of difference which lurks inside us as barriers and outside of us as social institutions and societal norms. In whatever form intersectionality finds usage, it is imperative that it remains a tool that dismantles injustice at the personal and political level.

 

**Keep up with the latest announcements related to the upcoming Symposium on Disability Rights by following the IHR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Disability Rights: A Personal Perspective

* This is a repost from summer 2017

Myself signing for my sorority in front of a section of member nation flags on our last day at the United Nations.

“The purpose of the present Convention is 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.” When I was hired by the UAB Institute for Human Rights, I never dreamed that we would take the trip to the United Nations for the 10th Convention of States Parties on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Visiting the United Nations has always been a dream for me, but being able to take part in an international effort to promote disability rights was an unbelievable opportunity to me personally.

Disability has always intersected my life. My sister and I were born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is basically a fancy way of saying that all the connective tissue in our bodies are about as stable as a limp noodle. Because of EDS, chronic pain is just a part of my life. I am unable to run, walk, or jump without a joint in my body threatening to dislocate. I suffer from sleep disorders and chronic fatigue along with a host of gastrointestinal issues. It also affects my heart and my autonomic nervous system; I tend to feel like a walking time bomb of anxiety, heart palpitations, and general malaise all wrapped up in a spaghetti-based body. I have lived my whole life without complaining for the most part. Most people in my life don’t know the extent of my disability, or even about it at all. I keep my pain hidden because I do not want anyone’s pity. I continue physically far beyond what my body’s real limits are because I do not want people to think I am lazy or helpless. It takes too much time to explain my disability to everyone I meet, so I deal with my pain with a smile on my face. This is the reality that most people with disabilities face—a life of “oh, I’m so sorry for you!” when they learn of your disability and “why can’t you do this?” when they do not understand your limits. My struggle as a woman with a disability is the reason why the Convention meant so much to me. Before the Convention, I had never in my life been around more than two people with disabilities or ever felt like anyone truly understood what I was going through. Seeing so many other people with disabilities raising their voices, sharing their pain and suffering, and demanding change gave me hope that one day I will no longer feel like I need to hide my disability.

Photo of the team at lunch at the United Nations.
Photo of the team at lunch at the United Nations.

I have always known that having a disability does not mean you cannot be strong and independent. Not being able to walk for long periods does not make me lazy, and my joint instability does not make me weak. I know these things, but sometimes the able-bodied world undermines these beliefs and makes me feel like I will never be good enough. The champions of disability rights who I met gave me such courage to fight those fears. The utter strength and bravery of these people were so encouraging to someone like me. I could see myself in Daniela Bas, the head of DESA and wheelchair user. Ms. Bas has managed to overcome so many obstacles as a woman with a disability yet constantly dazzles people with her charismatic personality and fierce intellect. Ms. Bas gave her knowledge on the importance of international cooperation in dismantling the cross-cutting barriers faced by women with disabilities. Her policy-based approach and political science background gave me hope that one day I could follow in her footsteps. Ms. Mia Farah, of the Lebanese Association for Self-Advocacy, gave me such encouragement from her passion, skills, and independence as a woman with Down Syndrome. Ms. Farah organized one of the most enjoyable and successful side events I attended, despite the challenges that her intellectual disability can bring. Her story of her successes resonated with me because I have always feared my limitations. Mia Farah showed me that limitations that others place on you because of your disability don’t have to define you.

I not only found inspiration during my time at the UN but a wealth of new knowledge as well. Every individual gave new insight on disability rights that I had never considered before. Natalie Draisin spoke on road safety for women and girls with disabilities, and how unsafe roads and transportation can be fatal—an important issue that many ignore when discussing disability rights. I was touched by the story of Flavia Cintra, a Brazilian journalist, whose doctor told her to abort because he believed that tetraplegics should never have children. Ms. Cintra shared how Brazilian mothers with disabilities often lose custody of their children and have their reproductive rights stolen from them through deceptive paperwork. Some wedding officiators even refuse to marry people paralyzed below the waist because they are believed to be unable to bear children. I never knew any of these issues before speaking with Ms. Cintra. As a reproductive rights activist, Ms. Cintra’s story made me understand the importance of including people with disabilities in our activism. All of the stories and experiences that were shared with me hit deeply and gave me such insight into international policies on disability rights.

Audience view during the side event by IHR and IDPPS teams’ “Making Disability Rights Real: Implementing the CRPD through Regional Cooperation with Lessons Learned from ASEAN.”
Audience view during the side event by IHR and IDPPS teams’ “Making Disability Rights Real: Implementing the CRPD through Regional Cooperation with Lessons Learned from ASEAN.”

The global environment for people with disabilities is harsh, whether one is in Brooklyn, Bogota, or Bangkok. All over the world, people with disabilities deal with compound discrimination, lack of adequate healthcare, limited access to resources, sexual abuse and assault, and the negation of their independence.  Having this opportunity to partake in the implementation of policies on disability rights was genuinely life changing. Viewing the inner workings of the United Nations made me realize that I wanted to make a career in the international nonprofit organizations that work with the UN to effect change. It was incredible to see people from so many different places, all speaking in different languages. I could be listening to a speaker in Chinese, and put on a headset to have it translated live into French, Russian, English, and several more. Watching the sign language interpreters onstage during meetings was so thrilling— not only was it beautiful to watch, it also was critical in making the events accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. These events made me realize how necessary sign language is to have a successful career in advocacy, because the inclusion of nonverbal people is vital. I will always look back on this trip to the United Nations as the moment when I found my calling. As I have always tried to ignore my disability, I had never realized until now how central disability rights are to my life. Being around such fearless role models brought to life a passion to fight for the rights of women and girls with disabilities around the world.

 

Digital Citizenship: The Good, The Bad, & The Role of the Internet

Picture of hand in a web of technological devices
Communication Internet, by Pixabay, Creative Commons

In the early history of democracies, political voting was inherently simple: it was the communication of approval or disapproval of policies, platforms, and so on. Dissention was normal, but the partisan politics we are familiar with today were almost nonexistent. Issues that one politician had with another’s proposal were addressed in a direct, timely manner. In terms of the general public, everyone was essentially getting the same information via the same means – the printed press. This meant everyone was getting the same information at the same time; there may have been differences in interpretations, but everyone was reading the same headline as their neighbor. Today, we have thousands of media vying for our attention on many topics, especially politics. Whether from CNN, MSNBC, NPR, or Fox News, we are bombarded with information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media.

So, how did we abruptly shift from getting news from the same medium to getting news from every angle? The answer is simple: The Internet. The Internet completely transformed how we receive and access all media of information, including political information; politicians can directly speak to voters who then participate in the political arena without leaving their home. Technological advancements in communication play an important role in influencing electoral behavior, easing the accessibility of political information. The Internet makes it easier to find out a candidate’s platform, what they want to work for, and their history. By using the internet in this way, people are engaging in what is now known as “digital citizenship.” A “digital citizen” is one who engages in democratic affairs in conventional ways by using an unconventional medium such as their laptop or smartphone.

The media’s role in elections and politics has grown exponentially since the 1960s. Prior to television, presidential candidates relied on the radio, think of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats, and other interpersonal means to communicate with voters: caucuses, party conventions, town halls, and so on. As technology progressed and television became widely accessible, reliance on interpersonal connections diminished and reliance upon the media grew. Power transitioned from party leaders and bosses to the candidates – as they were able to take control of their campaign, so long as their actions were worthy enough to make headlines. This transfer of power once benefitted only the candidates; however, now the power resides with the media: for they decide what suits their audiences, and who America sees.

This transfer of power greatly impacts our political processes. When politicians are their own bosses, they are able to disregard societal “norms” and use populist rhetoric to enhance their performance in the political realm. Kellener asserts President Trump is the “master of media spectacle”; using populism to make headlines and instill fear into voters more susceptible to fear- and anger-based messaging, he was able to “use the disturbing underside of American politics to mobilize his supporters”.

Picture of various social media icons
Online Internet Icon, Pixaby, Creative Commons

The Good

ISTE.org layers the ‘digital’ components onto the definition of a conventional good citizen:

A good citizen… A good digital citizen…
Advocates for equal human rights for all Advocates for equal digital rights for all
Treats others with respect Seeks to understand all perspectives

Does not steal or damage others’ property

Respects digital privacy, intellectual property, and other rights of people online
Communicates clearly, respectfully, and with empathy Communicates and acts with empathy for others’ humanity via digital channels
Speaks honestly and does not repeat unsubstantiated rumors Applies critical thinking to all online sources, including fake news or advertisements
Works to make the world a better place Leverages technology to advocate for and advance social causes
Protects self and others from harm Is mindful of physical, emotional, and mental health while using digital tools
Teams up with others on community projects Leverages digital tools to collaborate with others
Projects a positive self-image Understands the permanence of the digital world and proactively manages digital identity

All of the characteristics of a “good digital citizen” may be applied to participating in democracy via the Internet. If everyone had access to the internet, more people would be able to register to vote as well as discussing and engaging in the political arena. If we seek to understand more perspectives, we could combat the political “bubbles” that we either choose to live in or are placed into by Facebook filtering your newsfeed depending on your online habits. If we used technology to advocate for social causes such as voter disenfranchisement, we could get more people engaged with our democracy.

Being a “good” digital citizen transcends holding personal values – it includes the pursuit of equality for all. We are lucky enough to live in a country where digital citizenship is accessible for most, but we are doing no justice by those who cannot access it by not utilizing this new form of citizenship.

 

The Bad

The era of digital citizenship is a result of the rapid spread in access to the Internet. If you have access to the Internet in America, you have the opportunity to register to vote (given that you meet the proper requirements set by your state), to research political platforms and to engage with others to discuss politics. Political participation (not exclusive to voting) has increased – people are engaging more in more discussions on every form of media; however, these discussions may not always be beneficial or productive. Kurst says, due to our emotionally charged atmosphere in the US, it is very easy (and very typical) for conversations surrounding politics escalate to attacks on opposing values. It is easy to rely strictly on what you are told from your favorite news source or directly from a politician and regurgitate the rhetoric, but it is vital to our unity as a society to fact check your information, and respectfully listen to the “other side.”

In today’s political climate, virtually everything is politicized – including our social media. We live in our “red bubbles” or “blue bubbles” and disassociate from anyone who may be on the other side. Thompson argues this is normal; we seek homogeneity in our marriages, workplaces, neighborhoods, and peer groups. However, when it comes to politics and the Internet, we are allowed to pretend like those without similar interests do not exist. When we ostracize a group of people and those people feel as though they are not being represented, we see members of the Republican party proclaiming they are the “silent majority,” which was a galvanizing force behind their voter turnout in 2016. By devaluing another side’s beliefs, we are dehumanizing those who hold them. This causes anger, frustration, and retaliation – all of which that may take place in the digital or physical realms. We cannot abandon our fellow Americans simply because we disagree; we have to realize the differences we have are much less than the commonalities we share.

The polarization of the two parties in America today discredits many media outlets. 47% of conservatives said they get their news exclusively from Fox News; while liberals get theirs from a more diverse set of news. Conservatives and liberals alike see anything that does not reflect their values as “biased”, in fact, members of society gravitate to information that reaffirms their beliefs and intentionally avoid information that contradicts said beliefs, according to Drs. Rouhana and Bar-Tal. This creates a biased interpretation of the news – information that is consistent with already-held beliefs are interpreted as fact and support for whichever side of the argument the reader/viewer ascribes to. As a result, Americans question the validity of news sources that contradict that of their personal beliefs. The crossroads of political polarization and declining trust in our media outlets is where fake news exists. Truth has become a relative term and is often manipulated by an ideology, not fact.

How can we fix the political polarization tearing at the social fabric of American society? Establishing trust “across the aisle” seems like a hopeless cause in today’s America. When asked how to “pop” the political bubbles we live in, Gerson claims, “[the] cause is not hopeless, because the power of words to shape the human spirit is undeniable. These can be words that belittle, diminish and deceive. Or they can ring down the ages about human dignity. They can also allow us, for a moment, to enter the experiences of others and widen, just a bit, the aperture of our understanding. On the success of this calling much else depends.”  The solution to diminishing this polarization is to listen – listen and realize the other person you are disagreeing with possess the same humanity you do, and this humanity should be respected.

@ symbol with American symbols
News Internet, by Max Pixel, Creative Commons

Digital Citizenship and Human Rights

Marginalized populations have always struggled to get their voices heard. Without active engagement in democracy, minorities struggle to achieve full citizenship. The Internet and digital citizenship have worked together to diminish this obstacle faced by minorities. Social movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and even the Arab Spring began and spread with the assistance of the Internet. Digital citizenship is linked to creating online communities to which people who struggle “fitting in” with their physical environment can find a home.

Using the Internet, citizens are easily mobilized on issues that concern them, whether domestic or international. They are able to pressure politicians to take actions against human rights violations and assist organizations doing field work where an injustice is present. For example, we are able to donate financially to the organizations making an effort to abolish the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community currently taking place in Chechnya, Russia. By being aware of it and all the other injustices taking place, we are able to assist in the resistance and make a difference in a way we could not have 10 years ago thanks to the Internet.

There are those who choose to not engage in politics in any shape or form, and there are those who use the Internet exclusively for political reasons. Wherever you fall within that spectrum, it is easy to agree that the polarization we have in America today is an issue that needs proper attention. It starts at the individual level: listening to what others who are different have to say, diversifying your news sources, and being open to disagreement. We must break out of our “bubbles” and not allow the influence of the Internet to shape our values for us.

Election Day 2018: A Win for Human Rights

by Pam Zuber

a voter registration table
Voter Registration. Source: Wikicommons.

“That’s how we can end this dangerous cycle — by making sure that every single person we know makes their voice heard, in this election and in every election. Because when we all vote, we all do better.” –Michelle Obama, Shondaland, 2018

On November 6, 2018, we did do better in many areas. That’s because it was the day of the midterm election, a day that featured elections in several U.S. states. Voters in many of these states voted for proposals and candidates that promoted human rights and represented advancement. A few of the highlights:

Florida

Voters in the Sunshine State approved Proposal 4, a measure that will restore voting privileges to people who have completed serving their sentences for felonies that don’t include murders or felonious sexual assault. This measure is expected to restore the voting rights of more than one million Floridians. A significant number of these Florida residents are minorities. According to Vox, “In 2016, more than 418,000 black people out of a black voting-age population of more than 2.3 million, or 17.9 percent of potential black voters in Florida, had finished sentences but couldn’t vote due to a felony record.” Florida’s Proposal 4 thus will enfranchise people and create a voting pool that more accurately reflects the population of the state. Such voters might elect candidates and approve measures that resemble their lives and their desires, which could make the state more of representational democracy.

Colorado 

Did you know that slavery is a punishment that is still legal in federal prisons? Slavery as a punishment is also legal in the constitutions of many U.S. states. But, this won’t be the case in Colorado. On November 6, 2018, voters in that state approved Amendment A, a proposal that would include language that bans slavery in its state constitution, two years after a similar proposal failed in the state. While banning all slavery for all reasons on both the state and the federal levels would obviously be a more humane and empowering decision, banning language that forbids slavery is a good first step. A small step, to be sure, but still a step in the right direction.

New York

Midterm elections in other states featured candidates who are sympathetic to human rights. New York voters elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the U.S. House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez is a woman of Puerto Rican descent and a self-described socialist whose platform endorsed criminal justice and immigration reform, expanded Medicare health coverage, gun control, LGBTIA+ and women’s rights, the promotion of peace, and support for senior citizens and Puerto Rico. Ocasio-Cortez stunned her home state and the nation when she defeated longtime Congressional representative Joe Crowley in the New York Democratic primary in June 2018. The representative’s political views thus place her in the company of fellow progressives such as independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. This means it also places her in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump. The 2018 midterm election gave Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow Democrats a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, retained a Republican majority, and the presidential administration is also Republican. Will these different political perspectives lead to bipartisanship? Conflict? How will they affect the politics and governance of the country?

Arizona

Arizona’s race for U.S. Senate may have been as interesting as its ultimate results. That’s because the race featured two women running for a Senate seat. Even though the results of the 2018 election means that a record number of women will serve as U.S. senators, this still means that twenty-four women will be U.S. senators. That makes the U.S. Senate 24% women. The population of the entire United States is 50.8% female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women, then, are still underrepresented in the U.S. Senate compared to their overall totals in the general population. Since Arizona’s race featured two female candidates, it represented a more inclusive sort of political race, one that a female was bound to win, no matter what. And the race? It pitted Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Krysten Sinema. McSally also served as the first woman to fly in combat for the U.S. Air Force. Sinema won, receiving approximately 50% of the vote to McNally’s approximately 47.6%.

Georgia

Another new Congressperson, Lucia “Lucy” McBath of Georgia, has supported LGBTIA+ and women’s rights, immigrants, and the Affordable Care Act. Another focus of her work, gun safety, is sadly personal. That’s because, in 2012, a man shot and killed McBath’s unarmed seventeen-year-old son, Jordan Davis, arguing that the teen was playing music too loudly. The first trial for the crime ended in a mistrial in February 2014 after juror disagreements. After a second trial later that year, Davis’s murderer, Michael Dunn, was convicted and received a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole. Her son’s death and further tragedies such as a 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school led McBath to become what she calls a reluctant activist and prompted her to run for office. McBath supports a host of gun safety measures, such as raising the age requirement to purchase firearms and banning weapon access for people convicted of domestic abuse.

Michigan

Women swept the top executive seats in the state of Michigan. Voters elected Gretchen Whitmer as governor, Dana Nessel as the attorney general, and Jocelyn Benson as the secretary of state. Openly gay Nessel also gained fame as the attorney in the case that legalized gay marriage and adoption in Michigan and helped pave the way for marriage equality in the nation. Whitmer, Nessel, and Benson joined Debbie Stabenow, who held her position as one of Michigan’s U.S. senators. They also join newly elected Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan attorney and civil rights advocate who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (newly elected Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was the other). Michigan voters also approved proposals that could impact state politics in the future. Proposal 2 was a measure that will establish a board of political party members and independent voters that will create legislative maps. This measure hopes to fight gerrymandering, the practice of creating maps to produce voter patterns that are favorable to specific political parties. Another voter-approved measure, Proposal 3, aims to make voting easier and fairer by making absentee ballots more available, automatically registering voters at state government offices, and enacting other measures.

a screenshot of 116th House of Representatives
More women in Congress. Source: FolsomNatural, Creative Commons

Voters chose more diversity

Many other states elected women. In fact, so many women won their races that there will be a record number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Two of these women are New Mexico’s Deb Haaland and Kansas’s Sharice Davids, who became the first female Native American members of the House of Representatives. Haaland, in fact, is a thirty-fifth generation New Mexican. 

This surge of female power isn’t just confined to the legislative and executive branches. Nineteen black women campaigned to become judges in Harris County, Texas in 2018. All nineteen will serve as judges. Their campaigns have been dubbed Black Girl Magic and are emblematic of the growing power of African American women in political affairs. Observers hope that the Harris County judges will bring their diverse experiences to represent and work with the people of their area.

Speaking of diverse life experiences, U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is a woman, a Muslim, and a refugee from Somalia. She wears hijabs, headscarves that some Muslim women wear, which has prompted members of the U.S. Congress to reconsider the legislative body’s ban on head coverings. Her experience as an immigrant could be crucial in shaping or fighting legislation relating to immigration and asylum in the coming years.

More members of the LGBTIA+ community are also running for and holding office. U.S. congressperson Sharice Davids and Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel are lesbians, and Colorado’s Jared Polis became the first openly gay man elected governor of a U.S. state. Previously, he was the first openly gay man elected to the U.S. Congress. And, although Christine Hallquist did not become Vermont’s governor, she did make history as “the first openly transgender gubernatorial candidate in the nation’s history,” according to Politico.

This is not to say that the results of the 2018 midterm election entirely supported inclusion and human rights. Alabama and West Virginia both approved measures that restrict abortions. Mississippi voters elected a senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, who said she’d attend a public hanging in her enthusiasm for a supporter. Since Hyde-Smith’s competitor was an African American man, the senator-elect’s comments recalled the horror and ugliness of racially motivated lynchings in Mississippi and elsewhere in the nation.

But, even despite these developments, the election elected candidates from many different backgrounds with many different experiences and perspectives. It supported measures that aim to make life more inclusive for more U.S. residents. It approved candidates and measures that represent voters, acknowledge them, and give them agency. Michelle Obama was right. People who vote are broadcasting their voices. They’re working to help make life better for themselves, their fellow citizens, and future generations.

 

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor who has written about a wide variety of topics, including physical and mental health, addiction, human rights, and gender.

The History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

UN Flag
Flag of the United Nations, paixland, Creative Commons

The conception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gave birth to human rights as they are known today. Adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the UDHR was a response to the atrocities that took place during World War II. As half the globe laid in ruin and millions of lives were taken, a dormant side of humanity seemed to reawaken within the world powers, and an international prioritization of human rights emerged. The UDHR, comprised of 30 Articles defining human rights, was an expression of humanity’s resurgence, as well as an international commitment to never allow such monstrous acts to take place again.

Those tasked with composing the UDHR were members of the Commission on Human Rights, chaired by the dynamic Eleanor Roosevelt, who served as First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945. Roosevelt transformed the role of the First Lady by using her position as a platform for social activism in women’s rights, African-American rights, and Depression-era workers’ rights. After her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, died in 1945, she was appointed to be the US Delegate to the UN and served in this role for 7 years. It was her experience and passion for social activism that prepared the widow Roosevelt to Chair the commission responsible for creating the UDHR. Roosevelt asserted the Declaration would reflect more than Western ideas; to accomplish this, the Human Rights Commission was made up of members from various cultural and legal backgrounds from all around the world, showing respect for differing cultures and their customs while also ensuring each region had a hand in creating the document. Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the diverse commission was able to craft the UDHR in a unique and culturally-competent way.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt, Kevin Borland, Creative Commons

The UDHR was the first document in history to explicitly define what individual rights are and how they must be protected. The Preamble of the document outlines the rights of all human beings:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people…

Thus, for the first time in history, human rights were assembled and codified into a single document. The Member States, or sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, came together in agreement to protect and promote these rights. As consequence, the rights have shaped constitutional laws and democratic norms around the world, such as the Human Rights Act of 1998 in Britain and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the United States.

Silhouette of a dove holding an olive branch
Dove Silhouette, Creative Commons

The Commission on Human Rights defined human rights with the conception of the UDHR. By fusing dignity, fairness, equality, respect, and independence, the UN defines human rights as:

rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.  Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

Human rights are the cross-cutting theme within every UN agency. They have inspired the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are goals to “provide peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” These planet-, urbanization-, and group-focused goals substantially contribute to the realization of human rights, as the human rights-based approach to development stipulates development is conducive to the promotion of human rights.  In the ideal sense, human rights are a guiding force toward living in global harmony, and through the promotion of the basic rights bestowed by the UDHR, the world has made strides toward achieving that harmony.

 

Human Rights Day 2018

Word Cloud. Source: Universal Rights, Creative Commons

How It All Began

Human Rights Day is celebrated worldwide on December 10, originating on the day the United Nations formally approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  This year is their 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares everyone has basic rights, regardless of their nationality, social origin, opinion, etc. It is the most translated document in the world and it appears in over 500 languages. The concept was put into action in 1950 when the United Nations General Assembly invited the States and organizations to approve of declaring December 10 as Human Rights Day. The goal of Human Rights Day is to create a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations: in order to “strive by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance”. Furthermore, the aim is to show people that human rights are relevant to us all, often consisting of conferences, meetings, and events surrounding human rights issues.

How the World Celebrates

Countries and organizations around the world celebrate Human Rights Day differently; however, the end goal is the same – to stand for our rights. The theme has varied from year to year. In 2003, the focus was on “Know Your Human Rights, while the theme in 2010 was on “Speak up, Stop Discrimination”, and, in 2017, the focus was on “standing up for equality, justice, and human dignity”. Not only does the theme differ from year to year, but also what each country focuses on. For example, Senegal concentrated on a blind theatre group, while Pakistan held a human rights film festival. Furthermore, Madagascar created a human rights debate contest and Azerbaijan held a writing and art competition on human rights. Additionally, the impact of social media over the recent years is phenomenal. Last year #HumanRightsDay was the most trending topic in Spain, while it was #3 in the United States. As a result, Facebook created a profile frame for Human Rights Day, while Twitter created a special emoji. In fact, some organizations such as the United Nationals, Amnesty International, and the World Health Organization used Twitter as a platform to create conversations on topics such as immigration, reproductive rights, access to clean water, universal healthcare, and equality among communities of color.

How you can celebrate in Birmingham, AL

Around the world many organizations have events; however, there are ways to get involved with the local community. An example of getting involved among college campuses would be where individuals could work with their respective student government to pass a resolution to observe Human Rights Day. Another possibility would be to work with the Birmingham community and create an event to raise awareness a variety of human rights issues such as environmental justice, domestic violence, and gender equality. There could be performances, lectures, and a discussion to highlight the importance of these pressing issues, among others. Before the event starts, there could be the option of having a tabling event, where people can learn more about different organizations across the Birmingham community associated with different aspects of human rights. Furthermore, people could start a social media campaign through Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Another opportunity would be to have numerous free expression walls, all over Birmingham, where people can write down thing such as what human rights means to them, what human rights issues they were impacted by, or what human rights issue they want to spread awareness on. Ultimately, Human Rights Day is about taking the time to focus on different human rights topics and what it means to stand up for not just our own rights, but for others as well.

Human Rights Day. Source: Flickr, Creative Commons

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1

 

International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2018

Today, December 3, 2018, is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), an observance promoted by the United Nations (UN). This year’s theme, “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” accommodates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’s pledge to “leave no one behind” which envisions sustainable urbanization, namely through a smart-city approach that prioritizes digitalization, clean energy, technologies, and service delivery. Such ambition is salient to persons with disabilities because, above all, achieving these goals will result in communities that are more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

It is argued the main contribution to why persons with disabilities have been excluded from public life is the practice of the medical model of disability (MMD) which embraces the perspective of non-disabled persons, reducing persons with disabilities to dysfunctional people in-need of medical treatment, with emphasis on normative functioning of the body. As a result, persons with disabilities are often assigned a sick role that exempts them from activities and expectations of productivity, leaving them as passive recipients of medical goods and services. These medicalized expectations of normality, restoration, and functional independence can devalue the lived experiences of persons with disabilities, thus inviting discrimination into their daily lives.

On the contrary, the social model of disability (SMD) challenges the knowledge/power differential employed by medical authorities and suggests empowerment for persons with disabilities, ultimately strengthening the patient role and influencing changes in treatment paradigms. Furthermore, the SMD argues that social practices are what disable persons with impairments, placing many persons with disabilities into isolating circumstances and preventing full civil participation. Whether it be employment in Alabama or being a refugee in Kenya, the SMD challenges the MMD by suggesting persons with disabilities are an oppressed group that experiences discrimination and deserving of equal treatment.

On December 13, 2006, the UN adopted the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international agreement which details the rights of persons with disabilities and lists codes for implementation, suggesting both states and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) are to coordinate to fulfill such rights. In the following years, nations spanning the globe have ratified the CRPD, such as Jordan (2008) and Ireland (2018), thus strengthening protections for persons with disabilities. Although the United States is one of the only nations to have yet ratified the CRPD, this international document is largely modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed in 1990, which prohibits discrimination toward persons with disabilities. As a result, we are only seeing the beginning of what is to come for accessibility and inclusion for persons with disabilities, both domestically and globally.

Disabled people celebrate the passage of The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2016 by the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi. Source: Hindustan Times, Creative Commons

 

To commemorate IDPD 2018, the Institute for Human Rights is holding a blog series today that addresses access, inclusion, and representation for persons with disabilities, namely through the influence of media and power of politics.

“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” – George H.W. Bush at the signing of the ADA