Uganda has a controversial history regarding its stance on homosexuality. In 2014, the country passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed harsh penalties on individuals engaging in same-sex activity, including life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also criminalized the promotion of homosexuality and made it a crime to not report homosexual activity to authorities. Recently, policymakers in Uganda have proposed new legislation that would prohibit even identifying as LGBTQ. Parliament passed the new bill in order to crack down on homosexual activities. Gay people living in Uganda face life in prison and even the death penalty. The proposed bill has been widely criticized by human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as many countries around the world.The international community has called on Uganda to respect the human rights of LGBTQ individuals and to repeal the proposed legislation.
Criminalization of Homosexuality
Violations include “aggravated” homosexuality which involves gay sex with people under 18 years old or when a person is HIV positive, according to the law. The penalties are significantly steep resulting in death penalty. Failure to report homosexuality is a crime. As well as making merely identifying as gay illegal for the first time, friends, family and members of the community would have a duty to report individuals in same-sex relationships to the authorities. It bans media from publishing queer advocacy or promoting homosexuality. People found guilty of “grooming” children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities face life in prison. This can include discussing sexuality in classrooms or teaching about same sex relations in sexual education courses.
Impact on Society
The deeply regressive bill endangers gay people who live in Uganda and will have negative repercussions in society. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rightsurged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill calling the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023 “draconian”. The passing of this extremely discriminatory policy will result in families betraying their own, friends turning in friends, and communities turning their back on the LGBTQ. There will be severe psychological and mental effects for queer people in Uganda. They are condemned for simply existing. Legislation like this will only grow the anti-gay sentiment in Uganda making it much more difficult for change. The anti-gay bill will damage Uganda’s international reputation, leading to criticism from the international community and the potential for economic sanctions and aid cuts. The bill has been condemned by many western countries and organizations, including the United States and the United Nations.Overall, the anti-gay bill has had a devastating impact on Uganda’s LGBTQ community, civil society, and international reputation, and has further entrenched discrimination and violence against marginalized groups in the country.
What Can We Do
There are several strategies that can be employed to prevent anti-gay attitudes and actions in Uganda. To start, we must continue to support and organize with LGBTQ organizations in Uganda as well as globally. Education and awareness is key. Activists and advocacy groups cantargetawareness campaigns in schools, universities, and community centers. However, this is not possible without our continues support. NGOs to look into are Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the United Nations, and Human Rights Watch. The international community can exert pressure on the Ugandan government to promote LGBTQ+ rights and to repeal discriminatory laws. This can include diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and other measures. They can also foster support networks and safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals to provide them with a sense of community as well as a means of protection against discrimination and violence.
Human rights are dependent on the environment, and we can address many environmental rights issues to bring about a better world for all those who live on this green and blue planet that we call home. In this sense, environmental rights ARE human rights, and taking a human rights approach to addressing these environmental rights can close the gaps of inequality between the Global North and the Global South countries. I am dedicating a series to deep dive into this human rights approach to environmental rights. We began this series by focusing on how issues around food can be addressed with a human rights approach. This blog will focus on water, another essential need for all living things, and how issues surrounding access to clean water can be addressed with a human rights approach.
Uses of Water
Similar to food, water is also another resource necessary for all living creatures, including humans. Organisms need water to survive and function, even in the driest places on Earth. Humans need water for survival, not just to quench our thirst, but also to cook our food, and clean ourselves and our spaces. To maintain this modern civilization we live in, humans also require water for various industrial purposes, including watering the crops we consume, providing water for the livestock that we make use of, hygienic purposes, and even washing the clothes we wear. In fact, water is required for industrial use as well, including in the clothing and textile industries, mining industries, the process of oil drilling, and many more. Not having access to clean water can cause illnesses, rashes, and even death, both to humans and the organisms that live in areas with unclean water.
Although this planet is made up largely of water, it is a natural resource that is limited. Its limitations come from the fact that 97% of the water found on Earth is contained in the oceans, which are made up of salt water. Saltwater is unsafe for consumption because our kidneys are not capable of filtering all the salt out of the water, and as a result, drinking it can have the opposite effect you want to achieve, including dehydration and eventual death. Only 3% of the water found on Earth is freshwater and safe for consumption. This 3%, therefore, is what is used for all of our personal, industrial, and agricultural needs, and this same 3% also has to be shared with the many creatures we live alongside on this planet. Even still, much of that 3% of fresh water is also frozen in the form of ice caps and glaciers or contained in the atmosphere and soils. So, in reality, we only have about 0.5% of the Earth’s water source for all of our needs and those of our fellow Earth dwellers.
Consequences of Using Unclean Water
The current way we treat our water supplies and our environment can have drastic impacts on our lives, the lives of other organisms, as well as the future of this planet. We have seen what happened in Flint Michigan and Jackson, Mississippi, and the struggles the individuals in those places are going through just to be able to have clean drinking water. For those who are not familiar with these incidents, from 2014 to around 2016, residents in Flint, Michigan were consuming water that was polluted with lead. This occurred due to the negligence and carelessness of the local government, which failed to treat and test the river water. The Flint River, which was the major source of drinking water, was polluted due to the high industrial usage along its coasts and was also polluted by agricultural usage, sewage from the waste plants, and even pollutants from the nearby landfills. This incident caused health issues among the residents, and incredible levels of lead were found in consumers, including the city’s children. Something similar occurred in Jackson, Mississippi, and this issue is ongoing even today. The issues of busted pipes during cold-winter days, and the leakage of sewage among other things, were listed as the cause of the Jackson water crisis. In both these cities, many of the residents are people of color, and this has larger racial implications for the issues of access to clean and fresh water (which will be covered in later parts of this series).
Average Water Consumption
All this does not even include the wasteful nature of water consumption that we in the Western nations have normalized. To put things into perspective, for each minute we spend showering, we are using 2.5 gallons of water. So, for a 10-minute shower, that is 25 gallons of water that are used. Each time we flush the toilet, we use 1.6 gallons of water, with older toilets taking as much as 3.5 gallons a flush (or even 5-7 gallons a flush for toilets made before 1985). When washing clothes in the washer, Americans use over 40 gallons of water per load. Washing dishes by hand uses another 20 gallons of water per load while washing dishes in an efficient dishwasher uses around 4 gallons. This does not include the water that is used to water the lawn, household plants, or other uses like cooking food and cleaning the house.
Negligent Water Practices – Sewage Systems, Bottled Water, and Environmental Water Disasters
Our waterways are not only impacted by chemical leaks and our water consumption but also by the way we process our human wastes and that of our livestock. Agricultural runoffs happen when sediments containing chemicals, bacteria, and manure runoff into the nearby waterways from heavy rains and flooding, causing an increase of nitrogen and phosphorous in the waters. Too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the waters can be very harmful to marine life because these elements cause an increase in algae growth, a process known as eutrophication. This may not seem so bad, but too many algae in the water can block the sunlight and oxygen from reaching the organisms on the bottom layer of the water. This in turn leads to hypoxia, a condition where the oxygen levels in the water decrease and can cause the death of many marine organisms. Similar to agricultural runoffs, human sewage also has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, and any leaks from sewage treatment facilities and other industrial factories that use similar chemicals can further threaten marine biology. For more information about water insecurity in America and how the sewage system exacerbates this issue, click here.
Another wasteful practice we engage in as humans are our production and consumption of bottled water. For one, the process used to make single-use plastic water bottles releases over 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide into the environment every year. Additionally, the process uses 17 million barrels of oil to meet the consumer demands for these plastic bottles. After consumption, the water bottles are rarely recycled, resulting in the addition of 38 billion water bottles to landfills. 10% of all discarded plastics end up in the ocean, a threat to aquatic life. Furthermore, consuming water from plastic bottles comes with its own health consequences, including the bioaccumulation of microplastics in our systems. Many companies also use a type of plastic (#7) that contains bisphenol A (BPA), which has many health concerns associated with them, including diabetes, heart conditions, developmental issues, and fertility issues, and can even lead to cancer. This type of plastic is actually banned in many nations around the world but is still allowed in the US.
In addition to all these issues, the water bottle industry is also a perpetrator of human rights violations, with Aquafina, Dasani, and Nestle, being the largest water bottling companies in the world. Bottling companies transform a free, naturally available resource, into a profit-making commodity. In the process, they are actually harming the water sources in the locations in which their manufacturing and bottling occur, forcing the people that live in those areas to consume bottled water, not as a choice, but as the only source of clean water available to them. For those who cannot afford water bottles, water insecurity becomes a daily reality from which they cannot escape. The insidious part of this issue is the fact that many of these bottling factories exist outside of Western nations, in countries such as India, Fiji, and other underdeveloped nations in which the residents cannot (or do not have the resources) to fight back against these corporations, an approach that can only be characterized as environmental racism. For those factories that do exist within Western nations, they are predominantly located near neighborhoods of color. The CEO of Nestlé faced backlash in 2013 for announcing that water is not a human right, but a product to be privatized and sold. This privatization of water denies these local communities the right to use the resource for their own residential, industrial, and infrastructural use, and further exacerbates their conditions of poverty and water insecurity.
Anthropogenic (caused by humans) activities have caused many of our ecosystem services to be polluted, including our water sources. We as humans have allowed many chemicals to leak into the waterways, sewage, and other waste products to run off into the streams and have done a poor job taking care of our groundwater, aqueducts, and aquafers. There has been recent news of chemicals from the train derailment in Ohio entering the waterways and causing local residents to become sick. Last year, there was a story about the US military leaking jet fuel, contaminating the waterways in Hawaii. Much of the nuclear waste we produce gets stored in containers underground, and these containers cannot hold radioactive waste for too long. At times the contents seep out, polluting the groundwater. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest aquifers that serves much of Central America, has been threatened by the installment of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is an oil pipeline, that if it bursts, can pollute the entire aquifer, contaminating the water used by people across eight states. These are just some of many incidents in that we as humanity have failed to protect our naturally occurring ecosystem services, which, if we had to recreate, would cost us trillions and trillions of dollars.
Water is a Human Right
Along with food, water is also listed as a human right in Article 25 of the UDHR. Although water is considered a renewable resource, it is a limited one. The reason water is considered a renewable resource is because of the water cycle, which is the various steps of a cycle the water goes through, (evaporation, transpiration, condensation, precipitation, and runoff) that recycle the water that we use. Evaporation happens from the major bodies of water, when the heat transforms the liquid water into a gaseous form. Transpiration happens in forests and plants, when water moves through the plant into the atmosphere, to move nutrients and cool the parts of the plants that are exposed to the sun. Condensation occurs when the water evaporated into the air ends up filling up the clouds, changing the water vapors into a liquid form again. Precipitation is what comes next when the collected vapors fall back onto the ground, such as rain, snow, or ice. This precipitation is dispersed in many ways, from the waterways to the land. Finally, runoff refers to the water flow on the surface level, below the surface level, or even into the depths of the Earth. Simply put, runoff is water that has not been soaked into the soil. Yet, while on paper, water seems to be a renewable resource, in practice, water is polluted in many ways. Due to the current human lifestyles, clean water has become a limited resource, and our continued negligence on this subject will only exacerbate this issue.
The Threat of Water Wars and Water as a Human Right
Climate change is impacting everyone around the world, but disproportionately. The Global North benefits from an abundance of resources while the Global South, in many ways due to the history of imperialism, suffers the consequences of the Global North’s actions. Many people in the Global South face water insecurity on a daily basis, and this will only get worse as the Earth continues to warm up. By 2030, many countries in the warmest parts of the world will be uninhabitable. Apart from this, due to the rising temperatures, many of the bodies of water on Earth are drying up, further exacerbating the water issues already present. There are already feuds between China and India over the Brahmaputra River, one of the largest rivers in Asia.
One way to personally address this issue is to be mindful of our water usage. Yet, this alone will not be enough to address this problem on such a large scale. Countries around the world have to come together and find creative solutions to ensure that clean water is made accessible to everyone equally. This can be done through strategies that incorporate green infrastructure. In doing so, the strategies used to address these issues need to be inclusive of everyone, including being respectful of Native Americans and their many uses of water. Additionally, access to clean water does not just mean the ability to have clean water but it should also be affordable, regardless of where you live. In fact, water is one of those essential needs for every human being, and as a result, should be free, or nearly free to everyone. Finally, everyone should be educated on the various uses of water, and the need to maintain its cleanliness.
March 21st marks World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). On this day, events take place worldwide to raise awareness, promote inclusivity, encourage advocacy, and support people with Down syndrome. This day carries a lot of importance for individuals with Down syndrome as it creates a platform for their voice, which is often unheard of. This year’s WDSD focuses on campaigning for the right to legal capacity, with the slogan “With Us Not for Us.” Every year the United Nations holds a conference for WDSD, which will be hosted in New York this year. The goal for each meeting is to identify and speak on key issues that affect people with Down syndrome, call for action, and inclusive policymaking. Since 2011, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) has designated this day to raise awareness about the struggles and successes of individuals with Down syndrome.
History of WDSD
At every WDSD conference, individuals with Down syndrome and other disabilities, activists, and UN and government officials consider different ways to help the Down syndrome community. WDSD gives power and a voice to people with Down syndrome, enabling them to speak on the changes they want and providing guidance to how we collectively, as a global community, can help. Past themes of WDSD have supported inclusion, acceptance, and freedom for all individuals with disabilities. All too often, individuals with any form of disability are deemed unfit or incapable of being independent due to a lack of awareness and understanding, which is why this day is immensely important. Down Syndrome affects 3,000-5,000 newborns every year, which is caused when newborns have an extra copy of chromosome 21. Their struggles begin from the moment they are born. People with Down syndrome are not always accepted, particularly in societies that have strong stigmas against medical problems.
Every year, the WDSD conferences promote different aspects that individuals with Down Syndrome face, this year’s WDSD conference focused on the right to legal capacity and decision-making. People with Down syndrome are often not given the right to make their own life decisions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) protects this right, but the sad reality is that it is often ignored. Legal capacity is critical for people with Down syndrome, as without it, they have no authority to make decisions on:
This is a prevalent issue. Rather than having protection from governments or their families, people with Down syndrome are often considered mentally incompetent and incapable of making their own decisions. Governments and judicial areas within countries are responsible for ensuring that people with Down syndrome have the right to legal capacity and the proper protection and support.
All over the world, people with Down Syndrome are treated unjustly. They are denied proper education, healthcare, and employment opportunities and are often ignored, unable to make decisions about their lives. These struggles are pervasive, affecting developing countries and modern, progressive westernized countries. In 2019, Bassel Dib, a man with Down syndrome, was dismissed from an internationally recognized gym chain, Golds Gym, in Amman, Jordan. He was kicked because the owner did not want someone with a visible disability to ruin the gym’s prestige. The owner is a well-known member of the Jordanian parliament who has been able to get away with discrimination on multiple occasions by leveraging his status and powerful connections within the Jordanian government. Common stigmas and stereotypes surrounding people with Down syndrome prevent them from accessing specific opportunities, places, and decision-making power.
Despite these injustices, there are many inspiring success stories of people with Down syndrome. For instance, Bassel has been able to go to college, compete in the Special Olympics on the Jordanian national team, and now aspires to become a bodybuilder. Sofia Jirau made history as Victoria’s Secret’s first model with Down syndrome. Chelsea Werner, a special Olympic gymnast that has now become a successful model, was a four-time U.S. national championship winner in gymnastics and has modeled on the cover of Vogue and New York Fashion Week. John Tucker, also a man with Down syndrome, starred in the Emmy-winning series “Born This Way.” This series features seven young people with Down syndrome and follows their lives as they look for employment and housing while overcoming societal obstacles. These are just a few success stories of people with Down syndrome. Numerous other achievements exist, from small unknown advancements to big, publicized ones. The important thing is that every single one of them has been able to break societal barriers and achieve their dreams.
What can you do
The most significant problem for people with Down syndrome is the lack of equal opportunities. We can work towards addressing this issue by educating ourselves, our peers, friends, and families. It is crucial to constantly be aware of issues preventing people with Down syndrome from accessing their full independence and power. Together, we can collectively create positive change and ensure that people with Down syndrome are given the same attention, opportunities, and power as everyone else.
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These past few weeks, we have focused on the broader struggles that people with disabilities face in America. We also looked into the American Education system and explored the many obstacles children with disabilities face within it. This was a much-needed topic to explore, yet I recognize the heaviness and feelings of despair that can follow after reading such a blog series. So, in order to provide some hope, as well as meaningful resources to those struggling with these issues, I have compiled a list of local non-profit organizations that focus on providing services to children (and adults) with disabilities and their families. These organizations provide various services, including places to destress and socialize, and range from serving individuals with both physical disabilities and invisible disabilities. Please take a few minutes to look through this blog and find the resources that you or someone you know might benefit from.
Intellectual Disabilities and Neurodivergence
Oftentimes, people with invisible disabilities can be overlooked by their teachers, peers, and community members because their disability is not “obvious”. Many people with intellectual or learning disabilities struggle to have their needs met because people are either dismissive of them or completely refuse their lived experiences altogether. Navigating through life with an invisible disability can be difficult, especially for younger children, but there are resources in the local Birmingham area that can help children with invisible disabilities as well as their caregivers better prepare for their future. Some of the resources below address developmental needs, and workplace readiness, and offer a sense of community for both children and adults with intellectual and learning disabilities, while others focus on people with a range of disabilities of all ages.
Located in two locations, (Southside, and Birmingham), Mitchell’s Place is a non-profit organization that works with children who may be on the autism spectrum. They provide research-based resources for children with disabilities and their family members. For parents and caregivers of children with disabilities, Mitchell’s Place provides education and resources on how to provide the best care for those under their care. They also provide many resources for children, such as helping them develop social skills, helping with feeding, speech, and occupational therapy, providing both psychological and psychiatric resources, and also early learning opportunities for preschool-aged children. Established in 2005 by parents who were unable to find resources for their child with autism, Mitchell’s Place has served over 2500 families and prides itself on being a supporter of diversity, equity, and inclusion. For those interested, their Southside location can be found at 2305 Arlington Rd. Birmingham AL, 35204, and the other one is located at 4778 Overton Rd. Birmingham, AL 35210.
The Arc of Central Alabama
The Arc of Central Alabama (ACA) is another great resource for people of all ages with intellectual and learning disabilities (IDD). Supporting individuals throughout Jefferson County and Blount County, the ACA is Alabama’s largest provider of disability services and prides itself on being the only non-reject program in the state. This means that as long as referrals follow the proper channel, no individual is rejected from being part of the program. A local chapter of The Arc of Alabama and the larger Arc of the United States, the ACA also serves as a crisis center for individuals with IDD, providing a safe space for individuals and their families in times of need. The ACA caters to individuals of all ages, and its various programs focus on these different age groups. Their early intervention programs provide support for infants and toddlers with IDD, along with education and resources for their caretakers and families. Their employment support program trains high school-age students with IDD to help them find better employment opportunities when they are ready to enter the job market. The residential programs focus on providing a safe space for adults of all ages, and a newer adolescent unit has also been created to address the growing needs within the Central Alabama region. Finally, their Community Day programs cater to adults of all ages, providing them with opportunities to socialize and engage with others within their community and develop daily living skills, from balancing their finances to helping with hygienic needs. These programs are tailored to each individual based on their needs, necessities, abilities, and interests. In addition to all these programs, the ACA also empowers its members by providing them with training in advocacy work, focusing on educating the public, following state and federal policies (and funding), and providing them avenues to advocate for their needs and rights. With four locations across Central Alabama – Birmingham, Blountsville, Cleveland, and Irondale – and lifelong opportunities for care and support, the ACA is an accessible and reliable resource for many across this region.
The HANDS program/ the Alabama Autism Assistance Program (AAAP)
Another resource for children with neurodivergent disabilities is the HANDS program, or the Alabama Autism Assistance Program (AAAP). This non-profit organization provides many services, including therapy (both clinical and home sessions), school services, summer programs for early childhood development, and also seasonal services. Their therapy services are individually catered based on assessments of the child’s needs, in which they provide two-hour, one on one sessions by licensed therapists that track the child’s progress to provide the best resources. Their school services provide additional support during the school year in both academics and behavioral areas. Their summer programs provide a structured environment for children to socialize, learn and play with peers and their seasonal services offer support for children interested in sports. For children with disabilities, socializing with peers can be stressful, so having a safe environment to be able to socialize and make friends can help them become more confident individuals in the future.
Alabama Easterseals Society
With over 50 facilities nationwide and 12 facilities throughout Alabama, the Easterseals Society was founded in 1934 to raise funds to provide services to people with disabilities and advocate for their “right to live a normal life.” The organization challenges the narrative around disability as a burden and instead focuses on empowering individuals with disabilities with skills and resources. They have services for pediatric rehabilitation, which include speech therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. They provide services for workforce development, such as career classes which provide training for specific careers, and summer internships to prepare high schoolers for the job market. They also have recreational opportunities, with an emphasis on camping, which can be very therapeutic and great for your mental health. As with the ACA, the Easterseals also have an advocacy element, which spreads awareness about disability rights, supports the passage of legislation centered around disability rights, and provides the space to conduct solution-based workshops within their local communities. They provide additional assistance for elderly people with disabilities, veterans, and caregivers, with both resources and recreational opportunities. Some locations (such as the one in Tuscaloosa) even provide transportation services for those who are unable to drive themselves to work and other places.
Of the many challenges that people with disabilities face, transportation is a key issue. Many people with disabilities who can drive require specially tailored vehicles to fit their needs, while others who are unable to drive have to depend on family members, friends, or community volunteers to help them get from one place to another. Due to the fact that many people with disabilities have to visit their healthcare professionals regularly, this can be especially challenging. ClasTrans, (which stands for Central Alabama’s Specialized Transit) serves people with disabilities within Jefferson and Shelby counties who require transportation to various places, including medical appointments, grocery stores, entertainment venues, and so much more. This service is available for those living in urban and rural areas, and they can plan their trips ahead of time to know exactly what they can expect for the day. ClasTrans drivers also provide riders with assistance during the ride, including boarding the vehicle and transferring into their seats. ClasTrans is available for elderly members and those who are able to verify their disability status. While the services are not for free, their rates are affordable, with one-way trips starting at $4. Regular riders can also purchase fare credits, which they can pay ahead of time to avoid carrying exact change on their person each time they use the service.
Therapeutic and Recreational Opportunities
An organization focused on incorporating Equine Assisted Services for low-income children with disabilities, Red Barn was founded in 2012 to serve the children in their local community. Equine Assisted Services (EAS) is a professional field of collaborative services that incorporate interaction with horses into therapy, learning, and development for children with disabilities. EAS has three areas of focus: Horsemanship, Therapy, and Learning. Horsemanship deals with activities such as learning how to ride a horse, taking care of the horses, and participating in other equine-related sports and activities. These services are conducted by specially trained individuals who are licensed to provide this training. The second focus of EAS, therapy, deals with counseling services, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and speech-language pathology. All these therapy options are equine-based, incorporating interaction with horses and equine discipline within these sessions, which are led by licensed therapists. Finally, their third focus, learning, centers on equine-assisted learning in education (such as learning life skills, academic skills, and character development), organization (such as learning team-building skills, leadership skills, and participating in group activities), and development (such as learning skills pertaining to problem-solving, decision making, critical thinking, and communication). For children with disabilities, learning and developing while caring for horses can be a powerful, healthy way to become strong, independent members of their community. It can help encourage them to explore new avenues of interest and expand their opportunities for employment and life fulfillment.
Founded in 1999, the Exceptional Foundation provides children (and adults) with disabilities with social and recreational opportunities that allow individuals in the Greater Birmingham region to engage with others on a socio-emotional level. At first, the Exceptional Foundation began meeting at the Homewood Park and Recreation Center but later grew to include a gym, office space, youth center, and other spaces to provide recreational opportunities for their members. Today, the Exceptional Foundation has branched out to include much of Alabama and even parts of Georgia, following the same foundations laid out by the Birmingham facility. They offer many afterschool and summer programs for their youth, including sports events (to both participate in and attend), clubs, and other activities to provide enrichment such as art and music lessons. For adults, there are a variety of daily activities that are offered, including cooking classes, dancing lessons, music classes, gym time, art classes, field trips, and many more. While many of the resources listed above focus on advocacy, education, and support, this organization provides the space for entertainment and enjoyment, encouraging a fulfilling lifestyle for its members. For many people with disabilities, recreational activities can be stressful, and opportunities can be rare. Having the space to engage with others and learn together can help improve social skills and life skills, and can foster a sense of community.
Resources for people with multiple disabilities and or sensory disabilities
Established in 1948 by concerned citizens, United Ability began as a place to offer help and resources for people with cerebral palsy. As it grew and expanded, United Ability became a place that offers a full spectrum of services for all people with various disabilities and prides itself as being the place that connects people with disabilities to their larger community.
They provide early learning and early intervention programs for children, that focus on encouraging children to learn, grow, and develop alongside other children, while also providing their families with the help and resources they may need. Additionally, United Ability provides a clinic that focuses on meeting the medical needs of individuals with disabilities, which includes various forms of therapy, evaluations, assessments, and any technical assistance they may need. Furthermore, they also provide adult programs for recreation and enrichment and even offer employment services to adults with disabilities. This includes their United Ability Enterprise, a large umbrella under which many people with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities are employed. The businesses under this umbrella include Gone for Good, an off-site paper shredding company, as well as Outsource Solutions, a company that offers a variety of projects, including sorting items, housekeeping needs, mailroom needs, and more. It is located in Birmingham for those who are interested in the organization.
Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind
One of the most respected institutions in the world for its all-inclusive approach, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB) spans all over Alabama, with campuses in Talladega, Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Decatur, Montgomery, Opelika, and more. It was founded in 1858, by Dr. Joseph Henry Johnson, and his brother was among the first 21 hearing-impaired students he served that year. In 1932, AIDB was responsible for a project that employed 10 visually impaired seamstresses, a project that laid the foundations for the Alabama Industries for the Blind, Alabama’s largest employer of visually impaired individuals. Similarly, in 1968, a trade school for visually impaired individuals and audio-impaired individuals was created to provide adults who did not want to (or could not) attend college with the necessary skills to enter the job market. The AIDB provides services for visually impaired individuals, audio-impaired individuals, and those with multiple disabilities. AIDB serves children, as young as infants and toddlers, to adults of all ages, including seniors with sensory disabilities. Among the many services they offer is aiding children with sensory disabilities in schools. They focus on education and rehabilitation and provide a variety of services, including early intervention for children, and counseling, interpretation, and transportation for individuals of all ages.
Finally, students with disabilities that attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) are provided with support through the Disability Support Services (DSS) program. Some of the services provided are note-takers, sign-language interpreters, transportation around campus for mobility-impaired individuals, and specifically catered support such as time extensions on tests and assignments. UAB also provides ramps and sidewalk cuts for easy access to those using a wheelchair or walkers, and many accessible parking spots at the Hill Center for visitors. UAB empowers its students to advocate for themselves and provides the necessary support they need to have a pleasant educational experience.
In May 2020, I sat at the dinner table with my family breaking our fast for Ramadan as we heard our home country was still facing many hardships. Being Palestinian, I am constantly surrounded by news notifications and Instagram posts explaining the horrors of many lives, but for some reason, that night, I felt a different wave of emotions as I saw my friends post about their families and neighbors’ villages being bombed, indicating that my family’s village was under attack. Three years later, the feeling still lingers, echoing the struggles faced by my ancestors since Al-Nakba in 1948. Every year during Ramadan, which is the holy month for millions of Muslims around the world, I reflect on the safety of our homes midst of breaking our fasts while millions in Palestine struggle to protect themselves under Israeli occupation, not just in Ramadan, but since the first Nakba (catastrophe) in 1948. The Palestinian struggle has persisted through generations, yet it continues to be brushed off by many influential international figures.
The images and events that took place in Al-Aqsa shocked the United Nations and many nations around the world. Turkey is among the few countries to come out and condemn Israel’s actions. The Arab League has urged the UN Security Council to intervene and stop the hate crimes, while other countries such as Jordan, Egypt, and Qatar have expressed their support for Palestine.
Amnesty International has documented the experiences faced by Palestinians during these attacks. Shadi, a 17-year-old, stated: “Twice I tried to raise my head, and both times [the police] beat me with the butt of their guns on my head […] you are not allowed to raise your head. I was hurting all over my body from the beatings and the bruises… what I went through does not even compare to the beatings others faced.”
The Palestinian Struggle
The Palestinian struggle has existed since 1948, with conditions deteriorating over time. Palestinians continue to live under an apartheid regime. Amnesty International noted through its past investigations that the Israeli forces enforce systems of oppression, domination, and control against Palestinians. Despite some portraying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a “two-sided” issue or a “religious war,” it requires the two sides to be on equal stance, for it is an equal fight. In reality, this is a one-sided conflict, where Israel possesses the weapons and Palestinians to live under its occupation. Since the Gulf War, Israel has implemented economic and political sanctions that are evident to this day. These sanctions include road blockades to prevent Palestinians from entering Israeli territories, controlled city borders, and different governmental statuses based on ethnicity. There is no explanation or justification that could be presented for the mistreatment of Palestinians. Along with Amnesty International, many countries and activists have called for the condemnation of Israel and for the International Community to take action to address the situation.
There have been efforts to enact peace plans and promote a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, these talks often leave out the most critical voice, that of the Palestinians. The latter is impossible to achieve if Israel is not held accountable and faced with consequences for its actions in international courts. Peace cannot be reached as long as Palestinians continue to face disposition and displacement and live under constant control and occupation.
Human Rights Violations
There are numerous documented human rights violations committed by Israel, among which are:
Unlawful attacks and killings. Israel is also accused of many unlawful attacks and killings of Palestinians, whether through storming Al-Aqsa to attacks on the Gaza Strip.
The Right to truth, justice, and reparations. The Israeli government continues to be noncooperative with investigations by the international courts.
Freedom of movement. There are over 170 permanent checkpoints and roadblocks within Palestine, impeding the Palestinians’ ability to travel freely throughout the country. Millions of Palestinians have been displaced since the start of the war, with the number continuing to grow with forced evictions and demolitions of homes and villages.
Freedom of association and expression. Many Palestinians are denied the right to express their views and protest their attackers freely.
The Gaza Strip is known as the largest open-air prison in the world. Home to more than two million Palestinians, with the Gaza Strip being the Israeli authorities’ main point of attack and destruction. Israel completely controls the Gaza Strip by imposing an airtight blockade on land, sea, and air. Those who live in that region are rarely able to leave unless it’s an “exceptional humanitarian case, with an emphasis on urgent medical cases,”—which are rarely granted. Surrounding the Gaza Strip, Israel constructed an electric fence and a concrete wall to prevent entry and escape. In 2001, Israel boomed and demolished the only airport in the Gaza Strip, further isolating the region. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza limit access to clean water, electricity, aid, and humanitarian and medical care. It is a modern-day prison camp that goes unnoticed in the mainstream media.
What can you do
The Palestinian struggle is a humanitarian issue that requires a much deeper dive beyond the scope of this post. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked and constantly neglected in mainstream media. The most vital thing one can do is to educate themselves, advocate, and be aware of the struggles happening across the world. Speak to your Palestinian peers, read publications, and listen to the news.
This post is an update on the previous blog titled: The Natural-Humanitarian Disaster of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake. While this topic is no longer in our regular newsfeed, the consequences of disaster are very much ongoing. People n Turkey and Syria are still recovering from the devastating aftermath of the first earthquake that occurred on February 6th people and have yet to find a sense of calm. Trying to find a sense of normalcy, children have begun attending school, and parents have attempted to return to their usual lives. But there is still so much destruction, making it hard to do so. According to the latest records, the earthquakes have killed over 50,000 individuals and injured over 100,000. 214,000 homes have collapsed, leaving thousands in need of aid and shelter. There are still victims that have yet to be found or identified under the rubble of what was once their home. UNICEF has reported that earthquakes have impacted almost 5 million children. Even though the initial earthquakes have finished, the need for humanitarian assistance has worsened.
These earthquakes are incredibly destructive considering the conditions of the areas, mainly referring to Syria. Syria has already been going through one of the most significant humanitarian crises in the world. The earthquake has only worsened its conditions, and access to aid is even more limited. Access to aid has been a very important topic considering the governmental sanctions imposed by many of the big nations (USA, Europe, etc.), and part of the country is controlled by its own government. Other areas are under the control of NGOs. On February 12, Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator at the UN, stated: “We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.” Over 4.1 million individuals in Syria depend on aid and assistance from NGOs, primarily women and children. Getting aid to Syria has been and is more difficult than getting aid in Turkey. It is especially apparent when comparing the aid given to both countries on an international level because, on the one hand, Turkey receives both international aid and support from its government. Yet, on the other hand, Syria, which is not controlled by one body of government, can receive partial international aid.
Problems in Syria
On February 14th, eight days after the initial earthquakes, border crossing points were finally opened for UN aid to be delivered to Syria. By February 22nd, 282 aid trucks were sent by 6 UN agencies. On February 19, Medical Charity Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), was able to send 14 aid trucks to Syria in an effort to assist with the rescue operations. As essential as these efforts of sending aid and providing help have been, many problems remain, mainly the governmental sanctions and the closed borders surrounding the affected areas. In addition, Syria is still undergoing a Civil war, making it even more challenging to receive the help they need. Since the initial earthquake, it took days for aid and rescue crews to arrive, which has critically impacted injured civilians and individuals stuck under the rubble of buildings. The Syrian regime has bombed the affected areas of Syria (Northwest area) over 84 times. Such attacks have caused damage to the border crossings, so many NGOs have requested for more crossing points to be available, especially considering the scarcity of resources in Syria and the inability of UN aid to reach the areas affected.
Efforts to help:
As seen, there is a lot of sadness surrounding the earthquakes and their aftermath. Along with the destruction, there have also been many organizations, individuals, and countries who have come to help, providing a sense of hope and relief. A group of online internet activists has created a website called TakeShelter, which enables displaced individuals to connect with hosts worldwide. This initiative was created and developed just 48 hours after the earthquakes occurred. One of the founders, Avi Schiffmann, stated that this website has reverted “power back into the hands of those displaced by the earthquake, allowing them to find shelter.” This website was launched through an organization called InternetActivism. This has opened many doors for activism and providing humanitarian care for generations to come. With almost everything being online, this website has paved the way for providing humanitarian support through a digital platform and helped over 100 families to find shelter in the homes of others.
Moreover, many countries have taken a stronger initiative by investigating earthquake destruction prevention methods. Iraq has begun to install 16 earthquake warning stations throughout the country. Iraq experienced some aftershocks from the initial earthquakes. Since then, they have worked to put different stations to monitor the earthquakes and future ones on the borders connected to Syria and Turkey. In addition, Saudi Arabia has built around 3,000 temporary homes to be sent to the victims in Turkey and Syria. Public, influential figures such as Cristiano Ronaldo have sent aid to those affected. There have been many reasonable efforts that have been made and shown.
What can you do?
In times like these, after the shock has been visible through news cycles, articles, and social media posts, people tend to think that this disaster is fixed, but that is not the case. The weeks after an initial humanitarian disaster can be much worse than the first day of it. As time passes, more family members are identified as dead or remain missing. Incomes for families have entirely disappeared, and now humanitarian aid support is required to survive. Those who have lost their homes are now living in community shelters or on the streets, and the conditions of those affected will continue to worsen unless we do something about such a situation. Hundreds and thousands of homes, schools and businesses must be rebuilt. The importance of donations, providing awareness and finding ways to help continues. Even though the earthquakes have stopped, millions continue to be displaced. Below are resources to donate and learn more about the cause.
**The content of the mentioned works below deals with racial, sexual, and gendered themes that may be difficult for some readers. Consider carefully before reading.**
Contested conversations and debates around literature, even books bans, are nothing new. Unfortunately, we find ourselves during a time when pushes for literary censuring are on the rise, with fervent calls to remove books with references to enslavement, sex, gender, or Queer people. In light of this, I wanted to present a list of only a few Black authors, some of which are women, Queer, or both, so that we can remember and learn from them, and never let anyone take their lessons from us.
A founding member of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois is one of the foremost Black scholars of his era. He was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to challenge notions by abolitionist Frederick Douglas and contemporary intellectual Booker T. Washington in his numerous writings and actions. Instead of promoting the ideology that Black people should integrate into White society or compromise rights to make small gains, DuBois loudly proclaimed Black pride.
In his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Dubois coined the now-famous term “double consciousness.” He discussed the irreconcilable double existence Black people lived through in America as both American and Black. Since then, the term has become a theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of unequal realities and structures.
He attended the founding convention for the United Nations in 1944 and was a leader in the Pan-Africanism movement, organizing a series of Pan-African Congress meetings throughout the world.
He passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 27, 1963, after moving to Ghana and acquiring citizenship there.
Writing between 1953 and 2011, a mix of standalone novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction books, James Baldwin is considered a quintessential American writer. As the grandson of an enslaved person, Baldwin’s work reconciled with the experience of being a Black man in White America. Born in 1924 in Harlem, New York, he was the oldest of nine kids and spent most of his time in libraries.
He spent three years in his stepfather’s profession as a preacher before moving to Greenwich Village and pursuing writing. Even though most of his work was embroiled in experiences of anger and disillusionment, Baldwin always advocated love and brotherhood.
After passing from stomach cancer at the age of 63 in 1987, Baldwin became known as one of the most vocal and prominent voices for equality. He is considered an essential, and enriching, part of the American literary canon.
Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Eaton, Georgia. Her parents were sharecroppers and after a childhood incident that left her blind in one eye, Walker’s mother considered her more suited for writing than chores. This talent landed her a scholarship to Spelman College, whereafter she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and earned a BA in Literature.
After graduating, she moved to Mississippi to join the Civil Rights Movement and married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal; becoming the first interracial marriage in the state.
Walker is hailed for her rediscovery of author Zora Neale Hurston and her foundational role for Black women authors.
She published her first book of poetry in 1968, Once, and her first novel in 1970, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Her most acclaimed work came in 1982, The Color Purple, wherein she explores gender, sexuality, and race. She continues to publish to this day and is widely regarded for her insightful portrayal of Black American life and culture.
Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Though living in a semi-integrated area, Morrison experienced the cruel reality of racism. At two years old, their landlord set their apartment on fire with them inside when her family could not afford rent.
She turned her attention to reading and eventually attend the historically black institution, Howard College. There she was exposed to colorism and witnessed firsthand how racial hierarchies extended to skin pigmentation within the Black community.
Working within academia throughout the North and South, Morrison eventually settled in an editing career. Though she worked for publishing companies, she did not publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), until she was 39 years old. However, after (and like) this first work, each of her subsequent novels earned critical acclaim and several awards. In 1987, she released her most-known work, Beloved, which is based on the true story of an enslaved woman. The novel was on the Bestseller list for 25 weeks and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and has also been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.
As an internationally renowned author, Morrison has left a litany of insightful works from novels to plays and children’s stories. She passed away in 2019.
Ralph Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the grandson of enslaved people. He only ever published one book during his lifetime, Invisible Man (1952), yet this book gained him national acclaim. After his death on April 16, 1994, his second novel, Juneteenth, was published in 1999.
Originally, Ellison had had dreams of becoming a professional musician and had enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute to do just that. However, after traveling to New York City during his senior year to earn funds for his final year, he met Richard Wright (author of the polemic novel Native Son). This, coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, prompted Ellison to embark on his writing career.
He wrote for the New York Federal Writer’s Program, an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration. After the outbreak of WWII, Ellison joined the U.S. Merchant Marine as a cook and began planning for what would become his infamous novel, Invisible Man.
When it debuted, it was on the Bestseller’s List for 16 weeks and won the National Book Award. Forty years later, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Saul Bellow, stated, “This book holds its own among the best novels of the century.”
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, U.S. She is a world-renowned author and one of the first students of the father of anthropology (Franz Boas).
She was the daughter of enslaved parents. At a young age, her family relocated to Eatonville, Florida where her father became the town’s first mayor, in what was the first all-Black incorporated town in the state.
Hurston earned her Associate’s from Howard College before she won a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. As a student in New York City, she met fellow writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and joined what is remembered as the Harlem Renaissance 一 a black cultural movement of arts, music, and literature.
She began publishing short stories as early as 1920, though was largely ignored by white mainstream literary circles (though she gained a large Black readership). In 1935, she published her debut novel, Mules and Men, and between 1934 and 1939 wrote three more works. Her most acclaimed novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) which incorporated her research and literary talents to focus on the life of Janie Crawford, a Black woman whose journey of self-discovery and identity takes her to many places.
She is a pioneering figure of modern anthropology and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica to study African diasporas. Moreover, she chronicled many Black folktales and dialects which she subsequently incorporated into her own writings. While this drew criticism from some contemporary figures, her work celebrated Black language and culture unabashedly.
Zora Neale Hurston passed away on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Zora Neale Hurston was long an unsung literary figure but after her rediscovery by author Alice Walker, her works have once returned to print.
Regarded as one of the founders of Black writing, particularly for Black women authors, Alice Walker has said:
“Her work had a sense of Black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings and that was crucial to me as a writer.”
She grew up in a segregated community in the American South which eventually informed her writing. She published her first work, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), while still an undergraduate at Standford University.
Her pseudonym was fashioned after her great-grandmother’s name in order to honor female legacies and she chose all lowercase letters because she wanted people to focus on the content of her books over her.
hooks was a progressive thinker and scholar whose work engaged with the intricate relationships of race, class, and gender as situated in systems of structural oppression and violence. She educated people on intersectionality well before it became a common word now (essentially pioneering the ideology itself).
She passed away on December 15, 2021, in Berea, Kentucky. You can find a selection of her works here.
Angela Davis was born January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama in a neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill” for the numerous bombings committed by the domestic terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan. She is a philosopher, activist, and former Black Panther and political prisoner who was wrongly accused of participating in the killing of a prison guard after becoming involved in the Soledad Brothers campaign. After that, Davis went into hiding and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List, making her the third woman to ever be placed on the list.
An international movement to “Free Angela” led to songs from artists like Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones. On June 4th, 1972, she was found not guilty of all charges.
Angela Davis continues her legacy to this day, giving speeches and continuing to write new works that discuss intersectionality, racial disparities and structural violence, and abolition, among a few topics. Her latest book was published in 2022 with her partner, Gina Dent, alongside Erica R. Meiners and Beth E. Richie titled: Abolition. Feminism. Now.
Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She writes across several mediums as a memoirist, poet, author, playwright, and essayist. Her work explores themes such as economic conditions, race, and sexual oppression. She is also renowned for her unique and visionary autobiographical writing styles.
Angelou did not live with her parents full-time during her childhood as a result of divorce and other factors. When she returned from her grandmother’s care to live with her mother at the age of seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was jailed, and upon his release, was killed. Believing that she had somehow had a part in the death of this man, Angelou became mute for the following 6 years of her life.
Angelou displayed her literary talents from a young age but did not become a professional writer until much later in life, around when she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in 1959. She was also a prominent activist in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the North Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1969, she wrote one of her most famous works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was an autobiography of her early life, exploring her experiences with sexual abuse. Many schools sought to ban this book as a result of these depictions, but numerous sexual abuse survivors have credited her work as telling their stories.
While she has earned numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, for her writing she was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2000) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010).
Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a long and fruitful career. You can find a list of her complete works here.
James Cone is a highly influential figure who founded Black liberation theology, alongside, being an outspoken proponent of justice for the oppressed in society. He is known as one of the most widely regarded theologians in America, teaching at the Union Theological Seminary for 50 years and influencing generations of scholars. One such student is currently a senator for the state of Georgia, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected in 2020 as the state’s first Black senator.
Born August 5, 1938, in Arkansas, he grew up during intense racial segregation during the 40s and 50s. Living under the threat of lynching revealed to Cone the immense spiritual and moral depth of Black people, especially as Cone’s own parents taught love over hate when confronted by racial injustice and threats. As a result of his personal experiences and figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Cone developed Black liberation theology to challenge the white hegemony of Christian teachings and understanding.
Black liberation theology is informed by six sources which can be summarized as the black experience (slavery, segregation, and lynchings), black culture and revelation, and tradition and scriptural interpretation. He is best known for his political and influential books, Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), and God of the Oppressed (1975).
He passed on April 28, 2018, at the age of 79. His latest memoir was written just prior to his passing and is titled: Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.
Octavia Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. She is an author of mostly science fiction novels in future settings, often incorporating unique powers. Her numerous works are known for their synthesis of science fiction, mysticism, mythology, and Black American spiritualism.
Not only was Butler the first Black woman to receive wide acclaim in this genre of fiction, but she was also the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award. She has also won several other awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locust awards.
In 1975, she published her first novel Patternmaster, which was quickly followed by Mind of My Mind and Survivor: This series is about humanity’s evolution into three separate genetic groups.
Her best-known work, Kindred, was published in 1975 and continues to be taught in high schools, universities, and community reading programs to this day. (There was even a recent television adaption on Hulu.)
Much like other Black women authors on this list, Butler’s work extends beyond race and explores the dynamics of sex and gender, challenging traditional gender roles in works like Bloodchild and Wild Seed. Octavia Butler passed away on February 24, 2006, in Seattle, Washington, but not before securing her legacy in her numerous works.
To learn more about book bans, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.”
If you liked this book list, check out the list of contemporary Black authors here.
Armed conflict often results in a wide range of human rights violations, includingright to life, liberty, and security. Conflict can have a devastating impact on human rights, leaving individuals and communities vulnerable to a range of abuses and violations. Oftentimes,during military conflicts, the elderly are overlooked when it comes to human rights abuses. Despite being among the most vulnerable members of society, the impacts of armed conflict on older people are often underreported, highlighting the need for greater attention and support for this marginalized group.Human Rights Watch released a report addressing the significanthuman rights violations older people endure during wartime. The report calls for the United Nations (UN) to end the abuses, provide protection, and facilitate humanitarian assistance for the elderly. The report documents a pattern of violations against the elderly in African and Middle Easterncountries experiencing war.
Pattern of Abuses
Older people are more likely to experience a range of physical, emotional, and economic challenges during times of conflict. Government and non-state armed forces have unlawfully attacked and killed older civilians, subjecting them to summary executions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, rape, abduction and kidnapping, and the destruction of their homes and other property.Older people are more likely to be injured or killed during armed conflict due to their reduced mobility, impaired senses, and other health issues. In the Central African Republic, for example, the armed forces executed Dieudonne, a blind 60-year-old man in July 2017.Many older people rely on family members and caregivers for support, but armed conflict can disrupt these networks, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.In Ethiopia, after Tigrayan forces recaptured most of the Tigray region in 2021, authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained older Tigrayans in Addis Abeba. Amhara forces in control of the Western Tigray zone detained elderly people in overcrowded detention facilities, subjecting them to beatings and other forms of ill-treatment.The stress and trauma of living in a conflict-affected environment can have significant impacts on older people’s mental health and well-being, and may exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions.In South Sudan during government operations against rebel forces in February 2019, a soldier made a 50 year-old woman carry looted property, beat her with a gun, and raped her repeatedly.Sexual assault can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual’s mental health and well-being.
Unable to Receive Aid
Another facet of the abuse is that displaced older people cannot access humanitarian aid. People experiencingmust flee in order to access basic services such as food, shelter, and medical care. During hostilities,many older people have chosen not to flee their homes because they think they will not be harmed, or they want to protect the land they have had in their families for years. Also, limited mobility and disability lead to fewer elderly choosing to flee. In 2017, Myanmar security forces pushed older people who could not flee back into burning houses.Displaced older people have also faced difficulties in registering for and receiving humanitarian aid. In South Sudan in 2017, displaced older people who sought refuge were more likely to face difficulties in receiving aid than those who fled to Protection of Civilians sites within UN bases.Amnesty International has documented the failure of humanitarian actors to meet humanitarian standards and be inclusive of older people in their responses to conflict-driven displacements.
We should be concerned with the gross negligence of elderly’s human rights because every person deserves respect and dignity. Elderly individuals have a wealth of life experience and knowledge to share, and they deserve to be valued and respected for their contributions to society. Due to their age, older people are one of the most vulnerable groups, so it is up to us to do all we can to ensure their safety and protection. Protecting the human rights of elderly individuals is a matter of social justice. As members of society, they have the same rights and entitlements as anyone else, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that these rights are upheld.
This blog is part three of the conversation around disability rights, especially as it applies to children within the American school system. If you have not read the first two blogs in this series, I suggest you do so. The first blog focused on the historical view of disability and the American school system’s approach to children with disabilities. The second part mainly focused on the struggles that children with disabilities face within the school system, and how these struggles have been exacerbated due to the recent pandemic. This final part will focus on some of the approaches that have been taken in the past to address people with disabilities, and how they differ from a human rights approach. We will also examine how we can help on various levels, whether we want to focus on our personal abilities or advocate for a larger movement.
The Rights of Children with Disabilities
What rights are protected?
Much of what we have established in modern society in terms of children’s rights comes from decades of struggles, from implementing child labor laws to fighting for the right to an education. Similarly, the fight to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was one sure way to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. These rights and more are protected under the United Nations, both in terms of people with disabilities, (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD), and with children’s rights (Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC). Yet, these developments have only occurred in recent years; the ADA and the CRC were passed in America and the UN respectively, in 1990, and the CRPD was not adopted internationally until 2006.
The ADA, passed in the United States, protected the rights of people with disabilities from being discriminated against in all aspects of society. This was the first major legislation that protected people with disabilities from being denied employment, discriminated against in places of business, or even denied housing. In addition to these protections, the ADA required industries to be inclusive of those with disabilities through (among other things) taking measures such as building ramps and elevators for easy access to upper-level floors and building housing units with people with disabilities in mind. While America had passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA (originally passed in 1975, and renamed in 1990) by this time, the initial form of this legislation allowed schools to place certain students with disabilities in special programs for no more than 45 days at a time. It was not until its improved form was passed in 2004 that provided the necessary financial and social infrastructure for its successful implementation.
The passage of the CRC, which applies to all individuals under the age of 18, focuses on non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development, the State’s responsibility to ensure that the child’s best interests are being pursued, including ensuring that the child has adequate parental guidance. Additionally, it focuses on the child’s right to free expression, free thought, freedom to preserve their identity, protection from being abused or neglected, adequate healthcare and education, and includes certain protections the State is required to offer the children, including protection from trafficking, child labor, and torture. Article 23 of this Convention specifically focuses on the rights of children with disabilities, adding that these children have the right to the care, education, and training they need to lead a life of fulfillment and dignity. It also stresses the responsibility of the State to ensure that children with disabilities can live a life of independence and protect them from being socially isolated. Even though the UN passed this Convention in 2004, America is the only nation that has yet to ratify this treaty. This is why certain realities continue to exist, such as what is happening in Illinois.
Finally, we have the CRPD, which entered into force in 2008, only 15 years ago. Influenced by the ADA, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was passed to ensure that people with disabilities were fully protected under the law, including from discrimination, with the ability to function as fully pontificating citizens of their societies, with equal opportunities and the right to accessibility in order for them to lead a life with the dignity and respect afforded to their able-bodied counterparts. This convention had massive support and draws from both a human rights focus and an international development focus. What makes this convention unique is the implementation and monitoring abilities embedded within the treaty itself, and it includes non-traditional actors from communities (usually those with disabilities) with specific roles in charge of monitoring the implementation of this treaty. Unfortunately, the United States, while Obama signed the treaty and passed it to the Senate for their approval in 2009, has yet to fully ratify the CRPD treaty as well.
Some Approaches to Disability Rights
Upon understanding the various nuances of this conversation, we can now explore the three different approaches to defining disability in society. These approaches examine the issues that people with disabilities face and provide models influenced by differing fields of expertise. Many within society view disability as a medical issue and their solutions to the struggles faced by people with disabilities are medically focused. Similarly, others believe that disability is an issue of how society is structured, and their proposals for solving these issues lie within the realms of reshaping society to be more accessible to people with disabilities. Still, another approach built upon the foundations of human rights, focuses on the individual first, and the disability as an extension of their individuality. We will explore these three approaches and their pros and cons.
Approach 1: Medical Model of Disability
As mentioned above, some people view disability as a medical issue, and this approach can be categorized as the medical model of disability. This means that they believe that the “problem” of disability belongs to the individual experiencing it and that disability comes from the direct impairment of the person. The focus of this approach is to look for medical “cures” for disability, which can only be provided by medical “experts” based on the specific diagnosis. While it may be true that individuals with disabilities require medical help from time to time, their entire existence does not revolve around this notion of viewing disability as an illness. The focus here is to “fix” the person with disabilities, so they can become “normal” again. This approach also makes use of the “special needs” rhetoric, which can result in the isolation and marginalization of people with disabilities. Media plays a big part in portraying people with disabilities as weak or ashamed of their disability, which can invoke fear or pity for people with disabilities within the larger society.
Approach 2: Social Model of Disability
Another approach that has been proposed is what is known as the Social Model of Disability. In this approach, the “problem” of disability is seen as a result of the physical and social barriers within society that exclude people with disabilities from fully participating in their society. Disability is seen as a political and social issue, and the goal of this model is to be more inclusive and recognize the prevalence of disability within our societies. This means looking closely at the ableist social institutions and infrastructures present within society and attempting to address these manmade challenges posed by people with disabilities. This model recognizes the social stigma around disabilities and recognizes people with disabilities as differently abled rather than viewing them as incapable of living an independent lifestyle. This approach places individuals with disabilities on a spectrum rather than the two categories of disabled and able-bodied. The goal of this approach is to be socially inclusive of all individuals, regardless of their disabilities.
Approach 3: The Human Rights Model of Disability
Finally, there is the Human Rights Model of Disability, which builds upon the foundations laid out by the Social Model of Disability and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In this approach, the focus is on viewing the individual with a disability as a human first, recognizing that disability is a natural part of humanity that has existed as long as humans have been around. While it shares a lot of similarities with the social model, the human rights approach emphasizes not only the right of every individual to be treated equally before the law but also stresses that a person’s impairment should not be used as an excuse for denying them rights. This is essentially what the CRPD centers around, and the main goal of this approach is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities and protect their right to fully participate in society, politically, civilly, socially, culturally, and economically.
How Can We Help?
On the Internation Level
While the United Nations has a convention that focuses on protecting children’s rights, it is highly debated whether these treaties are being enforced around the world. Child labor is still common in various places around the world, including right here in Alabama. While it can be argued that the US has not ratified the treaty and that is why the UN cannot do anything about this issue, there are other places that have ratified the treaty that still places children in dangerous working conditions and face no real repercussions from these decisions from the UN. In 2019, many tech companies were sued for their use of child labor in other countries to mine the precious minerals they require to produce their devices. Many textile companies within the fashion industry use child labor in nations that have ratified the children’s rights treaty. While the United Nations is trying its best to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable communities, it has not been able to enforce these treaties and regulations, and as a result, atrocities against those vulnerable communities, (including children), continue to occur. How can we as human beings, ensure that all children are protected from harm, not just those able-bodied, living in wealthier nations? This is something that needs to be addressed, and it requires the cooperation of many different nations willing to put their differences aside and work together to find a solution.
On the Domestic Level
As we explored in the human rights model of disability rights, it is the responsibility of society to provide equal access to all its citizens. This includes its citizens who have disabilities, and not doing so would discriminate against those who have disabilities and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that both on a national and local level, our infrastructure needs to be updated with an inclusive mindset that makes the roads safer and more accessible to all the citizens using them. As a state, Alabama could not only fix the infrastructure, but also pass bills to ensure that people with disabilities receive the care they need, including employment opportunities, medical assistance, food assistance, and any financial help they may require. Furthermore, on a national level, the police (or another department focused on social work) can be better trained to recognize the various disabilities, both visible and invisible, so people with disabilities are not wrongfully imprisoned for “behavioral” issues. This training would help erode the school-to-prison pipeline that has replaced disciplinary standards in American schools and make way for a brighter future for children with disabilities. Finally, the United States can, at the bare minimum, ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed into existence in 1990 by member states of the United Nation. As we mentioned earlier, the United States is the only nation in the world that has yet to ratify this treaty.
On the Individual Level
We can all be more mindful of our actions and our ableist mindsets. Next time you walk down the street, pay attention to the roads and sidewalks. Are there any sidewalks for people with disabilities to use safely? Are there curb cuts, and are those curb cuts freely accessible or are they blocked? How accessible are public buildings such as restaurants, storefronts, or even the DMV? Are there enough parking spots allotted to people with disabilities, and are those spots easily accessible, or blocked off by other vehicles? Thinking outside of an ableist mind frame is the first step toward being more inclusive of people with disabilities. It might seem like a powerless and pointless step to take, but the more you start to notice the ableist structures within society, the more you will want to speak up about these issues the next time you have the opportunity. You will also be more mindful of your own ableist actions and how they may have unintended consequences. If you are a parent, you have the ability to question your school’s practices concerning children with disabilities and offer support to the children and their parents. As an individual, you can also contact your representatives to pass legislation that would empower people with disabilities to live independently. As a society, we need to get past the stigmatization of this group and normalize disability being an innate part of being human.
In the last blog, we covered the contextual history of the American Education System, primarily, who was allowed education, who was not, and even the differences in the quality of education that children in America received. We also explored the historical treatment of people with disabilities, both in the larger society, as well as in children with disabilities within the school system. Understanding the past is crucial to analyzing why certain events occur as they do in the future. That is what we set out to do in this continuation of the conversation about disabilities and the American education system. In this second part, we will focus on the realities children with disabilities witness within the education system, including the challenges they face, the school-to-prison pipeline that exists, and how this impacts their development (both mentally and physically). We will then explore how the recent pandemic exacerbated these conditions, and what sort of rights the children possess in this post-pandemic world.
Children with Disabilities in the Education System Today
The many challenges faced by students with disabilities in the classroom
Children with disabilities today face many challenges within the classroom even without taking the pandemic into account. These challenges vary from physical barriers to socio-emotional ones. One thing that needs to be recognized is that not all disabilities are alike, and with various disabilities come various challenges. I don’t want to appear to be generalizing the struggles that children with disabilities face in the school system, because each individual’s experiences vary, even between different places. Some states within the United States may be very inclusive, while others may place the responsibility of accessibility on the people with disabilities themselves. Regardless of which state you live in, my goal here is to spread awareness of the various challenges that children with one or multiple disabilities face as they maneuver through their primary academic journey.
With that being said, one of the most common barriers that children with disabilities face is on the social level. Throughout history, children with disabilities have been separated from the rest of the able-bodied society, and this is also true within the school system. Many schools, when they began to accept children with disabilities into the school system, would educate them separately (in the basement or another room) from the other children. Even today, many children with learning and speech disabilities require additional help from trained professionals, which requires these children to spend extra time on their academics, and less time socializing with their peers. This naturally distances them from able-bodied children their age and can lead children with disabilities to become victims of many instances of bullying and harassment. A crucial element to consider is that while many children their age are dealing with the various emotions that come from development, children with disabilities have to deal with additional fears and insecurities surrounding their disabilities, as they learn to accept and adapt to life with disabilities. This can be challenging in and of itself, without having to deal with the social pressures from peers.
Additionally, while schools receive federal funding to meet the required measures for the children with disabilities within their institutions, this funding is limited, covering less than a quarter of the expenses needed to fulfill the required services for each student. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) we covered in the previous blog allows Congress to allocate up to 40% of the average funding per student, but unfortunately, this has never been exercised by Congress, and funding for special education programs continues to be miserly. Schools receive 15% of the funding they are allocated, but they are still required to fulfill all the mandated regulations simply for receiving federal funding. This means that they have to come up with the remaining 85% of the expenditures on their own, in place of the 55% they would be responsible for covering if Congress secured the full 40%. This can place additional strains on these schools that are already struggling for funds.
Furthermore, children with learning disabilities require trained professionals to provide them with additional support throughout their academic journey. Someone who is hearing impaired may require additional resources to combat the auditory issues they face, or someone who is visually impaired may require additional lessons on how to read in Braille. Others with learning disabilities such as dyslexia (which is a disorder in which someone has difficulty reading and processing language), may need additional patience and support to process the information they are learning. Public schools, by law, are required to provide assistance to children with disabilities and those who have been through traumatic experiences. Licensed professionals that focus on educational needs for children with learning disabilities can be hard to find, and this has only worsened due to the pandemic. As many as 44 states experienced this shortage even before the pandemic, and this number continues to grow due to the issues of limited funding discussed earlier. Without the necessary help that students with learning disabilities require, they continue to fall behind their peers academically.
Many of these challenges can be addressed with more funding allotted to the education system as a whole, and professions within the field of special education can be incentivized by the government (by for example, making the training programs free and accessible to those who are interested) to address the shortage of licensed professionals. The education being taught in the schools can be more inclusive of children with disabilities, with opportunities for the children to share their experiences with their peers and help remove the stigma associated with disabilities by normalizing helpful conversations around disabilities. While these challenges can have a great impact on the learning abilities of children with disabilities, there are some challenges that can have drastic impacts on their futures as a whole.
The school-to-prison pipeline
Unfortunately, along with an increase in school shootings within the educational system, another phenomenon that has become all too common is the use of law enforcement to discipline children. More and more stories have been reported regarding children with disabilities and children of color being subjected to drastic disciplinary measures by school systems. When a child “acts out” or showcases any behavior not supported by the schools, the educators have resorted to involving the law instead of following disciplinary protocols within the schools (such as contacting parents, placing students in detention, or for more serious issues, using suspensions). Police are called on these students, and educators watch as young children are punished for their misdeeds by being harassed by the police. In many instances, these incidents have turned deadly, as police officers have used full force on young children, to force them into complying, at times jeopardizing the children’s well-being. Children as young as 7 years of age have been placed in handcuffs and threatened jail time, for childish behavior such as spitting or throwing tantrums. This can be especially dangerous when children with disabilities are involved because they are accused of “misbehaving” when they are simply reacting differently to situations than their able-bodied peers. The police, with little to no training on the different ways to approach people with disabilities, only escalate the already tense situations.
According to a CBS News analysis of data from the Education Department in 2017-2018, children with disabilities are four times more likely to be arrested than their able-bodied counterparts. Another research conducted by Cornell University reports that 55% of Black men with disabilities have been detained before they reach the age of 28. Young African American children with disabilities, therefore, are the most at-risk demographic to face legal repercussions for “behavioral” issues common among most children their age. This phenomenon, known as the school-to-prison pipeline, which disproportionately targets students of color, (and children with disabilities), involves the use of the criminal and justice systems as a tool to discipline children. Unfortunately, these disciplinary attempts remain on the permanent records of the targeted children and can have lifelong implications that determine their future.
An example of this school-to-prison pipeline is clear when looking into some of the instances where law enforcement is used to discipline children. Jacksonville, Illinois is home to a particular school that makes use of its law enforcement officers for behavioral issues. Garrison School, a public school where children with disabilities in that region attend, has been in the news recently for the staggering number of arrests made within a single school year. Although the population of this school is an average of 60-70 children, the police, who are located less than 5 miles from the school, have been called over 100 times for “behavioral” issues, such as throwing tantrums and spraying water. An investigation into this school found that in the school year 2017-2018 alone, more than half of the entire student body was arrested. As the only public school for children with disabilities in that region of Illinois, caregivers are limited in choices of schools for their children. In addition to having disabilities, the children at this particular school have also experienced immense trauma and violence in their past. Arresting these children for their “behaviors” continues to place these children in traumatic situations, further impacting their development.
Impacts on children with disabilities’ development
Using the criminal and justice systems to punish or “discipline” children with disabilities can have lasting impressions on the children’s futures. For one, especially children such as those from Garrison School, who deal with personal trauma and violence from their past, experiences with law enforcement can deteriorate their mental health even further. Even those without previous trauma can have lasting impressions on their academic success, meaning that children who have been disciplined with the use of law enforcement are even more isolated from their peers and can experience breaks in their educational journeys. Studies have shown that children who have their needs met are more likely to outperform those students who do not have their needs met. Linking back to the school-to-prison pipeline, those students who have been arrested and imprisoned as young adults are more likely to continue down this path of criminality. Additionally, students with disabilities that have been imprisoned have to face the added struggles of maneuvering the prison system with disabilities, and these struggles are increased with multiple disabilities, especially with invisible disabilities, in which case, many people may not even believe the existence of these disabilities. Studies have shown how incarceration can worsen issues of mental illness within the prison population, and when translated to the impact imprisonment has on people with disabilities, these conditions are exponentially worse.
How it impacts children with disabilities’ professional futures
In addition to the harm this causes to the development of children with disabilities, the practice of using law enforcement to discipline school children has far-reaching consequences. For one, the children who are constantly “othered,” bullied, or harassed by both students and teachers can internalize their experiences and react to them, increasing their chances of being disciplined again for behavioral issues. In addition to that, being imprisoned, even for a few days, can be a traumatic experience that can shape your worldview, and as a result, your future. For young, developing children, these experiences can be impressionable, and coupled with the isolation that many children with disabilities experience, this can be a devastating combination, resulting in the deterioration of the children’s physical and mental well-being. Furthermore, many of these zero-tolerance policies that end in the arrests of children happen due to the faculty members pressing charges against the children. These charges, though they can be sealed for juvenile offenses, can lead to more charges in these children’s future into their adulthood. A criminal history into your adulthood can result in slim educational and employment options. Research conducted more broadly on this subject has been reported by the Prison Policy, and it showcases how increasingly difficult it is to find decent employment upon exiting the prison system. The report adds that even when formerly incarcerated people do find employment, they are often paid fewer wages than their co-workers.
Applying this research to children with disabilities who are disciplined through the legal system, can be an even bigger challenge for their futures. People with disabilities experience many barriers to obtaining employment even without imprisonment on their records. Studies have shown how incarcerating children does not deter them from engaging in criminal behavior in the future; it might actually have the opposite impact. Finally, children who are incarcerated experience large gaps in their education, and this can impact their ability to successfully enter the job market. This issue is exponentially worse among children with disabilities because they are more likely to be imprisoned for “behavioral issues”, and expands the academic gap felt by so many children with learning disabilities who are already facing many social and learning barriers.
How did COVID make things worse for children with disabilities?
The pandemic was a time of uncertainty, and many of us were scrambling around not knowing what to do. Even as more and more information came out about the virus itself and how to safeguard it, there was a lot of anxiety and misinformation being spread around. Children with disabilities had to navigate not only their personal lives with their unique experiences but also the larger society that was falling apart around them in the face of a virus. Many businesses and schools shut down in the beginning, which meant that children had to adjust to different learning styles, something that may have been easier for some, but widened the academic gap for others. Children with disabilities as a whole had to be mindful of the threat that the virus posed on their lives. This virus was especially deadly to those with pre-existing conditions and for those who were immunocompromised, both of which apply to many children and adults with disabilities. So, constantly having to live with the anxiety of whether or not they might contract the virus would have been stressful enough without the masking and vaccine debates that have politicized this medical crisis. What is worse, COVID-19 vaccines for children were not available for over a year after the pandemic first began, leaving this population vulnerable to infections with no way to protect themselves against them.
Additionally, along with their children, parents, and caregivers of children with disabilities faced new challenges as everyone attempted to adapt to the “new normal”. While the mandated quarantine helped with transportation issues for some, it opened up a whole new set of issues for many. Children with learning disabilities who received additional help from professionals either had to go without it or transition to seeking their help through zoom. For some, accessing help through Zoom and Telehealth was extremely helpful in addressing the medical needs of people, and this had a positive impact on people with disabilities as a whole. However, accessing Zoom and Telehealth was a challenge on its own for many who lived in rural areas or marginalized areas where internet services were very minimal or nonexistent, or simply unaffordable. The pandemic was a time when many people also lost jobs, so children faced additional financial repercussions from the pandemic. These instances further widened the academic gap among children with disabilities.
This blog mainly focused on the struggles that children face within the American school system. Part three of this series will focus on some of the approaches that have been taken historically when addressing disabilities, and some ways in which we can take action, on a personal level, on a local or national level, and even on an international level.
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