People with disabilities are the largest and most diverse minority within the population, representing all abilities, ages, races, ethnicities, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated one billion people — approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population — live with some form of disability. However, they are also the least represented in the public space. This month is a time to recognise their presence and find ways to prevent disability discrimination (“ableism”) as well as provide more inclusive public and social spheres.
The UN has put together the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, guaranteeing to “leave no one behind.” This action plan from the international community sets the dignity of a person and equality as its fundamental principle. Within the framework of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this is essential to confirm the equal input of disabled individuals in all areas of society and establish supportive environments for them.
What is Disability Pride Month?
President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on 26 July, 1990, a landmark law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. In that same year, Boston held the first Disability Pride Day.
Although the day is not recognised nationally across the US, parades are held in some places, including Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and San Antonio. It is also supported in Britain and South Africa.
According to America’s disability community, “Disability Pride” has been defined as accepting and honouring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity. Disability Pride is integral to movement-building and a direct challenge to systemic ableism and defamatory descriptions of disability. This annual observance promotes visibility and conventional understanding of the positive pride felt by people with disabilities. Through specific dates, celebrations and parades, the mutual message is to inspire and challenge the prejudices, discrimination and biased images around disabled individuals. What is more, the word “pride” is used to celebrate their legacy and the disability culture while acknowledging the contributions they can offer to society with their unique experiences.
What can be done?
It is important to emphasise that creating awareness alone is not enough; we must also, as a matter of urgency, assess the primary barriers leading to the exclusion of persons with disabilities. We must tackle discriminatory laws and policies that limit health insurance access to disabled individuals or restrain them from finding a job. We must lift the barriers that restrict their accessibility in physical and virtual environments. There must be regulations to counter negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination, which can also be eliminated through education and by providing a platform to disabled individuals to represent themselves in schools, for example, or training centres, public advertisements and in the movies. Their lack of access to assistive technology and rehabilitation and lack of measures to promote the independent living of persons with disabilities are also areas that must be addressed. Overcoming these barriers requires countries to develop their capacity for equal access. National legislation should protect disabled individuals through constitutional, anti-discrimination or other national disability legislation.
Covid-19: two sides of a coin
Persons with disabilities usually have more healthcare needs. Hence, they are more vulnerable to the effect of low-quality or remote services. Compared to persons without disabilities, persons with disabilities are more likely to have poor health. While a disability may not put someone at higher risk from coronavirus, many disabled individuals have specific underlying conditions that make the disease more dangerous. They may require additional individual support that cannot be provided during a lockdown, such as regular hospital visits, or access to emergency treatment which may also be limited at that time.
Furthermore, according to the UN, women and girls with disabilities face further systemic barriers to equality and inclusion, with limited visibility in disability and gender equality laws, policies and practices. According to the data, women with disabilities are three times more likely to have insufficient needs for health care, two times less likely to be employed and two times less likely to use the internet. Moreover, women with disabilities are under further threat of sexual violence compared to those without disabilities. Furthermore, the Covid-19 crisis has not only exposed the depth of these underlying inequalities but also worsened the situation for women and girls with disabilities. The pandemic has further limited their access to services like healthcare, job opportunities and education, which were already a barrier for them in the first place.
However, the pandemic has also developed an area that most never considered. The advancement of technological tools that allowed us to communicate, interact and operate from the safety and comfort of our homes during the pandemic can also become an opportunity for disabled individuals to continue their education or jobs and access services while in the safety and comfort of their home.
The pandemic should have shown us the tip of the iceberg of what people with physical or mental barriers have faced and will continue to face in the future, even when things go back to normal, or even the “new normal”. However, the pandemic should have made us realise that through technological advancements, it is possible to create a safe and accessible environment for most who currently have limited access. Disability Pride Month is an opportunity for the largest minority community in the world, yet the least represented, to discuss these issues, create awareness and provide a more inclusive platform for disabled individuals in all public services, work, education and other public services environments.
This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.