Disability Rights Advocates as Activists and Warriors
The Disability Rights Movement
The Disability Rights Movement is a global phenomenon that advocates and fights for the rights of people with disabilities everywhere to be part of every aspect of their community and country. The movement is focused on how to achieve the highest level of inclusiveness, integration, and equality for people with disabilities. In the 1980s the social model of disability emerged with key theorists such as Paul Darke (cinema), Lois Keith (literature), Leonard Davis (Deaf culture), Jenny Sealey (theatre) and Mary-Pat O’Malley.
The Social Model
The social model looks beyond a person’s impairment at all the relevant factors that affect their ability to be a full and equal participant in society… the solution is to rid society of these barriers, rather than relying on curing all the people who have impairments. However, it wasn’t that long ago people with impairments lived in forced institutionalization and even perform in circuses and exhibitions in order to survive. For millennia our bodies have been the subject of ridicule, stigma, and prejudice.
Challenging the Norm
Today, there are many social/civil rights movements the world recognizes as critical to the discourse on global human rights. People of color, the LGBTQ communities, and gender identification appear at the top of the list. The forces behind these movements are to be lauded for their activist spirit and the fight for their equality.
But, people with impairments are always at the bottom of the list. There is no pride parade for us and we don’t have posters declaring “Disabled Lives Matter”. We must all become activists and warriors if we are to advance the social narrative to achieve full equality, accessibility, and integration. Many countries have passed “Accessibility and Equality Laws” declaring people with impairments are equal (although the term disabled is still used). Yet, rarely are these laws fully enforced.
Here in Canada, the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, continues to push the charity model rather than fully support the AODA – the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Activist and attorney, David Lepofsky had to sue the City of Toronto twice to force the city’s bus system to fully enforce all-access features such as announcing stops on buses, streetcars, and subway trains. If we didn’t have such a warrior among us, we might still not have those enforcements. Today, David is focused on trying to achieve triage protocols for people with impairments in Ontario hospitals because there are none.
Why We Must be Activists and Warriors
I have been an activist for forty years. Often I was opposed by people at the top (officials in government and academia) that the access features I advocated for were ‘too expensive’ and there were other priorities. Yes, I persisted. This article is not about my achievements, it is about my warrior spirit. This is a spirit we must all adopt if we’re going to see a new age of accessibility and equality. No one will randomly give these things to us.
In Ontario, Canada, over half a million people with impairments are on a monthly pension and as such, they live 40% below the poverty line. This is in Canada – a highly developed, wealthy country with resources at its disposal to create a society for everyone. In the 1970s Prime Minster Pierre Trudeau talked about the “just society”. Where is it? The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly states that disability cannot be a reason or criteria for lack of access to development programming and the realization of human rights.
But there is still a long way to go. Here are some startling facts about people with impairments in the developing world:
- 90% of children living with a disability in developing countries are not in school
· Women and girls with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuse
· It is estimated that 20% of the world’s poorest people have some kind of disability
Then, there is the trafficking of people with disabilities an abuse that is beyond horrific, demeaning and dehumanizing. In an article I published in 2017, I wrote there are four specific reasons why some people with disabilities would be more vulnerable to being trafficked:
- Social powerlessness
- Communication skill deficits
- Diminished ability to protect oneself due to lack of instruction and/or resources
- Inability to detect who is safe to be around
Progress & Victories
Irrespective of all these challenges, there have also been many victories – 45 countries now have equality laws, there are technological advancements to make our lives easier, assist in accessing the Internet, improve physical mobility, and there are also people with impairments in significant government positions around the world. In Israel, Karine Elharar is now the Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Carla Qualtrough is Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion in Canada, Jordon Alexander Steele is a member of the Australian Parliament, Iliesa Delana is a member of the Fijiian Parliament, and there are literally hundreds of others in key positions in over thirty countries.
In entertainment and modeling, men and women are breaking down barriers with covers on major magazines, winning Academy Awards, and serving as role models for the younger generation. Activists such as Marlee Matlin (actress), Jillian Mercado (model), Debbie van der Putten (model), and others are paving the way to create a new discourse on different bodies. Paralympic athletes now win the same medals as all Olympic athletes and are featured on television broadcasts.
These successes are ours and they were hard won. We have had to fight every step of the way to encourage the world around us that we are not freaks, cripples, or unfortunates, which is how we were viewed for so long. There is no longer a question of if the world will be fully accessible but when. Each victory is another step in the right direction. This is why we must all be activist/warriors – not just for ourselves and our individual challenges, but for our collective equality. It is our right to have this, and we must not give up the fight to achieve our goal.
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