Disability Movement from Charity to Empowerment, by Kishor Bhanushali
Probably every wheelchair rider–or at least, the wheelchair users who I know–have had the experience of strangers in the street adamantly insisting on giving them their loose change. Even well-dressed people in three-piece pin-striped suits on their way to white collar jobs in industrialized countries have had strangers simply assume that they must be panhandling–and that they would be thrilled to receive a piece of currency so tiny that it can purchase absolutely nothing in the local economy.
This event is so ordinary and common in their lives that some disabled people may not even think to mention it until and unless an astonished companion witnesses an incident and asks about it. The attitude reflected by these would-be benefactors can be instantly be recognized by the familiar as the “charity model” of disability described further below in Kishor Bhanushali’s essay.
For someone new to disability studies, certain terms can seem as bewildering as international development jargon can seem to a grassroots disability (or Deaf/deaf) rights advocate. Concepts such as the distinctions between the “social model” and the “medical model” of disability can initially seem remote from the concerns of someone unfamiliar with disabilities struggling to ensure that disabled people have equal access to the mainstream transportation infrastructure program, or to the HIV/AIDS education outreach project, that they are trying to implement.
But the attitudes and perspectives of non-disabled people toward people with disabilities can, and do, have a profound impact on our daily lives. Even for a disabled person who has never before heard the phrase “moral model” or “human rights model,” the descriptions of the real-world attitudes upon which these phrases are based are intimately familiar and highly relevant to our lives. They are familiar because we confront them, for better or for worse, in the people we meet–including in our families. And they are relevant because when certain attitudes are pervasive throughout all society, they directly and pragmatically affect what services or human rights are–or are not–available to us.
This holds as true in developing nations as it does in rich nations. Disabled people have unequal access to resources in their environment not only because they are disabled, or because their country is poor, but also because people and programs following the moral, medical, or charity models (rather than the social or human rights models) may create barriers that prevent their equal participation in society.
Whether or not you knew it, you are already operating from the perspectives and attitudes described in at least one of the existing “disability models,” as described in the essay below and elsewhere. And so are the programs that you run, support, or work for–even if these projects are not intended to be targeted specifically at people with disabilities. Being aware of the various models and the distinctions among them can be a helpful start in evaluating whether your program is productive and empowering for disabled people–or if your program, entirely without your intent or will, reinforces barriers already present in their environment.
The author of the paper presented here, Kishor Bhanushali, recently circulated it on the email distribution list for the Global Partnership on Disability and Development (GPDD). He was kind enough to grant permission for it to be posted at We Can Do. I wanted to post this paper so that readers new to the various disability models can receive a brief introduction here. This paper also shares Bhanushali’s observations of the status of people with disabilities in Indian society.
Kishor Bhanushali is currently working on a book titled “Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities” that will contain articles on various rehabilitation strategies. He invites submissions. Interested parties should contact him directly.
Changing Face of Disability Movement: From Charity to Empowerment
By Kishor Bhanushali
Faculty Member – ICFAI Business School
National Seminar On
“Revisiting Social Work in the field of Health – A Journey from Welfare to Empowerment-
(20-21 February 2007)
Organised by Faculty of Social Work,
The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda Vadodara
“Over 600 million people, or approximately 10 per cent of the world’s population, have a disability of one form or another. Over two thirds of them live in developing countries. Only 2 per cent of disabled children in the developing world receive any education or rehabilitation. The link between disability and poverty and social exclusion is direct and strong throughout the world” – Human Rights and Disability (United Nations)
The problem of disability and movement for disability is as old as mankind. Holy epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata have reference the issue of disability in terms of negative characters of Mnthara, Dhutrastra, and Sakuni. This has created negative impact on the mindset of people about persons with disabilities. During ancient times, persons with disabilities were seen as sin or punishment by God for wrong thing done in last life. This perception has changed over a period of time and persons with disabilities were looked at with pity and charity. But today they have proved themselves as normal citizens. It has been proved that disability lies in the social system and not within persons with disabilities themselves. They need their rights and equal opportunities instead of pity and charity. Disability movement worldwide and within India has a greater role to play in this transformation. This needs to strengthen further. Paper focuses on the changing face of disability movement from looking at persons with disability as a sin to charity mode and towards giving them their rights and equal opportunities. Attempt here is on understand the path of disability movement and its relevance for Indian social work. This will provide an important input for voluntary organizations, government, and the social work professionals working in the area of disability.
Different people conceptualize the phenomenon of disability differently. Accordingly each person will have different meaning for the term disability and rehabilitation strategy to be followed. Accordingly conceptions regarding disability have undergone changes from time to time, from place to place, and from person to person. The meaning of disability for a doctor is different from that of psychologist, economists, and social worker. Accordingly we have different models of disability evolving from disability movement worldwide.
1. Moral Model
The oldest model of disability was moral model. Under this model person with disability were seen as sin. Disability was considered as punishment from God for the wrong Karma done in the past. Thus persons with disabilities were treated as alien. They have no right to live in the mainstream society. They are not entitled for any right to education, social life and employment available other members of the society. They themselves are responsible for what they are. The family with disabled member was seen with suspicious. To avoid this disabled member were generally hided by their family. Neither government nor society was concerned with the problems faced by them.
2. Charity Model
Charity model is driven largely by the emotive appeals of charity. This model treats people with disabilities as helpless victims needing care and protections. This model relies heavily on the charity and benevolence rather than justice and equality. This model accepts the act of exclusion of persons with disabilities from social arrangements and services in public domain. Charity model justifies the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream education and employment. Entitlement rights are substituted by relief measures creating an army of powerless individuals, without any control or bargaining power, depending either on the state allocated fund or benevolent individuals. This model asks for social support mechanism for the benefit of person with disability. Initial efforts of the government and individuals were based on this model. Government was allocating large chunk of fund for the welfare of persons with disabilities as direct benefit or support to voluntary organizations. At the same time army of non-governmental organisations working for the benefit of persons with disabilities also relies on the donations and government grants.
3. Medical Model
Medical model of disability is based on the postulate that the problems and difficulties experienced by person with disabilities are directly related to their physical, sensory or intellectual impairments. This model defines disability in the clinical framework as diseases state, thus providing for major role for the medical and paramedical professionals to cure this problems in such a way as to make them as normal as possible. Medical model support the postulate that persons with disabilities are biologically and psychologically inferior to other able bodied counterparts. So they are not treated as fully human bacause they lack the competence to decide for themselves. This model reduces disability to impairment and sought to locate it within the body or mind of the individual while the power to define, control and treat disabled individual was located within the medical and paramedical professionals. This model restricts the rehabilitation efforts to medical treatment in terms of protection and cure.
4. Social Model
In contrast to medical model, which locates disability within the person with disabilities, social model postulates that persons is disabled because of architectural, attitudinal and social barriers created by the society. The social model presents disability as a consequence of oppression, prejudice and discrimination by the society against disabled people. It is the society, which constructs economic, social, health, architectural, legal, and cultural and other barriers in order to deliberately prevent people with impairments enjoying full benefits of social life. The social model shifts the emphasis from a disabled individual to the society and its disabling attitudes and environment. People who believe on social model are of he view that handicap is made and not acquired. So the solution lies in social management by all necessary environmental modification.
5. Economic Model
The economic model tries to establish the linkages between the individual and society in term of their contribution to productive capabilities of the society. The emphasis here is on health related limitations on the amount and kind of work performed by person with disabilities. This approach suggests that the employment problems of person with disabilities stem from faulty economic system and deficiencies on the part of such disadvantage individuals. The vocational rehabilitation programmes or income generation programmes are principle solutions to the problems faced by persons with disabilities. Existing policies plays a greater role in condemning the disabled man and women to a life of perpetual dependency thus providing low pay work ad limited opportunities for all around development. Unlike other models, economic model suggest that the modifications in the persons in the form of education, training and employability, rather than changing the environment and worksite changes or changes in the perception of employees is the most desirable means of fulfilling the social and economic needs of the disadvantages strata of the society.
6. Human Rights Model
Over the past two decades, dramatic shift in the perspective has taken place from an approach motivated by charity towards persons with disabilities to one based on rights. Disability is positioned as an important dimension of human culture by human rights model. According to human rights model all human beings irrespective of their disabilities have certain rights, which are unchallengeable. By emphasizing that the disabled are equally entitled to rights as others, this model builds upon the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, according to which, ‘all human beings are born free and equal in rights and dignity”. This model emphasis on viewing persons with disabilities as subjects and not as objects thus locating the problem outside the disabled persons and addresses the manners in which the economic and social processes accommodate the differences of disability or not, as the case may be.
In all countries of the world, persons with disabilities are the largest minority group starved of services and facilities available to their non-disabled counterparts. As a result they are least nourished, least healthy, least educated and least employed. They are subject to the long history of neglect, isolation, poverty, deprivation, charity and pity. The situation of persons with disabilities in India is not significantly different. The responsibility of care of persons with disabilities is generally left to their families and few institutions managed by voluntary organisations and government. Disabled in India is mostly ignored by the society because they do not have economic, political or media power. Census of India, for the first time, enumerated persons with disabilities in 2001 according to which more than 2 crore people are facing the problem of disability. In comparison to United Nations figure of 10 percent, Census of India figure is very small. The reason lies in the different approaches and definitions. Within India results of National Sample Survey Organisation and Census of India shows contradictory results. This speaks about the lack of sensitivity on the issue of disability.
The legal framework adequately addresses the issue of disability. Constitution of India, guarantees a right of justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief and worship and equality of status and of opportunities for all citizens including person with disabilities. Apart form constitutional provisions the collective struggle of all disabled and their advocates resulted in ‘Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Bill, passed in 1995. This Act is a comprehensive and farreaching legislation with promise of liberating mankind of its prejudices and of removing barriers that have crippled the disabled for centuries. By granting full equality, independence and freedom, act has opened doors to people with disabilities so that the can become an integral part of the mainstream society. Apart from PWD Act, we have other legislative provisions like The Mental Health Act 1987, Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, and The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act 1999 are also available to safeguard the interest of person with Disabilities. Government of Gujarat has passed Gujarat Physically Handicapped Persons (Employment in Factories) Act 1982 which provide for the reservation for person with disabilities in private sector factories. The fruits of these legislative provisions are not percolating to persons with disabilities because of lack of awareness. Even voluntary organisations working for persons with disabilities themselves are not aware about the legal provisions. Overlapping of functions of judicial machinery makes things more complicated.
Large numbers of voluntary organisations are operating in India, especially for the welfare of person with disabilities. Sincere and dedicated efforts on the part of government and voluntary organisations have resulted in high level of literacy among person with disabilities and increased awareness among persons with disabilities and their parents about their rights and capabilities. But the dark side is that, many of voluntary organisations believe on charity model. These organisations are not professionally managed. They are depending on government and other donors for financial support. Only a few of them are providing vocational training and employment services for person with disabilities. Vocational trainings provided by voluntary organisations are not professionally designed lacking in marketability and employability. So even after getting training person with disabilities are not suitably employed. Secondly more than 75 percent of persons with disabilities are living in rural areas where as voluntary efforts are concentrated in urban locations. Very few organisations are working for rural disabled. Voluntary organisations have to extend their operations in rural areas as well.
Employment is really a problem for person with disabilities. Unemployment rate among person with disabilities is more than double the unemployment rate among their nondisabled counterparts. The reasons lie in the suspicions of the employers who believe on medical model and consider them inferior to their non-disabled counterparts. They prefer to donate for the welfare of persons with disabilities rather than giving them employment opportunities. Physical and mental impairment is more visible to them compared to their abilities. A Three percent reservation as provided by PWD Act has remained on paper even after more than a decade of passage of legislation.
The policies and schemes of government are guided by medical model rather than human rights model. Major efforts on the part of government are limited to physical rehabilitation in the form of preventive action, provision for aids and appliances etc. Efforts in the direction of human rights model has remain on paper because of the ignorance on the part of persons with disabilities, and voluntary organisations.
Disability movement in India has succeeded in changing the approach towards disability from moral model to charity model but limited has been achieved in the direction of human rights model. Collective efforts on the part of person with disabilities, their advocates, voluntary organisations, government and society at large are required to create real world where abilities and disabilities are not seen on the basis of physical or mental impairment but disability is seen as diverse abilities.
1. The Census of India 2001, Government of India
2. The National Sample Survey Organisations, 58 th Round 2002, Government of India
3. Disability Status in India: Retrospect and Prospects, by G.N. Karna, Gyan Publishing house, New Delhi.
4. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, United Nations
5. Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995, Government of India
6. The Mental Health Act 1987, Government of India
7. Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, Government of India
8. The National Trust for Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disability Act 1999, Government of India.
9. National Human Rights Commission, www.nhrc.nic.in
10. Identifying Disability Issues Related to Poverty Reduction: India Country Study, Asian Development Bank
I will likely post more materials (or links to same) on the various models of disability, and how they relate to the international development field, in future blog posts at We Can Do. But for now, let me quickly link to two essays that discuss particularly the “medical” and “social” models in further depth. Both are posted by a British blogger who dubs herself “Lady Bracknell”: “Impairment versus disability” and “The social model of disability.”
Please note that Lady Bracknell’s use of terminology such as the distinction between “disabled” and “impaired” is a very British usage and differs from the usage of similar terminology by writers from other countries.
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