Why Fight Disablism? A Global Perspective: Blogging against Disablism Day (BADD) 2012

Posted on 1 May 2012. Filed under: Cross-Disability, Human Rights, Inclusion, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

I first wrote this essay in 2012, for a global on-line event in which people wrote about discrimination against persons with disabilities. I have lightly edited this essay to make it more relevant to audiences in 2021.

Why fight disablism, also known as ableism? Disablism (or ableism) is a form of discrimination toward people with disabilities?

The short answer takes one paragraph:  We need to fight disablism because disablism is more than just an attitude.  Disablism excludes people with disabilities, isolates them, leaves them out, leaves them behind, and pushes them to the margins of society. Disabled people are hurt in physical ways that can leave bruises, rope burns, broken bones, and even dead bodies.  And they also are hurt in other ways that some say can be worse than physical abuse.

The long answer would have to involve listening to one billion people on the face of the Earth describe the one billion ways that disablism impacts their lives.  Because one billion is the number of people with disabilities living in the world today.  And, chances are, all of them would have a slightly different answer to what disablism means.  And it’s not just disabled people and their loved ones who think it is important to address discrimination against people with disabilities. Two major international organizations—the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO)—have this to say about the effects of the social inequities that people with disabilities experience daily:

“Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience barriers in accessing services that many of us have long taken for granted, including health, education, employment, and transport as well as information.”

They cite many inter-related causes for these effects.  And these include negative attitudes that others may sometimes hold toward people with disabilities:

“Beliefs and prejudices constitute barriers to education, employment, health care, and social participation. For example, the attitudes of teachers, school administrators, other children, and even family members affect the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. Misconceptions by employers that people with disabilities are less productive than their non-disabled counterparts, and ignorance about available adjustments to work arrangements limits employment opportunities.”

If you want to read their evidence for yourself, check out the World Report on Disability that the World Bank and WHO released, with a big media splash, in September 2011:   http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/index.html
This publication is available in any of the major United Nations languages, namely, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, and Chinese. Scholars, experts, and advocates still frequently cite the report today, in 2021.

I’m fortunate that my passion for international disability rights coincides with my career path. For more than eight years, I worked at an organization based in Washington, DC, called the U.S. International Council on Disability (USICD). When people ask me what the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) does, there are a few basic answers I could give.  I can say that USICD works to mobilize the U.S. disability community to become more engaged with the international disability rights movement.  It works to promote U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which is the first legally binding international human rights treaty to specifically protect the human rights of people with disabilities.  And USICD also promotes disability inclusion in U.S. foreign assistance programs abroad.  And, via the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) project, which I coordinated for three years,, USICD worked to deliver disability rights knowledge to advocates and policy makers in developing countries who have limited Internet connectivity.  No, it’s not an “anti-disablism” organization per se.  But I suspect that its mission would align well with the values of many of the people participating in the 2012 edition of Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD).

The Blogging Against Disablism Day used to be an annual event held on May 1st each year. While it was active, the disability blogger at “Diary of a Goldfish” hosted the event each year. This meant her blog was the go-to link for finding all the other BADD posts for 2012.  Her blog also is still where you can find archived BADD posts from previous years.  Usually a hundred or more bloggers participated each year, all with something fresh to say about what disablism means to them.  Many participating bloggers are themselves people with disabilities.  Other participating bloggers are friends, families, and allies of disabled people.  I hope you will explore the other BADD contributions also!

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Challenges Implementing Disability Rights Treaty?

Posted on 17 May 2009. Filed under: Announcements, Call for Comments or Information, Human Rights, Networking Opportunities, Opinion, Psychiatric Disabilities, Sub-Saharan Africa Region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Abdul-Jeff Maalik Makana, the Executive Director of MindFreedom Kenya, wants to learn more about the challenges that other countries experience in implementing the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Below is his appeal for information. Please respond directly to him at kenya@mindfreedom.org.

Dear All,

Greetings from non sunny Nairobi day today!

We have a challenge here in Kenya advocating for the implementation of the UN CRPD. Are other states experiencing similar challenges? What are the challenges?

I recently on a media appearence to create awareness about the work of MindFreedom Kenya & advocating for the implementation of the UN CRPD… one caller to the show reinforced the general view that persons with psychosocial disabilities have no capacity at any time to make decision (Legal capacity) though the UN CRPD guarantees legal capacity(article 12) or even supported decision making.

To quote Daniel Hazen—Human Rights and Advocacy “cease the practice of exceptionalism when it comes to human rights” meaning we cannot downplay the CRPD which is a very important rallying point for our movement.

Mental Health (MH) policies cannot be written in a vacuum…. State parties and other stakeholders should get direction that adopting certain articles of the CRPD versus the CRPD in its entirety has far reaching consequences more so article 12 (right to legal capacity) a big part of the user/survivor movement advocacy.

Lastly, why was the term psychosocial disabled adopted in the UN CRPD versus the term mentally disabled or mentally ill? Here in Africa many don’t see mental illness as a disability? Can you please help me understand how to advocate better for psychosocial disabled term to be adopted and accepted locally.

What are your views:

I am doing a Survey on supporting signing/ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by state parties without reservations.

This obligation would require that the States both refrain from actions that undermine the principles and initiate efforts which would promote them. You can also e-mail your comments directly to kenya@mindfreedom.org

As a user, a survivor. mental health worker, or human rights activist in mental health do you support the position that the CRPD is non negotiable, and that the nature of this commitment obligates state parties to completely review MH policies and legislation which relied on flawed WHO MI Principles? *


A few sampling of responses collected regarding the above question:

This obligation would require that the States both refrain from actions that undermine the principles and initiate efforts which would promote them.(MH Policy, legislation’s, new MH laws, civic education, more access to mental services at the community level, empowering of persons with psychosocial disabilities to participate equally in society without being discriminated based on disabilities).

Absolutely I support it!! Recently there have been reports that they are opening “behavioral” units in nursing homes in New York State–a way to lock us up again quietly so there won’t be too many complaints. Fortunately we noticed and… Read More now there’s a lawsuit. Good thing so many of us “suffer” from hypervigelance!! Anyway, so good to see that we’re coming together internationally. We can and will find our power no matter how hard the system tried to hold us down.

I am not sure that I can ask for the UN treaty to become nationalized, but I do agree with many of the tenets. I think that I can see where some conflicts of interest might be involved. So better person by person, not this group or that. That is what I think….

With kind regards,

Abdul-Jeff Maalik Makana

Abdul Maalik bin Ali formerly,
Jeff Makana

Executive Director,
MindFreedom Kenya(MF-K)
website: http://www.mindfreedomkenya.interconnection.org
Follow me on twitter@ www.twitter.com/Jeffmakana

Thank you to Abdul Maalik bin Ali for submitting this announcement for publication at We Can Do.

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Why Obama Matters Globally

Posted on 18 November 2008. Filed under: Call for Comments or Information, Human Rights, Opinion, Opportunities, Policy & Legislation, Poverty | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The new US President-elect Barack Obama has said that the United States should “lead the world” in helping people with disabilities “take full advantage of their talents and become independent, integrated members of society.” He also has pledged to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and to urge the US Senate to ratify it. If the United States does indeed ratify the CRPD, disability advocates in other countries would then be able to point to this fact when pressuring their own governments to do the same.

Obama’s election could have important implications for people with disabilities not only across the United States but possibly also in other countries. But we will only reap the full benefits of his presidency if he follows through on all his promises to people with disabilities. Most politicians, at least in democratic countries, are more quick to follow through on their promises when they know that both people in their own country and also people around the world are watching them.

Accordingly, people with disabilities and our loved ones, colleagues, and allies from both across the United States and all countries around the world are being encouraged to send emails to Barack Obama’s team. You can send an email to Kareem Dale, Obama’s National Disability Vote Director (at kdale@barackobama.com), WITH COPIES TO Anne Hayes, a volunteer on the Obama Disability Policy Committee (at ahayesku@hotmail.com). If you wish, you may read other people’s emails to Obama for inspiration.

In your letters to Obama, you may wish to urge him to move quickly to sign the CRPD. Or, you may wish to urge him to remember to ensure that all US foreign assistance and poverty reduction programs are actively inclusive of people with disabilities in their design and implementation. What would it mean to the disability community in YOUR country if the US were to sign and ratify the CRPD? Share your ideas. Have you observed US-funded foreign assistance programs in your country that were not fully inclusive of people with disabilities? Share your stories with Obama’s team.

If you need more detail on the national and global email-writing campaign to Obama, you may wish to view the slide show program below. Or, if you have difficulty with this slide show program, then most of this text is also posted at https://wecando.wordpress.com/2008/11/07/disabilities-email-obama/

After you write your own email to Obama, please do encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same.

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Take Action! Promote the Mainstreaming of Disability in the MDGs

Posted on 26 September 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Call for Comments or Information, Cross-Disability, Education, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, Inclusion, News, Opinion, Opportunities, Policy & Legislation, Poverty | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , |

DATE:    9/25/2008
The General Assembly’s sixty-third session is taking place at the UN headquarters in New York. This session marks a special occasion to highlight the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and a number of consultations and events examining multiple dimensions of MDG activities are taking place throughout the week. This presents a unique opportunity for all concerned stakeholders to advocate for the inclusion of disability in the MDGs.
Since the GA Plenary may discuss this issue from October 6 to 8, immediate action is essential. For this reason, the Secretariat of the Global Partnership for Disability and Development is:

1)    Circulating a letter to UN Missions and Foreign Affairs Offices of Member States requesting Member States to make interventions and support a resolution in favor of mainstreaming disabilities in the MDGs.

2)    Encouraging advocates and activists to phone, fax, or e-mail relevant government officials in their countries.

3)    Sending an advisory to relevant media outlets.

We request your support in these actions as well as your suggestions.

Your ideas and participation will make a difference! A sample letter and relevant contact information are attached for your use.

FYI,  a copy of the Secretary-General’s report on mainstreaming disability in monitoring and evaluation of MDGs conducted as part of the Fifth quinquennial  review and appraisal of the World Program of Action concerning Disabled Persons and a short summary are attached, as well.
Maria Verónica Reina
Executive Director

Sample Letter
Disability advocates may wish to use this sample letter as inspiration when writing to the UN Mission Office for your country, or when writing to the Foreign Affairs office in your country. Find the full list of UN Mission offices, with the relevant contact information, at http://www.un.org/members/missions.shtml. Search the website for your government to locate the contact information for your country’s equivalent of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Dear Mr./Ms. Minister of Foreign Affairs (or Head of Delegation):
As members of the Disability and Development community, we want to encourage your government to play a substantive and active role in favor of mainstreaming Disability in the Millennium Development Goals (during the fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action (A/63/183) which will be reviewed by the GA during its 63rd session (6-8 October under Social Development). The report was envisaged as a contribution to reinforcing the disability perspective in reviews of the progress made, and challenges encountered, in implementing the MDGs as requested by GA resolution 62/127.

Mainstreaming disability in the MDGs will help to ensure that no one is excluded from the processes of global development. In view of the enforcement of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, new and concerted efforts should be made in order to accomplish the advancement of persons with disability in the context of development. It is important to note the importance of promoting universal design, the design of products, environments, programmes, and services which are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Such increased accessibility benefits all members of society, not only persons with disabilities. Simultaneously, it is also relevant to state that disability specific programs addressing MDG concerns are also needed to guarantee the full inclusion of persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

For these reasons, we respectfully urge you to promote a resolution on mainstreaming disability in the MDGs during the fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action at the 63rd Session of the GA.


Summary Fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (A/63/183)
The full Fifth quinquennial review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, referred to in Maria Verónica Reina’s letter, was too long to publish here. But someone also disseminated a shorter summary which is provided below.

The fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action (A/63/183) will be reviewed by the General Assembly during its 63rd session(6-8 October under social development)The report was envisaged as a contribution to reinforcing the disability perspective in reviews of progress and challenges encountered in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as requested by General Assembly resolution 62/127. The resolution also requested the Secretary-General to present proposed updates of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons which were summarized in Annex I to the report. The report also presents Annex II, “Millennium Development Goals: Mainstreaming Disability”, which presents practical guidance on the inclusion of disability in the processes of the MDGs.

The principal issue addressed in the fifth review and appraisal is the emergence of a “new normative and policy architecture” on the advancement of persons with disabilities within the context of development. This architecture comprises the broad policy framework of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (for policy formulation, planning and development); the tactical guidance for States of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities; and the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which are legally binding for States parties, and is discussed in the section “International Disability Architecture”.

A second point of importance within the report is the emergence, of regional action plans and programmes on the advancement of persons with disabilities, which reflect needs and priorities of the respective regional actors and their complementary relationship to the international architecture.

A third point addresses the processes of the MDGs and focuses on options suggested in the architecture to ensure that no one is excluded from the processes of global development.

A fourth point within the report discusses the expanded constituencies for the advancement of persons with disabilities. As the median global age is on the rise, disability will have major policy implications because the prevalence of disabilities tends to be higher among older persons. The new constituencies represent important agents in a new and concerted effort as part of a disability-sensitized community to the advancement of persons with disability in the context of development. It is important to note the importance of promoting universal design, the design of products, environments, programmes and services which are usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Such increased accessibility benefits all members of society, not only persons with disabilities.

The fifth, point, is the need for a single, comprehensive biennial review of progress and obstacles in implementing a global strategy for disability-inclusive development. This unified report on the new disability architecture could facilitate substantive exchange and learning from the findings and recommendations of the CRDP treaty body once established, within the context of development.

Annex I to the Fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action – Updates to the World Programme of Action
Annex I discusses the issue of the updating of the World Programme of Action, as requested by General Assembly resolution 62/127.

The report recommends that the General Assembly endorse a plan to develop a Global Strategy toward Disability-Inclusive Development 2010-2015, through regional consultations and contributions from experts. These strategic guidelines could be developed based on the complementarities and synergies of three disability-specific instruments, namely the World Programme of Action, the Standard Rules and the Convention, and could incorporate updates proposed by Member States. There are existing regional guidelines for disability action in the context of development that could provide a basis for the development of a global strategy.
Annex II to the Fifth review and appraisal of the World Programme of Action – Millennium Development Goals: Mainstreaming Disability

Annex II provides a selection of examples and guidelines for mainstreaming disability in the MDGs and includes possible indicators to include disability in the monitoring of progress in achieving MDGs.

This call for action, and the associated materials, was recently circulated in several different locations including the IDA_CRPD_Forum and the GPDD mailing list.

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Including Everybody: Website on Disability and MDGs Launched

Posted on 26 September 2008. Filed under: Announcements, Children, Cross-Disability, Education, Health, HIV/AIDS, Inclusion, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), News, Opinion, Policy & Legislation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
End poverty and hunger. Put all children in school. Empower women. Stop children from dying. Keep pregnant and birthing mothers healthy. Fight AIDS, malaria, and other disease. Create a sustainable environment. And promote global cooperation. These are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)–an important set of goals agreed upon by key leaders and heads of state from around the world in September 2000. No, they don’t mention people with disabilities at all–and I will come back to this point in a few paragraphs. Or you can ignore me and go straight to the new website on disability and the MDGs. But in theory, the MDGs are meant to help everyone.

Each goal has a set of specific targets to be achieved, most with the deadline set for 2015. For example, the poverty goal includes a target to cut the number of people living on less than $1 a day in half by 2015. And the goal on child mortality includes a target to cut the child mortality rate by two-thirds among children below age 5. Many country governments, multi-lateral development banks, international development organizations, and donors have invested billions of dollars into projects meant to help more countries and regions meet the Millennium Development Goals.

What has the results been? Mixed. Some of the goals, such as the targets for reducing poverty and hunger, or in putting all children in primary school, have been met–and exceeded in many countries particularly in eastern Asia. Progress in southern Asia has helped also. But many countries in sub-Saharan Africa lag far behind in meeting many of the MDGs.

You can read more about the overall progress–or lack of it–at http://www.undp.org/mdg/basics_ontrack.shtml. Or if you only want to look up the progress in the country where you live, work, or care about the most, go to http://www.undp.org/mdg/tracking_countryreports2.shtml.

People with Disabilities and the MDGs
But what about people with disabilities? Unfortunately, they have been so invisible that most programs and governments don’t even count them. That means it’s hard to find reliable numbers that measure whether people with disabilities are included–or left behind–in the haphazard progress that has been made toward the MDGs. But, we can make some educated guesses.

For example, what limited numbers do exist estimate that possibly as many as 98% of children with disabilities in some developing countries never go to school. Personally, I doubt this number is universally true. For one thing, there is a great deal of variation from country to country in how proactive they are about finding creative ways to include children with disabilities in school. Read Making Schools Inclusive: How Change Can Happen: Save the Children’s Experience (PDF format, 4.14 Mb) for examples of progress.

Then, there is probably some variation depending on the disability. A child with a relatively mild walking-related disability, for example, might have only minor difficulty reaching school if it is not too far. Or a child with undiagnosed and unaccommodated dyslexia might sometimes make it through a few years of school, and even learn a little, before they quit in frustration.

But if that 98% figure is anywhere close to the mark, then it is safe to say that the MDG target on universal primary education has failed disabled children miserably. We do know that they are very disproportionately left behind: the UK Department of International Development (DFID) says that one-third of the 72 million children who are out of school have disabilities, even though people with disabilities are only an estimated 10 percent of the world population in general. And this only covers the education-related target of the MDGs; the new website on disability and the MDGs points out gaps in all the rest.

Disability Inclusion is Everyone’s Business
So what’s the answer to this problem? A thorough response to this question would fill a book. One thing, however, is clear: It will not be resolved by any one government or organization working in isolation. And it certainly will not happen if resource-strapped disability-oriented organizations are left to tackle the problem alone. It will take many governments, agencies, and organizations working together–including those that do not normally specialize in disability issues. In short, everybody who is doing anything to address the MDGs needs to identify better ways to include people with disabilities in the work they’re already doing.

This begins by increasing everyone’s awareness of the complex relationship between disability and the MDGs. By “everyone” I mean both disability advocates (so they can help advocate the issue) and also mainstream international development professionals (so they can find ways to ensure their programs are not inadvertently leaving disabled people behind). Either way, you can start learning at the new website on disability and the Millennium Development Goals, Include Everybody, at:


What Do I Think of “Include Everybody”?
When you consider that this website is brand new, I think it makes an excellent start at covering the issues. In the long run, as with any new endeavor, I see room for them to expand. For example, their page on achieving universal primary school education or the page on promoting gender equality and empowering women could usefully link to publications such as Education for All: a gender and disability perspective (PDF format, 151 Kb). Or their page on combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases could link to the on-line global survey on disability and HIV/AIDS.

They also could consider eventually developing a one to two page, attractive looking, factsheet on disability and the MDGs that advocates could print out and disseminate when educating others about the topic. They also could consider developing a similarly attractive, one-page factsheet for each of the MDGs individually. The latter could be useful, for example, for passing along to a specialist who only wants to read the information on child mortality without also having to wade through a lot of detail on environmental sustainability. Or vice versa.

But, for now, this web site is a good place to start learning.


The Include Everybody website has been publicized in several different locations by now, including the GPDD mailing list, the Intl-Dev mailing list, Joan Durocher’s mailing list, and others.

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OPINION: The Farmer, the Spoon, and the Plow

Posted on 29 March 2008. Filed under: Human Rights, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The Farmer, the Spoon, and the Plow: Why the International Disability Rights Treaty (CRPD) is Worth Celebrating

This allegorical tale is meant to highlight why the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is well worth celebrating—and why our work isn’t done just because it’s about to enter into force.

Historical Note: The CRPD is an international treaty intended to protect a wide range of human rights for people with disabilities, including the right to live in the community (not an institution), to have access to public services, to be free of discrimination, and more. It does not create new rights. Rather, it is meant to ensure that people with disabilities are able to access the same rights that other people in their country already enjoy. This tale was written a month before the CRPD first entered into force on May 3, 2008, with 20 ratifying countries. Today, in October 2009, more than 70 countries have ratified the CRPD and more than 140 countries have signed it. The full text of the CRPD, and a full list of countries signing or ratifying the CRPD, is available at http://www.un.org/disabilities. A country is not fully obligated to obey the treaty until after it not only signs but also ratifies the CRPD.

Before the CRPD Was Created
Once upon a time, there were 650 million farmers who tended to thousands of fields in 200 nations. Some of the fields were more fertile than other fields. Some received more rain and sun than others. Some fields were filled with rocks and other obstacles that made it very hard for farmers to plant and harvest food. In order to do any plowing, the farmers first had to remove the stones. All the fields were very large: it could easily take a farmer many years to finish plowing or harvesting even the smallest field. But even in size, the fields varied greatly.

It was not only the fields that were so dramatically different from each other. Each farmer also had a different set of tools. Some farmers had only tiny teaspoons, some of which were broken and not even working properly. Some farmers had table spoons or even large stirring spoons. A few farmers had been taught how to make shovels and were able to use those.

Farmers with shovels were usually able to plow their fields more quickly than farmers with teaspoons. But sometimes a farmer with a shovel had to clear away so many stones from her field that she would finish far less plowing than a farmer with only a teaspoon but an easier field.

But all the farmers were frustrated. No matter how easy their field was to plow, or how fertile it was, or how much dirt their spoons could hold, all their fields were simply too large to complete with the tools they had. Some farmers despaired of their task, gave up completely, and starved. Some farmers continued to work in grim determination and were able to grow a little food for their trouble. But it was never enough—not because they were lazy or greedy but simply because their tools weren’t powerful enough.

Creating the CRPD; Signing it; Ratifying it
Some of the farmers decided to do something about their deplorable living conditions. These farmers worked together to build a set of plows and agreed to make all the plows available to any farmer who needed them. They named their set of plows the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sometimes they referred to them more informally as the international disability rights treaty. Or they refered to them as the CRPD for short.

Some of the farmers lived in governments that usually did little to invest in the needs of their farmers. Consequently, these governments choose not to allow their farmers to use the new plows at all. Some of the farmers who had been forbidden to use the plows banded together into various national and international organizations, such as RatifyNow, to pressure their governments to deliver the plows to them. In some cases, the farmers have had success and can now use the CRPD. In other cases, the farmers are still fighting but are experiencing progress.

Some governments made promises to buy these new plows for their farmers. But then they locked the plows into a shed and never got around to allowing the farmers to actually use them. In some cases, farmers in these countries decided the plows were useless for them. After all, their government had bought the plows, but the plows accomplished nothing for them.

In other cases, the farmers realized that the plows themselves were not flawed–the real problem was in the fact that the plows were not being used. They, too, organized themselves to put pressure on their governments to make better use of the plows. After many years of hard work, they convinced their governments to unlock the plows so they could be used.

Now We Have the CRPD, Our Work is Done. Or is it?
Some farmers were allowed to use the plows but did not understand why they would want to. “Look, we already have tools for plowing our fields,” they said. “And what good have they done for us? They still take forever to use. Why would a plow be any better?” They ignored the plows and continued using the tools they knew. They continued to have all the same troubles they had before the plows were built.

Other farmers, at first, were thrilled to have the plows. They allowed the plow to sit in their fields and immediately stopped working. “The plow will take care of all our problems now,” they said. “After, that’s what it’s meant to do, isn’t it? It will fight our poverty and starvation for us. When our governments try to oppress us with harmful laws and regulations, it will fight back for us. When schools deny our children the right to enter the classroom, or when clinics refuse to provide us with health services, then the plows will tell them to stop discriminating against us. The schools and clinics will immediately obey the plows and give us our rights. It’s as simple as that.”

After a few years of allowing their plows to sit untended in their fields, these farmers realized that their fields were still unplowed. The farmers, for their part, were still poor and hungry, their children were still uneducated, and their families were still sick.

They became angry and blamed the plows for being faulty. They sneered at the plows and at the people who had built them. “These plows sure look pretty, but what good are they?” These farmers said. “What do they actually accomplish? If these plows are so wonderful then why are we still poor, hungry, uneducated, and sick?” They abandoned the plows, and so the plows did nothing for them.

Why Do We Need to Learn About the CRPD?
Another group of farmers started using the plows, but they didn’t read the instruction manual that came with them. They did the best they could without the instruction manual. Sometimes they found that they did accomplish more with the plows than they ever had with their spoons and shovels. But still, they were severely disappointed. The plows were not nearly as productive for them as they had initially hoped. They continued using the plows because it was what they had, but they became angry that the plows accomplished so little for them.

Fully Implementing the CRPD
Yet another group of farmers were careful to read the instruction manual thoroughly. They used every feature the plows had in every situation for which these features were helpful.

Farming still did not become magically easy for any of the farmers. They still had to work very hard. Some farmers still had far larger fields than other farmers, and thus took longer to finish their work. Some farmers had to work very slowly because they had to spend so much time clearing away stones before they could use their plows at all. These farmers, too, took longer than other farmers to finish their work.

But all the farmers found that their plows were a vast improvement over the tools they had used before. They were thrilled with the plows and decided to celebrate them.

The Moral of the Tale
So what’s the moral of this allegorical tale?

First, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is potentially a very powerful tool that could accomplish a great deal for people with disabilities around the world. That’s a good thing because the world’s 650 million disabled people are far more likely to live in poverty, or be targeted for violence, or be left behind during natural disasters and wars. The CRPD, if properly understood and properly used, could help with all of these challenges.

But, second, it is only a tool and nothing more. It’s not a magic wand or an instant cure for all that ails. A plow cannot help a farmer if the farmer has no access to it; similarly, the CRPD will be of limited help to people with disabilities if not enough countries ratify it. 

A plow continues to be useless if it is locked up in a shed. Similarly, even a ratified human rights treaty is useless if governments fail to take responsibility for implementing it. Governments must not merely ratify the CRPD but also create and pass laws that are consistent with the CRPD. Governments must abolish laws that are inconsistent with its intent and spirit. And governments must enforce its laws by taking action when they are violated.

The Importance of Grassroots Action
But it is not only governments that must take responsibility for the success of the CRPD. Ordinary citizens, with or without disabilities, must take responsibility for reading the instruction manual—in other words, educating themselves about the CRPD. Then they must learn how to use the CRPD to its maximum potential.

For example, if they realize that disabled people in their country are being denied the chance to go to school, they can go to their government and to the schools and teachers themselves to argue, “The CRPD requires that disabled people have the right to an education. This country has ratified the CRPD. Therefore, if disabled people still face barriers to obtaining an education, then the government and schools are failing in their legal obligations.” This argument could help persuade governments to create better laws, persuade schools to create better policies, and teachers to reconsider their teaching practices.

But organizations can only use these arguments if they first understand that the CRPD addresses the right to an education (see article 24 in the CRPD).

Removing Stones From the Field
Furthermore, people must be prepared to identify and remove obstacles that make it harder to fully implement the CRPD. In other words, they still need to find and remove the stones from their field. The CRPD cannot do this for them.

For example, attitudes and beliefs about disabled people are often a barrier to the full achievement of human rights even after good-quality laws might be put in place. If too many people mistakenly believe that people with disabilities cannot be productive, then few employers will give jobs to disabled people no matter what the law says. This is an obstacle that must be removed before the CRPD can be fully effective.

Article 8 of the CRPD, in fact, clearly acknowledges the importance of attitudes as a potential barrier to the success of the CRPD. This article calls upon ratifying governments to raise awareness in general society about the rights of persons with disabilities.

But the best teachers about the true capability of people with disabilities are people with disabilities themselves. The government can only support the work of educating the public and provide the resources to help make it happen. The disability community still needs to take the lead.

Achieving Human Rights
Just like farmers could still tend to their fields without a plow, disability advocates could still advocate for their rights without the CRPD. But in both cases, their work will be much harder without the proper tools.

Farmers who fail to use their plows will fail to accomplish anything with them. And farmers who fail to remove the stones from their fields will not get very far either. Similarly, disability advocates will not benefit from the CRPD if they do not learn how to use it, or if they neglect to remove the barriers that are blocking the CRPD from success.

But once they do these things, they will start to unleash the true power of the CRPD. It will still take many long years of hard work to realize the full potential of the CRPD. But during these years of sweat and tears, disability advocates can potentially accomplish far more with the CRPD than they could without it.

That’s why it’s worth celebrating the CRPD.

This blog post was written as a contribution for the RatifyNow CRPD Blog Swarm 2008, which was organized to help celebrate and promote the CRPD. A blog swarm is an event in which multiple bloggers or writers agree to write about the same topic at about the same time—in this case, about the CRPD. Please follow the link to read the other entries in the blog swarm.


You can also educate yourself about the CRPD by reading the RatifyNow FAQ.

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Equalize It! A Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development Cooperation

Posted on 15 December 2007. Filed under: Guest Blogger, Human Rights, Inclusion, Opinion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

From the International Disability Equality Agency (IDEA):

Equalise It ! A Manifesto for Disability Equality in Development Cooperation

This manifesto has been written to identify the issues for the disability movement, clarify any confusion there may be for disability and development professionals and set out a programme for change in order to create real equality for disabled people and our democratic, representative organisations (DPOs) in the development process. The adoption of the UN Convention on the rights of People with Disabilities by a growing number of countries makes the implementation of the principles in this manifesto a matter of urgency.

Disability, Poverty and Development Charities.

As disabled people….
Throughout the world we face discrimination.
Throughout the world we are socially excluded.
Throughout the world we cannot get equal access or any access at all to education, employment or decent health care.
Throughout the world we are ignored in development programmes
And so…

Throughout the world we, disabled people, remain the poorest of the poor!

The fact of this poverty has been used by global development organisations and charities to raise millions of dollars both from the public and from development agencies. However, only a small proportion of this money ever filters down to us or our organisations, DPOs. Even a smaller proportion ever succeeds in effecting sustained improvement in our lives.

At the same time we often have little or no control over what is being done ‘to us’ ‘for us’ or ‘on our behalf.’ There tends, therefore, to be little agreement between what many non-disabled professionals and charities think disabled people need and what we actually want. As a consequence, development projects can leave behind little but disappointment. Because of this the big development organisations and disability charities are frequently seen by disabled people as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Nonetheless, disabled people in the South and Southern DPOs have had little choice but to continue working with them and to smile while doing it. The disability businesses, charities and generalist development organisations have access to the money and with that comes power and control.

These organisations retain control because they are corporate organisations alive to a new funding environment which is demanding that boxes are ticked for such things as ‘human rights’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘listening to the voice of disabled people.’ They have all ticked the boxes, adopted the appropriate language and changed their public image. This is part of their corporate funding strategy. However, the reality is that their operations have not changed very much at all. They continue to be managed by non-disabled people and employ few, if any disabled people.

This reality on the ground is that for us, especially in the South, non-disabled professionals from the North continue to come and to go. Projects come and projects go. Through this never-ending process the disability organisations and charities go from strength to strength, while our DPOs continue to live from hand to mouth.

This manifesto sets out how to begin to overturn this situation and the unequal power relations which feed it.

“Nothing About Us Without Us”

“Nothing About Us Without Us” was the slogan adopted by Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) at its founding in 1981. DPI was established after Rehabilitation International (RI), then the world’s leading disability charity, refused to permit adequate representation by disabled people. This slogan has been particularly effective in capturing a key idea of our struggle for human rights – self determination is essential for achieving true equality.

This was clearly acknowledged in the 1993 UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. Rule 18 says, “States should recognise the rights of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities at national, regional and local levels. States should also recognise the advisory role of organisations of persons with disabilities in decision-making on disability matters”.

“Nothing About Us Without Us” is also in line with the more general human rights approach to development cooperation. For example the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) holds that “The human rights approach to development means empowering people to take their own decisions, rather than being the passive objects of choices made on their behalf.’

The ideas of self-determination and human rights developed and fought for by us in our international disability movement and encapsulated in “Nothing About Us Without Us” are also at the very heart of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Disability – a Human Rights Issue

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises that ‘disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.’

There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention and each one of its specific articles:
1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of person
2. Non-discrimination
3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
4. Respect for difference and acceptance of disabled people as part of human diversity and humanity
5. Equality of opportunity
6. Accessibility
7. Equality between men and women
8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

In particular the Convention emphasises the importance of self-representation through DPOs and commits State Parties to working “in partnership with relevant international and regional organizations and civil society, in particular organizations of persons with disabilities” (Article 32).

The Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights

Four core values of human rights law that are of particular importance in the context of disability.

  • the dignity of each individual, who is deemed to be of inestimable value because of his/her inherent self-worth, and not because s/he is economically or otherwise “useful”;
  • the concept of autonomy or self-determination, which is based on the presumption of a capacity for self-directed action and behaviour, and requires that the person be placed at the centre of all decisions affecting him/her;
  • the inherent equality of all regardless of difference;
  • and the ethic of solidarity, which requires society to sustain the freedom of the person with appropriate social supports.


As participation is a legal right which we can claim, it is the duty of states and society to ensure that right. Our participation and inclusion must not only be in the systems, structures and services of society, but in the policy-making process as well.

As can be seen, the UN Convention calls for disabled people and our organisations to be in the driving seat. However, this will not happen unless there is a fundamental change in the unequal, neo-colonial relationship which currently exists between disabled people and the large corporate charities, government agencies and international development institutions.

It seems clear that at this phase of our struggle for equality and human rights “Nothing About Us Without Us” is no longer enough. As disabled people we and our organisations need not only to be included, we need to assume the leading role.

Professionals On Tap, Not On Top

Some time ago, David Werner, one of the founders of the Projimo Project in Mexico, wrote:

“Women in most countries are now demanding their right to leadership in the institutions that represent their concerns. It is high time for disabled people everywhere to make similar demands. It is time for planners and administrators to provide the necessary opportunity, encouragement and appropriate skills training.

“And, most urgently of all, it is time for non-disabled professionals to recognise the right of disabled persons to self control, and therefore to gracefully step to one side, into a role where they, as professionals, are no longer on top but rather on tap – as allies.

This was an attempt to understand the real relationship between disabled people and non-disabled professionals and to alter it. Redefining the relationship is an essential step to achieving a human rights based, empowering and emancipatory approach to disability and development. Without it we will remain no more than the passive raw material for international and national NGOs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As with other social movements such as black power in the USA, women’s equality or the anti-imperialist struggles, as disabled people we must assume real leadership in our own liberation. We must fight to realise the promise of the UN Convention. And, those non-disabled professionals and organisations who want to help, need to move over and accept a new, more appropriate and equitable relationship. They need to be on tap, not on top. They need to become our genuine allies.

A Check List for Allies

To become genuine allies in the liberation of disabled people funders, development agencies, disability organisations, INGOs and other intermediaries must take steps to transform themselves and how they operate. Among other things, they need to:

  • Ensure that the need for programmes and policies are identified by disabled people and that we are not included simply to legitimise funding applications.
  • Ensure that disabled people are involved in all areas of the programme, not just as recipients or beneficiaries, and preferably through our own democratically run organisations (DPOs).
  • Ensure programmes are committed at every stage to full human rights and equality of opportunity.
  • Ensure that resources are transferred to DPOs in order to build capacity and sustainability.
  • Empower and resource disabled people to represent ourselves through our own organisations.
  • Champion disabled leadership both inside and outside your organisation.
  • Be prepared to change your internal and external policies and practices through engaging with the authentic voice of disabled people in the North and South.
  • If you are a disability organisation or charity, to reform your governance, staffing and operations structures to move towards disabled people being in the majority positions at all levels of the organisation.
  • If you are a donor or generalist development agency, ensure that your governance, staffing and advisory bodies are representative of society and you have at least 20% representation of disabled people at all levels of your organisation.

The signatories to this manifesto are ready and willing to work with, support and assist any organisation that wishes to travel this road with disabled people. At the same time we will continue to challenge those who ignore our legitimate demands for control of our own destiny.

Thank you to Mark Harrison at the International Disabilities Equality Agency (IDEA) for permission to publish the Equalize It! Manifesto at We Can Do.

IDEA is looking for more organizations to sign the manifesto and join their campaign. For more details, see the IDEA web site. For questions related to this manifesto, or to ask about your organization signing it, please contact Mark Harrison directly at Mark.Harrison@uea.ac.uk.

The text of the Equalize It! manifesto can also be viewed at the IDEA web site at:


Or, you can download the Equalize It! Manifesto in PDF format at:


People interested in learning more about the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) may also wish to follow the link to the RatifyNow web site at


RatifyNow is a global campaign to maximize the number of countries that ratify the CRPD.

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OPINION: One Laptop per Child—But is it Inclusive?

Posted on 16 November 2007. Filed under: Children, Cross-Disability, Education, Opinion, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Issue
Bringing laptops to children in developing countries. It’s a nifty concept, meant to help with an enormous challenge: improving the quality of education in developing countries. But is it inclusive of children with disabilities?

Even relatively casual observers of the international development field quickly learn that 77 million children worldwide are not in primary school. And perhaps you also knew that a large portion of those children have disabilities. What we don’t hear about as often is that even the 2 billion children who are fortunate enough to be able to enter a classroom, in many cases, may not be that much better off. The push to put all children in school by 2015, as per the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), has led to more schools, more teachers, and more books—but not necessarily to a better-quality education. So how do we go beyond filling seats with bodies so we can start filling heads with knowledge?

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project thinks they have part of the answer. That’s to put a laptop into the hands of every child in school in developing nations. Not just any laptop, but the XO laptop. The XO is designed specifically for child learners. It has features that allow them to create—be it a picture, a poem, a game, or a computer program. And XO laptops can communicate directly with other XO laptops if they are close enough. That allows for collaborative projects among pairs or groups of students. The laptops are also designed to be used in rugged conditions. They can be used in places where classes might meet outside in bright sunlight, or where students may have no access to electricity.

In developing countries, one of the largest barriers to obtaining resources—be it for disabled people or for their non-disabled peers—is cost. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has tackled this, at least part way, by producing a laptop that costs $200. That’s twice as much as their original goal—which was to design a $100 laptop. And that’s still out of reach for any family that lives on less than $1 a day. But it’s within reach for some country governments. Uruguay, for example, has purchased the first 100,000 XOs to come off the assembly line (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7068084.stm). And there may soon be other countries standing in line. The OLPC project has also introduced several ways that people in rich countries can help (see http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php). If things grow quickly from here, we could soon see the day when millions of children are learning through XO laptops and any competitors that might later emerge.

But for children with disabilities, the question of whether someone can and will send them a laptop in the first place is only the first half of the problem. The second half is whether the laptop is even accessible to them.

XO Laptops: Are They Suitable for Young Disabled Students?
I should note here that I have not yet seen an XO laptop for myself. Nor am I an expert in the types of adaptations that are available or most needed by people who are blind, or who have mobility impaired—or, indeed, any disability other than deafness. That means I can’t give an accurate evaluation of how usable an XO laptop is for disabled children. But I can speculate. And given how large the OLCP project hopes to become, I suggest that anyone with an interest in educating disabled children in developing countries should also be speculating. More importantly, they should be sharing their insights and ideas for remedies with the OLPC project.

On the plus side, some disabled children may find that the laptops will be a tremendous boon for them. For example, the XO is sturdier and more durable than most standard, western computers. That could be an important feature for children whose disabilities affect their behavior. They might be less likely to damage the laptop if they throw it during a tantrum or a “meltdown”, for example. Or a child with mobility impairments or dyspraxia can worry less if they drop their laptop.

Also, I like how the XO laptop allows for interactive communication with other laptop users. For children who have communication-related disabilities and who have learned to read and write, it might make communication with their non-disabled peers a little easier. Instead of being forced to talk or read lips in a modality that works poorly for them–if at all–they could have the option of typing back and forth with their classmates or the teacher. This could be especially helpful in situations where no sign language interpreter is available, which is frequently the case in developing countries. I don’t think the XO will ever be a substitute for more appropriate educational placements. (I believe that most deaf children should be in good quality, specialized schools for deaf children. But that’s a subject for another blog post.) But for deaf children who have been thrust into classrooms with no means of understanding their teacher, the laptop could potentially become a tool for teaching themselves, perhaps with the aid of their peers.

But even deaf children, if they are learning alongside hearing peers, may feel left out when their classmates start playing around with the built-in microphone and other auditory-based features. And other disabled children may find the XO laptops to be so inaccessible as to be useless. I suspect that blind children and some children with low vision—as with most computers generally—may suffer the most significant barriers. From what I can gather from their web site, the XO seems to have a very visual interface. That’s great for sighted deaf children, but bad for blind children. There seems to be no provision for screen readers of any kind: a blind child could still type but would have no way to monitor what they are typing or to read it back later. And unless there is some audio feature that I didn’t read about, the heavy graphics would be meaningless to them. That might make it harder for a child with vision impairments to interact with other students in the class. If I understand correctly, a child who wants to work on a project with someone else through the XO needs to bring up an icon representing their classmate and click it.

I also wonder about children with certain mobility impairments, particularly those that affect the use of their hands. As far as I can tell from the OLPC web site, there are no modified keyboards available. In other words, one design fits all—even when it doesn’t. And it’s not just the keyboard that might pose a problem. One of the ways to power up an XO is to either pull on a cord or operate a foot pump—either of which might be problematic for children with certain mobility impairments. What if a child could operate one type of battery re-charger but not the other? If a country buys all of its laptops in one variety, a child may not have the option of switching to equipment that is more usable for them.

Why Inclusion Matters–From the Beginning
Children with disabilities already face enormous barriers in even reaching the classroom. And many face even more barriers inside it. The XO laptop is meant to help bring the world of learning to poor children in developing nations. But for many children with disabilities, the XO laptop, as currently designed, may create new barriers to learning instead of removing them. What is especially worrying to me is that nowhere in their web site does OLPC even acknowledge the problem much less discuss what they’re doing to resolve it. (Or if they do and I missed it, tell me in the comments area below—their site is at www.laptop.org.)

The usual excuse made when a new project excludes disabled people, is, “But we’re new. We’re just starting. We had to start somewhere. We’re not ready for doing anything more specialized right now.” There are two major problems with accepting this type of excuse. First is the issue of justice. People with disabilities have always been the last people to gain access to any new technology or service. As soon as one technology is finally made at least partly accessible, something new has become mainstream to everyone else—but, once again, not for disabled people. By the time innovative deaf people in rich countries finally managed to invent a way to access telephones, for example, all their hearing, middle-class neighbors had color television–while deaf people were, once again, waiting. The delay between the time a new technology or service becomes available to non-disabled people and the time it becomes available to disabled people, in and of itself, creates barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in society. There will always be something new. And, even with advancing medical technology, there will probably always be disabled people. We will only be fully included in society when new things, too, are accessible to us from the first day they become available to the public at wide. After all, aren’t we, too, supposed to be members of the public?

The second problem with accepting the “but it’s new, give us time” excuse is that this is backwards thinking. It is PRECISELY BECAUSE a technology or project is new that the people designing it SHOULD be thinking from the start about the needs of people with disabilities. Suppose you construct a building with stairs and no ramps, then you tear part of it down in order to add the ramps years later, that’s expensive. If you remember the needs of people with disabilities while you’re still working in the blueprint stage then you can make sure it has ramps to begin with, and you can integrate the ramps into the design in a way that saves money. That’s very, very cheap. If you build 100,000 computers for Uruguay with no screen readers, and then belatedly construct a few separate devices to be attached to them later as needed, that’s expensive.

But what if they had given consideration to the needs of blind or dyslexic students, or children with other disabilities, from the beginning? Yes, it probably would have been an enormous challenge to find a way to integrate their needs into the standard design of the XO laptop without significantly increasing its cost. But if they had at least tried—even if they had tried and failed—then if nothing else, we could have been a good five years of research and development closer to achieving an XO that does succeed in including disabled children. And not only that, but it might have been cheaper than whatever add-on fix they come up with now. Or, even if they hadn’t come up with a concept that could be integrated into the standard design, they might at least have come up with design elements that make it easier to add on a fix later. What if they come up with a nice, cheap screen reader, only to find that there isn’t a good way to plug it into the existing XO laptops?

Or perhaps they could have come up with creative design elements that help, not only disabled students, but everyone. After all, curb cuts were implemented for wheelchair riders, but were quickly embraced by non-disabled parents with prams or baby carriages. Closed captions were invented to enable deaf people in rich countries to watch television, but have also been embraced by hearing immigrants learning the language of their new home. Speech recognition software for computers was invented, at least in part, for people who cannot type with their hands, but has been embraced by others as well. What kind of XO would we have had today if they hadn’t thrown away five years of opportunity to find out?

Owning the Issue
Two groups of people need take responsibility for ensuring that the built in exclusion of disabled children in developing countries does not last. First are the people operating the One Laptop Per Child project. If they’re serious about bringing laptops to all two billion children in school, then they would do well to remember that about 10 percent of the world’s population—including children in developing countries—have disabilities. They need to decide whether “all” will truly mean “all,” or if “all” really means “all except disabled children because they’re too difficult to include.”

The obligation doesn’t end with the One Laptop Per Child project, but it does begin with them: they need to be proactive. To start with, they should reach out to organizations of disabled adults and children in developing countries to share the laptop with them and find out exactly what problems they face in using it. They can begin with some of the organizations listed in “Finding Local Disability Organizations” for possible contacts. They should be talking with disabled adults, because people who have already been adapting to their own disabilities for a whole lifetime often see obvious solutions that elude everybody else. And they should be talking with parents and teachers who may notice barriers that even disabled users miss. But most importantly of all, they should be talking with disabled children in developing countries—because the best person to tell us what a disabled child needs is a disabled child.

Also, they should mention the problem of accessibility for children with disabilities throughout their web site, where appropriate. In particular, where they recruit volunteers, they should be specifically asking for people who can help make the laptop more usable for children with a wide range of disabilities. But even in other parts of their web site, for example where they talk about its design features and their future design plans, they can acknowledge its existing limitations and explain how they hope to overcome them. Possibly they could also have a separate page devoted to the topic of accessibility—but this is not a substitute for integration. “Add-on” issues rarely get the attention they deserve: if it’s important, then the organization’s concern for the issue should reverberate through everything they say and do.

Second are people around the world who are already committed to bringing more disabled children in developing countries into the classroom and giving them a high-quality education. That means parents, educators, disabled advocates, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other interested parties. People who have direct experience with the XO laptop can give their feedback to the One Laptop Per Child project. Others can review their web site and offer their advice or consultation services.

I think the One Laptop Per Child program is a good concept and a good cause worth supporting—even with its current flaws. That’s exactly why I urge them to become a more inclusive cause as well. I hope they listen—and take action.

Nicholas Negroponte and the other staff at OLPC: it’s over to you, now.

The facts, figures, and information behind the opinions expressed in this essay come from a range of sources. Most particularly I drew upon the OLPC web site, but you will also note that I link to a number of other sources throughout this article.

Edited 17 Nov. ’07 to add: Eduardo Silva points out (thank you for alerting me) that interested readers can go to http://wiki.laptop.org to see some of the software work that is being done to improve the XO laptop. And as Eduardo Silva indicates, they are indeed working on a text-to-voice screen reader, which you can read about at http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Screen_Reader. However, I still have some concerns about this which I elaborate upon further in the comments area below.

Edited 31 Dec. ’07 to add: I wonder if a Sightsaver’s Dolphin Pen would help blind children make better use of the XO. Is there anyone reading this who is familiar with BOTH the XO AND with the Dolphin Pen (a low-cost screen reader and screen magnifier designed for use in low-income countries)? If so, I would value your input. Please do comment in the comments area below.

Edited 5 Jan. ’08 to add: THANK YOU to the anonymous contributer in the comments area below who led me to the accessibility mailing list for people who want to brainstorm ideas and solutions on how to make the XO more accessible.

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NEWS: Human Rights Violations of Argentines with Psychosocial, Mental Disabilities

Posted on 25 October 2007. Filed under: Announcements, Cognitive Impairments, Human Rights, Latin America & Caribbean, Opinion, Psychiatric Disabilities, Violence | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


WASHINGTON, DC—September 25, 2007— Argentina is among countries with the most psychiatrists per capita in the world—yet people detained in the country’s public psychiatric institutions are subject to serious human rights violations. Ruined Lives, an investigative report released today by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI)and the Argentine human rights organization Center for Legal and Social Studies(CELS), finds that 25,000 people are locked away in Argentina’s institutions, segregated from society, many for a lifetime and with no possibility of ever getting out.

Ruined Lives exposes widespread abuse and neglect in these institutions, including people burning to death in isolation cells, complete sensory deprivation in long-term isolation, forced sterilization and sexual and physical abuse. In one psychiatric penal ward in Buenos Aires, men were locked naked in tiny, barren isolation cells with no light or ventilation for months at a time. At another institution, four people died while locked in isolation cells. Toilets overflowed with excrement and floors were flooded with urine.

Investigators found a 16 year-old boy in a crib, his arms and legs tied to his body with strips of cloth, completely immobilized. Staff said he had been tied up since being admitted to the institution more than a year before.

“Argentina’s mental health system detains people on a massive scale without any legal protections,” said Eric Rosenthal, MDRI’s ExecutiveDirector. “The inhumane and degrading treatment we observed is banned by international human rights treaties and should not be tolerated in any society.”

MDRI is an international human rights and advocacy organization dedicated to the full participation in society of people with mental disabilities world wide. For more information, visit www.mdri.org.

CELS is an Argentine organization devoted to fostering and protecting human rights and strengthening the democratic system and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.cels.org.ar.

The report and photographs can be downloaded from the MDRI web site in either English or Spanish.

1156 15th St NW, Suite 1001, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 296-0800, Fax: (202) 728-3053
E-mail: mdri@mdri.org

This press release comes from Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI</a).

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Numbers Don’t Feed People–Or Do They?

Posted on 8 October 2007. Filed under: Funding, Opinion, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , |

[Looking for disability-related statistics? Skip to the bottom for useful links.]

Some of the people reading this blog are working with disabled people in developing countries who are starving for food, for medical care, for shelter, for clothing, for an education, for vocational training, for jobs, and for equal opportunity to participate in community and family life. In short, you serve people starving for all basic necessities.

When you are busy educating people with cognitive impairments in Guatemala how to protect themselves from AIDS, or if you’re working to persuade a village in rural Bangladesh to make their new school building wheelchair accessible, then the idea of gathering statistics may seem remote from your daily concerns. Why do we need research to understand people’s problems? Just go to the streets of Uganda or to people’s homes in Yemen and see the problems yourself! Why waste funds on a good census of disabled people when the same money could be used to start helping them?

But most of us–including grassroots advocates in developing countries–know that statistics can provide crucial information. For people in a position to decide how and where money should be spent, statistics can help them understand how many people need help and where they are located so they can ensure that they use resources wisely. Most decision-makers do not have time, money, or staff, to go out into the field to see all the challenges that people face first hand–especially if they serve a large geographical area with a large population. Numbers can never give the full picture of where all the needs are located. But they can be a helpful, and critical, starting point.

For grassroots organizations that already know who the people are they want to help and what their biggest challenges are, having well-researched, reliable numbers can make it easier to secure funding for the programs you want to establish. Wisely chosen statistics, when they are available, can make your funding proposal stronger and more persuasive.

For example, if you simply say, “People with mobility impairments cannot go to health clinics because public transportation isn’t accessible. Please make all the city buses wheelchair accessible.” The city might wonder, “Why should we invest thousands or millions of dollars (or Euros or pesos) that we don’t have to serve what is probably only a tiny number of people?” But suppose you could say, “We have 100,000 people in this region with mobility impairments. We did a study in which we interviewed 500 people with mobility impairments. Half of them have never been to a clinic in their entire lives, and another one-third say they have only visited a clinic once or twice when a relative or neighbor was able to transport them. One of the most common reason they give for not going to health clinics is that they cannot use the public buses to get there. Yet, among the thousands of buses in the city, only 4 have wheelchair lifts.”

This kind of information could make the difference between enough funding or none at all. Statistics don’t feed people, or purchase Braille textbooks, or put wheelchair lifts in public buses. But they can help persuade people with resources to support projects that do.

It can be an enormous challenge for grassroots workers to gather appropriate data, or to find data that has been collected by others. Often, the exact numbers that you need or want may not yet exist at all. It may become necessary to use the “next best thing.” For example, if you cannot find a census on the number of disabled people in your country (the “prevalence” of disability), then you could try to find similar statistics on people with disabilities in a country that is very similar to yours in ethnicity and socio-economic status.

Resources are available on the web that may be able to help you track down some of the numbers you need. The newest of these focuses on statistics related to children with disabilities:

UNICEF has created this resource in acknowledgment that children with disabilities may often experience discrimination even from service providers and their own family members. In their documents and publications area, they have papers you can download in PDF format on topics such as violence toward children with disabilities; an initiative on “child-friendly” schools in Africa; and efforts in inclusive education in the East Asia and Pacific region. Their statistics tables provides statistics related to disabled children in selected countries.

For other statistics related to adults and children with disabilities around the world, particularly developing countries, the World Bank has some useful links and papers available. Researchers seeking to improve their data collection methods may find some of the publications listed at the top of this page of interest. People looking for statistics that have already been gathered will want to follow the links provided at this page to find databases and tables of statistics from a range of sources.

Still more links to potentially useful resources are listed at:

Not all statistics you want are provided in convenient on-line databases or tables. That means you may need to expand your search. For example, it can sometimes be helpful to look for research publications on the general topics you are interested in to see if some of those publications have numbers that will be useful to you. For example, if you want statistics related to education, then try searching for research studies related to educating disabled children.

A long list of research papers on disabled people in developing countries is provided at
Although most of these publications are in English, a few are translated into other languages.

Also try locating peer-reviewed journals related to your profession in your country to see if any of these have published recent research on disabled people.

Many international organizations of (and for) people with disabilities have relevant statistics if you search their web pages carefully. You may wish to follow some of the many links offered at the “blogroll” on this page–see the right-hand navigation bar, or scroll down to the very bottom of this page, and look for the name of an organization that seems relevant to your needs and concerns. As just one example, Action on Disability and Development has a few quick facts and numbers about disabled people on their “Disability Facts” page. Or you can find information related to HIV/AIDS among people with disabilities at the HIV/AIDS Disability Global Survey.

Don’t overlook the links page for the organizations you look at (if there is one): following links from other web sites may lead you to helpful new resources.

If you have been to We Can Do before then you may have noticed that this blog has a new appearance and structure. How do you like it? Do you find it easier to navigate and find the information you’re looking for? Or is it harder? Any suggestions for how this blog can be improved in general? Please share your feedback in the comments area at the post where I describe We Can Do’s new presentation. You do not need to register in order to leave comments at this blog.

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Channeling Remittances from Disabled Emigrants

Posted on 25 August 2007. Filed under: Immigration, Opinion, Remittances | Tags: , , , , , , |

When we talk about fighting poverty, disease, ignorance, and hunger in developing countries–among people with disabilities or otherwise–most of the time we think of donors as being a key part of the solution. We think of local and international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), or development banks, or bi-lateral donors (i.e., the governments of rich countries). Some of us also remember to think of poor people with disabilities in developing countries themselves as being part of the solution to their own problems. What they need isn’t more handouts. Often, what they need is education, training, tools, resources, and funding to back their own ideas for how they can escape poverty and improve their lives.

But how many of us stop to think of how we could harness the energy, passion, and–yes–the dollars, Euros, and Pesos of expatriates with disabilities in supporting their disabled peers who never left home?

It seems that at least some non-disabled immigrants do work together to find ways to use their money to help not only their families but also entire communities in their homeland. For one example, see this news article entitled “South Florida Guatemalans to learn how remittances can help homeland.” According to this article, in one county in Florida, USA, the local Jewish community has experience supporting community projects in Israel. And they have been teaching lessons learned from their experiences to the local Guatemalan immigrant community so that they, too, can use their remittances to strengthen the Guatemalan economy. The local Guatemalan immigrant community raises money support schools, clinics, and agricultural cooperatives at home. Byt doing that, they can help their loved ones and their neighbors find hope and opportunity without needing to leave Guatemala.

How do we ensure that people with disabilities, too, can benefit from projects supported by remittances?

One important approach would be to work with immigrant communities, such as the Guatemalan community of South Florida, that are already coordinating efforts to support projects at home. We need to systematically educate them about the importance of ensuring that the schools and clinics they build are accessible to people with disabilities. And we need to reach out to them so they understand why they should ensure that disabled people, too, actively participate in agricultural cooperatives.

In the long run, this may be the more promising approach. If all projects are segregated–these projects for non-disabled people, and those projects for disabled people–then people with disabilities will always be the ones who lose the most. Because there will always be more money going to the projects for non-disabled people than there is to projects for disabled people. If mainstream projects funded by predominantly non-disabled emigrants exclude people with disabilities, even if only by accident or through ignorance, then disabled people in developing countries could lose out on major opportunities for gaining an education, improving their health, or training for a better-paid job.

But, don’t forget the importance of Deaf and disabled emigrants.

According to World Bank data, nearly 3 percent of people from developing countries have migrated elsewhere. And emigrants sent home more than $200 billion a year in 2006 alone.

Research into emigrants and the remittances they send home is still a relatively new field. When it comes to data on subgroups of emigrants, there still isn’t much data even on groups that are relatively easy to identify, such women versus men. Data about smaller populations that are harder to define or identify, such as disabled people, is still very scarce to non-existent. So we can’t know for sure how many emigrants have disabilities.

But I suspect we can be reasonably confident that people with disabilities do migrate, though it is difficult to guess how many. On one hand, we know people with disabilities are more likely to be poor. [This link will download a PDF file, 157 KB] This could well mean they would have more difficulty paying for the travel costs that would be required in order for them to emigrate. On the other hand, they–and their parents and families–may be more motivated than their non-disabled peers to emigrate abroad precisely because they know it is much harder to obtain an education or find a job at home. I know I’ve met many deaf people, at Gallaudet University and on-line, who have emigrated, either for a few years of their lives or permanently, for these reasons.

Whatever the number of expatriates from developing countries who have disabilities, it is probably also safe to assume that at least some of them send remittances home. Probably many disabled emigrants send their money to their families–just like their non-disabled peers. But judging by the passion and commitment of some Deaf expatriates I have met from various developing countries to the Deaf communities that they have left behind, I would venture the guess that some of the money sent back home is meant to be used for helping the local Deaf community there. And I would venture the guess that wheelchair users, blind people, and people with other disabilities might also, in at least some cases, harbor a tremendous desire to make a difference for other people with disabilities in their native lands.

This could be an important source of remittances for Deaf and disability communities in developing countries. Deaf and disabled emigrants often know first hand exactly what kinds of challenges their peers are facing at home. And they are likely to have a better sense than other, non-disabled emigrants exactly what kinds of projects Deaf and disabled people need in their native countries. And they may be more prepared to support specialized projects and organizations that their non-disabled peers may be reluctant to support. Schools for deaf children, for example. Or training targeted at helping wheelchair users learn how to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs.

So, at least some Deaf and disabled emigrants may already be trying to support local NGOs or projects targeted at Deaf or disability communities at home. How can we help them ensure that the money they send home is used wisely? Or that their money has the maximum possible impact on the lives of Deaf or disabled people at home? How can we help them use their funds in a way that empowers their Deaf and disabled peers at home? For example, by supporting projects that the local people want to pursue even if the wealthier expatriates might like to support something else? And, can we help Deaf and disabled immigrant communities find better ways of raising more funds to send home?

Do we need something similar to the training workshop that Jewish people have offered to Guatemalan immigrants in South Florida? But targeted at Deaf or disabled immigrant communities around the world? If so, how could we start an appropriately designed network of workshops? How would we reach the people we need to reach?

I would be interested in reading your thoughts in the comments area below.

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