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: , , , , , , , , , , |

Why fight disablism?

The short answer takes one paragraph:  Because disablism is more than just an attitude.  Because when people hold disablist attitudes toward people with disabilities, people with disabilities are excluded, isolated, left out, left behind, and pushed 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 people with disabilities also are hurt in not so physical ways that, sometimes they say are even worse.

The long answer would have to involve listening to one billion people on the face of the Earth describing 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 that various forms of prejudice that people with disabilities is an important issue.  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

I’m fortunate that my passion for international disability rights coincides with my career path: I’m now 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.  It promotes disability inclusion in U.S. foreign assistance programs abroad.  And, via the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL) project, which I manage, we are working 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).

I’ll probably spend a good part of May browsing through the many excellent blog posts I anticipate will be presented as part of this year’s Blogging against Disablism Day (BADD) on May 1, 2012.  For the past several years, this event has been hosted by the disability blogger at “Diary of a Goldfish”, which means her blog is the go-to link for finding all the other BADD posts for 2012.  (And for archived BADD posts from past years also.)  Usually a hundred or more bloggers participate, all with something fresh to say about what disablism means to them.  Many are themselves people with disabilities.  Many other bloggers are friends, families, and allies of disabled people.  I hope you will explore the other BADD contributions, also!  In past years, most participating bloggers have been from developed countries.  But I hope that bloggers from developing countries will also consider making contributions to the event, either this year (it’s not too late!) or in future years.  Enjoy the day!

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RESOURCE: The BIAS FREE Framework: A practical tool for identifying and eliminating social biases

Posted on 1 October 2008. Filed under: Cross-Disability, Health, Inclusion, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The worst myth that most good people have about bias, prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion is that only bad people do these things. If only bad people or bad organizations excluded others on the basis of disability status, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or socio-economic class, then the world would be in pretty good shape. And people with disabilities would no longer face frustration when persuading mainstream international development organizations to include their needs and concerns. After all, most of us (or so most of us hope) are good people.

Unfortunately, in the real world, most exclusion is done by good people who don’t even realize that they might be creating barriers simply by carrying on with business as usual. This is because many people simply don’t know enough about the lives, challenges, and strengths of the people in their communities who happen to be different from them. This ignorance is perhaps particularly problematic for people with disabilities because disability is often so profoundly invisible and ignored in many societies. (Did you know, for example, that doorknobs, flourescent lights, and pictures can all create barriers for people with certain disabilities?)

Exclusion caused by good people is often the hardest kind of exclusion to overcome because it first means helping people to understand that “being a good person” and “being a person who excludes others” are not mutually exclusive concepts. Then comes the next big challenge: we can only remove sources of bias in our research, policies, programs, services, and practices if we first learn how to see the bias. So how do we learn to see the biases that are so deeply buried in our environment, in our policies, in our programs, in ourselves?

One possible starting point is a 64-page publication entitled The BIAS FREE Framework: A practical tool for identifying and eliminating social biases in health research. The framework is available in PDF format in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Vietnamese; and it looks like they plan a Chinese translation as well (the button is there but doesn’t lead anywhere yet).

This framework is not specific to international development. In fact, it’s focus is on eliminating bias in health research. But the manual is meant to be used more broadly by, not only researchers, but also students and policy makers, and could also be used by program directors and service providers. It is also meant for use in both high-income and low-income countries. It does not cover every possible area of bias. But it does include a focus on bias related to disability; to gender; and to race. And some of the broad concepts could be carried over to other types of bias, across many of the different sectors of international development.

The BIAS FREE Framework discusses how bias creeps in and serves to perpetuate social hierachies; how we tend to both overlook differences and also to exagerate them; how many of us forget to account for the complex social hierachies within gender, race, and disability issues, as well as across them. It discusses how people can identify and minimize these biases.

Learn more about the publication, or download it in your preferred language, at:


Or, if you are looking for shorter, more accessible essays that may help stretch your thinking about disability issues, and why good people may still do bad things even when trying very hard to do only good things, consider a few samples from an excellent blogger named Amanda Baggs:

No Good Guys or Bad Guys Here

The Vehement Defense of Prejudicial Behavior

And this next one should be read by anyone and everyone who thinks their most important mission is to “help” people–whether by “helping” people they mean disabled people; poor people; people in developing countries; or all three. Do be sure to follow all the links and read those as well. It’s well worth your time to work through all of it. Then set aside some more time to think through all the implications. Are you a “Do-Gooder”? Are you sure?

Do-gooderism: Links, quotes, and discussion

Amanda Baggs has influenced my thinking in all kinds of subtle ways I couldn’t even begin to identify. I have read every single post in her entire blog, including all of the comments and most of her links. And it has been time very well spent.

No, Amanda Baggs doesn’t write about international development. Her focus is on disability rights and a broad spectrum of other issues. But she thinks deeply about power imbalances, power structures, and why oppression happens, in all kinds of ways that most people never think about. Much of it could be extended broadly not only to relationships between disabled people and non-disabled people but also to relationships between poor people and the people who deliver services.

If you have time to explore, I encourage you to go to her blog and do so: http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org

I first learned about The BIAS FREE Framework via the AdHoc_IDC email discussion list.

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RESOURCE: Listening to Poor People with Intellectual Disabilities

Posted on 5 January 2008. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Cognitive Impairments, Families, Inclusion, Poverty, Reports, Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In Their Own Words
A report from Inclusion International can help people better understand poverty among people with intellectual disabilities in developing countries.

Nobody knows more than a poor person what it means to live with poverty or what the biggest barriers are to escaping it. And nobody knows more than a person who is excluded how devastating it can be to be constantly pushed to the margins of society. And it is poor, excluded people who see most clearly exactly what needs to change to bring them out of poverty and into the mainstream.

It is the obligation of anyone who wants to improve the living conditions of the poor and the excluded to listen to their stories–and their proposed solutions–in their own words. If we fail to listen, we will inevitably fail to help.

Documented Information = A Tool for Advocates
For some We Can Do readers, listening to the poor and marginalized in developing countries can be as easy as stepping out their front door and talking to the people in their local communities. But even the most knowledgeable advocates may struggle to communicate what they know to non-disabled people in their country in a way that others will both understand and believe. In particular, they may need a way to strengthen their voices when educating funding agencies that have the power to support or turn away their organization. Advocates can use published research or reports to help others understand that poverty and exclusion among people with disabilities are not just “isolated cases” or “too few in number” to be worth targeted efforts.

A report entitled “Hear Our Voices: A Global Report: People with an Intellectual Disabilities and their Families Speak Out on Poverty and Exclusion,” published by Inclusion International in November 2006, helps share insights into how intellectual disability can lead to poverty and exclusion. “Hear Our Voices” also makes recommendations for action. The report was made possible with the partnership and financial support of the Norwegian Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, NFU, and the Atlas Alliance of Norway.

How “Hear Our Voices” Was Made
Inclusion International (II) is a global federation of family-based organizations advocating for the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities worldwide. It spoke with people with intellectual disabilities, their families, and supporters in more than 80 countries about the experience of intellectual disability and poverty. “Hear Our Voices” combines personal with secondary research sources to analyze how well each of the eight Millennium Development Goals for fighting poverty are being met for people with intellectual disabilities. The report makes recommendations for how civil society organizations, governments and donor and international agencies can each play a role in ending poverty and exclusion among people with intellectual disabilities.

In the acknowledgments page of their report, Inclusion International points out that people with intellectual disabilities “are too often invisible,” which means that “their stories are not influencing decisions that affect their lives.” Inclusion International explains, “We wanted to bring about change on a global scale – by convincing governments, multi-lateral institutions, and communities of the current injustice of exclusion. Where before our members’ voices were not being heard because they were isolated, we wanted to bring them together into a loud chorus. We wanted to link those local voices to bring about global change.” (p. viii)

What Next?
Here, Inclusion International’s focus is on people with intellectual disabilities. But people who are deaf, blind, have mobility impairments, autism, psycho-social disabilities, or other disabilities are also “invisible” in society—whether or not they are poor. And all poor people also are invisible–whether or not they have disabilities. Disabled poor people, their stories, and their ideas for how to solve their own problems, are too rarely heard when people with power make choices that affect their lives.

Perhaps Inclusion International’s report could inspire other global organizations to do the research for more reports like it. Advocates could then use these reports to help amplify the voices (and signs) of disabled (and deaf/Deaf) people living in poverty around the world.

Read the Report, Watch the Video
The full 79 page report can be downloaded for free in English in PDF format (500 Kb) at


The report is also available in a 10-minute DVD (video). This video is not captioned. There are many pictures and only an occasional line of text on the screen that is used to highlight key statistics or other information. I’m guessing there is also some kind of narration–but this is not accessible to deaf viewers. I’m not in a position to evaluate whether this DVD would be accessible or usable to hearing people with vision impairments. If you are, please do comment below.

The DVD can be viewed at:


The report and DVD are also available in Spanish at:


We Can Do learned about the “Hear Our Voices” report by browsing Inclusion International’s web site. The information for this blog post was gathered from their web site and particularly from the report itself.

Find more information about disabled poor people around the world by click on “reports” or “resources” under “categories” in the right-hand navigation bar on this page. Or consult the recent Retrospective post under “Finding sources of information.”

Learn how to receive an email alert when new material is posted at We Can Do.

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PAPER; NEWS: World Bank Report on Disabled in India

Posted on 1 December 2007. Filed under: Academic Papers and Research, Announcements, Cross-Disability, Education, Employment, Health, News, Reports, South Asian Region | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

New World Bank Report Finds People with Disabilities among the Most Excluded in Indian Society
Disabled adults have far lower employment rates than others – reduced from 43 % in 1991 to 38% in 2002

Contact : in New Delhi
Kiran Negiknegi@worldbank.org

New Delhi, November 20, 2007: A new World Bank report finds people with disabilities among the most excluded in Indian society Low literacy and employment rates and widespread social stigma are leaving disabled people behind. With better education and more access to jobs, India’s 40 to 90 million disabled people will generate higher growth which will benefit the country as a whole.

The report entitled People with Disabilities in India: From Commitments to Outcomes, says that as the country makes economic progress, the incidence of communicable disease-induced disabilities such as polio are likely to fall, whereas age and lifestyle-related disabilities and those due to traffic accidents are expected to rise sharply. For example, internationally, the lowest reported disability rates are in sub-Saharan Africa while the highest are in the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) countries. The report therefore highlights the need for a multi-faceted approach so that disabled people realize their full individual potential and maximize their social and economic contribution to society.

The report finds that people with disabilities are subject to multiple deprivations. Households with disabled members are significantly poorer than average, with lower consumption and fewer assets. Children living with disability are around 4 to 5 times less likely to be in school than Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste children. Disabled adults also have far lower employment rates than the general population – and this fell from 43 % in 1991 to 38% in 2002, even in the midst of economic growth.

Social attitudes and stigma play an important role in limiting the opportunities of disabled people for full participation in social and economic life, often even within their own families. For example, in surveys carried out for the report, around 50 percent of households saw the cause of disability as a “curse of God”. Women with disabilities face numerous additional challenges.

“India has an impressive set of policy commitments to its citizens with disabilities”, said Isabel Guerrero, World Bank Country Director for India. “The challenge facing Indian society now is to translate those commitments into better lives for disabled people. This includes identifying disabilities in young children, getting more disabled children into school and preparing them for the workplace and family life, and most importantly working to reduce the social stigma which disabled people face”.

Despite the many challenges, concerted efforts by the Government, civil society, the private sector, and disabled people themselves, the untapped potential of this large group of citizens can be released for their own benefit as well as for society at large.

“Increasing the status and social and economic participation of people with disabilities would have positive effects on everyone, not just disabled people” said Philip O’Keefe, Lead Social Protection Specialist and main author of the report. “A simple example is increasing accessibility of public transport and buildings for disabled people – a measure which would benefit a wide range of people including the elderly, pregnant women and children. More broadly, people with disabilities who are better educated and more economically active will generate higher growth in which everyone will share,” he added.

India’s implementation capacity is generally weak in a number of areas of service delivery which are most critical to improving the situation of disabled people. It is thus not realistic to expect that all the actions needed by many public and non-public actors can be taken all at once. The report highlights the need for prioritization of the most critical interventions to maximize the benefit for people living with disability:

(i) Preventive care – both for mothers through nutritional interventions, and infants through nutrition and basic immunization coverage
(ii) Identifying people with disabilities as soon as possible after onset – the system needs major improvements in this most basic function
(iii) Major improvements in early intervention, which can cost-effectively transform the lives of disabled people, their families, and the communities they live and work in
(iv) Getting all children with special needs into school and giving them the skills to participate fully in family and economic life
(v) Expanding the under-developed efforts to improve societal attitudes to people with disabilities, relying on public-private partnerships that build on successful models already operating in India.

The study points out that it is neither possible nor desirable for the public sector to “do it all”. Instead, partnerships with NGOs, civil society, and the private sector are critical to achieve effective and lasting results. The key step in such partnerships is brining disabled people themselves into the policymaking process along with public and non-governmental institutions.

Some other findings of the report:

  • There are substantial differences in socio-economic outcomes, social stigma, and access to services by disability type, with those with mental illness and mental retardation in a particularly poor position. There are also major urban/rural differences in outcomes, Gender, class and regional variations are also significant in many cases
  • Estimates vary, there is growing evidence that people with disabilities comprise between 4 and 8 percent of the Indian population (around 40-90 million individuals)
  • Between 1990 and 2020, there is predicted to be a halving of disability due to communicable diseases, a doubling of disability due to injuries/accidents, and a more than 40 percent increase in the share of disability due to non-communicable diseases
  • Disabled people have much lower educational attainment rates, with 52 percent illiteracy against a 35 percent average for the general population.
  • Illiteracy is high among children across all categories, in even the best performing major states, a significant share of out of school children are those with disabilities – Kerala, 27 percent, in Tamil Nadu over 33 percent
  • Private sector employment incentives for hiring disabled people are few and piecemeal. In the late 1990s, employment of People with Disability (PWD) among large private firms was only 0.3 percent of their workforce. Among multinational companies, the situation was far worse, with only 0.05 percent being PWD
  • In early 2006, a National Policy on Persons with Disabilities was approved by Government of India. To date, the only states that have draft disability policies are Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. The Chhattisgarh draft state disability policy can be considered “best practice”, and could provide a model for future national and state-level policy development.

People can follow this link to learn more about the report, or download individual chapters, at:

Individual chapters include: Socio-Economic Profile of Persons with Disabilities; Attitudes; Health; Education; Employment; Social Protection; Policies and Institutions; and Access

Or follow this link to download the full report in PDF format (1.8Mb).

The text for this blog post is taken from a press release from the World Bank.

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