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:

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

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