Sunday, April 26, 2015

What can we learn about disability from other countries?

One possible thing that we could learn from other countries is to understand disability as a human right rather than a civil right.  Initially, one would think that disability rights are human rights endowed to every person simply by his or her existence as a human being; however, the more that I think about it, the more that I think framing disability in terms of civil rights might be more helpful in our society than framing disability in terms of human rights.  In coming to this conclusion, I understand that other countries do not have the history of fighting for civil rights that the United States has.  After recognizing a fight for civil rights by other marginalized groups of people in the past, our country has moved in a positive direction to acknowledge those rights, enforce those rights, and change societal attitudes about those rights.  We cannot say if those rights would have gained support had they been framed as human rights.  Although fighting for civil rights in every sphere is a continuing job, the fight for civil rights for other groups has proven successful, and therefore, may be the best approach to disability rights.  I recognize that in many ways, disability rights are different from other types of rights; however, I also acknowledge that the fight for disability rights is similar to the rights that many other minority groups have fought for throughout the history of the United States.  The interaction between disability rights and other things that we consider civil rights is important.  I believe it is vital to understand that the struggles many individuals with disabilities have gone through mimic the struggles of other minority groups throughout our history.  In recognizing that other groups have been successful in taking a civil rights approach, I think that those fighting for disability rights might also be successful in taking a civil rights approach.  Therefore, a human rights approach might not be the most appropriate approach to disability in the United States.

Another thing that we can arguably learn from other countries is to broaden the definition of disability and not speak in terms of a reasonable accommodation.  It would be ideal to have the rights of any person who identifies as a person with a disability protected and to have any accommodations necessary to make access equal.  However, the more I think about this in terms of the United States, the more I recognize that this might be too idealistic and not very realistic.  While I do think that we should attempt to broaden the definition of disability and not speak in terms of a reasonable accommodation, I recognize that it is very unlikely that would be possible considering our current political system.  In order to have a bill passed, a majority of the Senate and House of Representative must agree.  To assuage concerns of representatives and their constituents, certain concessions needed to be made.  These concessions included limiting the definition of disability and limiting the required actions to only those that would be “reasonable accommodations.”  While it might be ideal to change our approach to disability in the law, I do not think it is possible at this point, considering our political system.  Prior to changing the law, I believe we must change attitudes about disability.

I think we could learn from other countries in some ways and other countries can learn from us in some ways how to change attitudes around disability.  In my opinion, education around disability is the most important part about recognizing disability in the law and in society generally.  We should recognize that people with disabilities are people who deserve equal treatment.  We should work towards inclusion in the same way that we would for people of different races, of different ethnicities, and with different socio-economic statuses.  We should recognize that ideas around disability will forever be changing as our understanding of medicine and social dynamics change.  We should ultimately work to enlighten ourselves.  We can acknowledge where other countries have succeeded and where they have failed in their approach to disability.  This is how we will change attitudes, and ultimately change the law to reflect an equal and inclusive society.

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