It’s important that countries and governments across the world discuss the atrocities committed against human rights. However, an often overlooked target of discrimination has been that of the communities of people with disabilities. While it is true that many social movements have peaked within the last hundred years, movements focused on protecting people with disabilities have often gone under the surface.
Now, a word that’s becoming more popular in discussions of social activism is “ableism.” This isn’t a new word, but it seems to have increased in public usage recently. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the Center for Disability Rights summed it up as “a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities.”
It’s important that when we talk about ableism, we talk about structural discrimination — not just individual prejudice. Institutional structures are still being reorganized in socially progressive countries, and that means ableism is still being weeded out. In the United States, progress has been made, but we still have a ways to go.
The Progress of Disability Protection in the United States
The United States hasn’t necessarily been at the forefront of disability rights. For instance, before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, children with disabilities were actually denied public education. Before this, there were few protections for people that were disabled, especially those born with disabilities.
However, there has been significant progress.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 prohibits all covered health care and human service providers from discriminating against someone with disabilities,” as highlighted by Hofstra University. “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also covers individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against by federal agencies in programs providing assistance … Someone with a disability is defined as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities.”
While these moves were of monumental importance, if you go down a list of international disability laws, they pale in comparison to some of the U.S.’s peer nations. Additionally, there is still a significant unemployment rate for people with disabilities, and things like building access and police prejudice against disabled people of color are still commonplace, even as we near 30 years after the ADA was passed.
However, some actors outside of the government are taking steps for the disability community. One example can be found in the product of disability insurance. These kinds of programs are as described by Fiscal Tiger as a service that “will provide a payout in the event that you become disabled and unable to work.” Further, this payout “can be used to cover mortgage payments plus any other responsibilities that have become more difficult to meet with your disability.”
Nevertheless, American law has a way to go with creating equity for the disabled community.
Other industrialized countries vary in how well they cater to their disabled communities. A significant push was put forth by the United Nations. In 2008, they enacted the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to obtain disability rights all around the world. This was the start of a cultural shift, addressing disability in ways that were more focused on equity than medical needs.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offers standards of protection for the rights of people with disabilities, promoting inclusion and equality. These standards highlight the importance of allowing people with disabilities to live independently in their communities and make their own choices. Ultimately, it pushes for the idea that this group is entitled to play a meaningful, active role in our communities.
Previously, disabled people were halted from living independent lives by their government allowances. Additionally, the U.N. continues to work with organizations like The World Health Organization, which have been working toward disabled person’s rights for a long time.
However, the U.N.’s efforts haven’t been a cure-all by any means. For instance, the United Kingdom was one of the countries working with the U.N. to make these changes. However, they did not include the Convention in their domestic law, so people with disabilities are forced to rely on previous laws, and they can only appeal to the U.N. when all other options are exhausted. Some have noted this lack of CRPD incorporation demonstrates an understanding of the conditions of people with disabilities that can be characterized as “degrading and patronizing.”
On the other hand, however, a notable peer in this area is Australia. While they still have room for improvement, a quick look at their disability laws next to other countries reveals their timeliness in dealing with these issues. For instance, while Australia was addressing mental health issues in 1973 with their Mental Health and Related Services Assistant Act, the United States was only getting started with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the first piece of U.S. legislation designed to address people with disabilities. They have clearly been ahead of the curve, at least compared to countries like the U.S. and U.K.
Progress to Be Made
There is still a lot to do before actual equity is established for disabled communities. That’s why people like Zach Strassburger have been fighting for the rights of trans people with disabilities for several years now. Cases like that point out more specific discrimination within marginalized communities.
Internationally, each country has its own set of goals it must meet in this area. If you are a person with a disability traveling internationally, it is very important that you research disability laws in the country you’re visiting. This is necessary in the case of an emergency and having to deal with foreign laws and healthcare systems.
Global fights for equity have a long way to go, and struggles to achieve equity for the disability community is not exempt. Legal disability protection is a nuanced conversation from place to place. Even with organizations like the U.N. getting involved, the fight for equity can sometimes seem slow, and results can seem far away. However, with attention to detail and more people learning and choosing to act toward a better tomorrow, we hope that equity will someday be attainable.