From disableism to human rights

The free online dictionary defines disableism as “discrimination against disabled people”. This is rather simplistic and does not state that discrimination is both direct and indirect, the direct being, for example, an employer not giving me a job for which I am well qualified simply because I am disabled. While this is distressing, inappropriate, misguided and often unlawful, it is the disableist indirect discrimination that is often harder to confront, quantify and eliminate.

Disableism as indirect, or systemic discrimination is the result of unspoken, unquestioned and often unnamed bias underlying cultures, values, systems, structures and some deeply seated religious beliefs.

Underlying attitudes and behaviours carry an assumption that disability is not normal, that it equals a lesser human value or is outside the range of regular human experience. Those who practice indirect discrimination are often unaware that their actions are discriminatory.

Indirect discrimination as disableism occurs when an apparently neutral policy, practice or criterion disadvantages people because of their disability or other characteristics, or a combination of their intersecting characteristics, such as disability and age, race, gender, sexual orientation etc. Unless the practice can be objectively justified it is discriminatory, or disableist.  A one-size-fits-all approach can easily lead to disableism or indirect discrimination.

An example of indirect discrimination: a company insists that all those applying for jobs as have driving licenses because there is an occasional need to deliver or collect work from clients. Since this prevents some people with disabilities from applying and as driving is not a core requirement for the job, the company is discriminating against this group of people, unless it can demonstrate that there is an objective reason to justify this. This kind of discrimination is quite common.

Other examples are;

  • Barriers in the built environment because universal design is not planned in.
  • Inaccessible information provided in only one format.
  • Education practices that exclude a variety of disabled children who may need extra time for exams, for example
  • Television programmes and movies that exclude through a lack of audio description, captioning and Sign Language.

While negative attitudes which result in disableism are harder to deal with they can be addressed, along with indirect discrimination in policy and practice.

Using a human rights analysis to confront and challenge disableism gives us access to a range of tools to combat it. Many countries have human rights legislation, and there are the United Nations international covenants and conventions, the most important of which is the Disability Convention  (CRPD.) Using these and educating ourselves and others about them can move the debate from a disabling and disableist one to one of rights, respect and dignity for everyone.

This is my contribution to Blogging Against Disableism Day.


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Filed under Disability Issues, Disability Rights, Inclusion

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