When one mentions the word “minority,” aspects such as race, ethnicity, or gender often come to mind. However, few think about those who comprise what is known as the “world’s largest minority:” people with disabilities.
“For most of history, in every country in the world, people with disabilities were generally invisible. People don’t think about them often, policy makers don’t talk about them,” Syracuse University College of Law professor Arlene Kanter said.
However, the prevalence of disabilities is far from invisible. People with a disability comprise approximately 10% of the world’s population. That amounts to around 650 million people, with this number increasing every year. According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 80% of this populace lives in developing countries.
In such countries, people with disabilities are often faced with grave challenges. 90% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. People with disabilities are discriminated against in the job market. The discrimination often results in violence. For example, according to a report issued by the Equal Rights Trust (ERT) and the Socio Legal Information Center, people with disabilities in India face brutal treatment.
“People with various forms of disabilities face inhuman treatment at various places including healthcare centres, schools, hostels, detention centres etc.,” activist Seema Baquer stated in regards to the report. “Females with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of rape and sexual violence.”
A 2004 study in Orissa, India supported this conclusion, finding that almost all women with disabilities were beaten in their homes, 25% had been raped, and 6% had been forcibly sterilized.
Even in developed countries such as the United States, those with disabilities face hardships. They must deal with physical and informational and communicational barriers. Only 20% of people with disabilities are employed in the U.S., compared with 70% without disabilities. Moreover, due to nature of the nation’s health care system, many with disabilities are discouraged from working.
“For a lot of people with disabilities they think: ‘What’s the point? I’ll have just enough money to survive, but not to thrive.’ And we gauge success in your ability to not just survive, but to thrive,” said Duane French, Division Director of the state of Washington’s Disability Determination Services Department.
Moreover, people with disabilities in the U.S. and other developed countries are confronted with widespread societal discrimination. They are often excluded on even interpersonal levels or infantilized and patronized. “Attitude regarding disability is still the number one barrier for people with disabilities,” Don Brandon, Alaska’s coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claimed.
There have been national and international efforts which have worked to varying degrees of effectiveness in order to create more inclusive societies for those with disabilities. In the United States, the ADA is meant to stop discrimination against people with disabilities, especially in employment and insurance, as well as to provide accessibility to buildings and services. On an international level, the United Nations created the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (SCRPD).
According to its website, SCRPD’s objectives are “to support the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in social life and development; to advance the rights and protect the dignity of persons with disabilities and; to promote equal access to employment, education, information, goods and services.” The SCRPD includes the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982), the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1994), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
Many are still awaiting global progress for this largest of minorities. However, there is hope that initiatives will create actual results. Said Kanter of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “[it] has the potential worldwide to advance the rights for people with disabilities, not because it’s a law, but because, rather, of its potential to mobilize people with disabilities and their allies to demand change.”