Disability Equality in Practice

Submitted by Alison Harris on November 12, 2003 - 1:00am.

by Alison Harris and Sue Enfield


What is disability? Trying to define it is a complex and controversial matter. It is important to consider the preferences of disabled people themselves, and to bear in mind that acceptable terminology changes over time, and from one culture to another.

"Disabled people want to be treated as normal citizens, with rights. They want to be treated equally and participate as equal citizens in their own communities." (Joshua Malinga, Chairperson of Disabled Peoples' International)

The experience of Oxfam and its partners is that disabled people are discriminated against and excluded from society not because of the physical limitations of their impairment, but principally by the attitudes of non-disabled people, and the way in which society organises itself.

Good Practices

Does your style of operating and organisational culture exclude disabled people either explicitly or by omission?

Organisations mandated to deliver relief and support development must consider their responses to crisis and poverty from the perspective of disabled people and their needs, as well as those of other members of the community. The assumption that support for general populations will automatically benefit disabled people within them is false: disabled people do not have equal access to resources and opportunities, and specific measures are necessary to ensure their full inclusion and participation.

Consulting and Involving Disabled People

Disabled people have invaluable experience and should be involved in all stages of programme planning, policy making and implementation. Working together with non-disabled allies who are disability-aware, participants in even small projects can make an enormous impact on the lives of many disabled beneficiaries.

Disability Equality Training

Disability-inclusive programmes can be given a kick-start with short sessions of Disability Equality training for staff. Wherever possible, training should be carried out by disabled people. In the long-term it is desirable that all programme staff should share responsibility for the inclusion of disabled people in their work.

The following exercise may be used as part of an introductory workshop to help get a variety of ideas flowing.

The Situation of Disabled People

Ask people to form groups of four. Give each group two pieces of flip-chart paper and coloured pens. Ask each group to draw two pictures. The first should represent disabled people's lives as they actually are, in their village, or town, or region; the second should represent how they would like disabled people's lives to be. Give them 20 minutes then ask one person from each group to present their pictures back to the whole group. Facilitate the feedback.

Why Is It Like That?

The way in which people (whether disabled or not) perceive disability is important, because it defines what they do, and the conditions of disabled people's lives. Disabled people's organisations have identified three common approaches to disability. They are known as the medical model, the charitable model and the social model. Most of the ideas written on the flipcharts will fit into one or other of these models:

The "medical model" sees disability as a problem, and the problem lies with the disabled individual. To solve the problem, it is necessary to work on the individual - starting with a diagnosis of what is "wrong" with him or her. The person and his or her life become defined in terms of the diagnosis. His or her needs are perceived as medical services, with a focus on the things the person cannot do.

The "charity model" assumes that the disabled person's main need in life is to be looked after. Typically the individual is seen as sad and tragic, bitter and twisted, or brave and courageous. There can be an assumption that a disabled person who cannot see, hear or walk also needs help to think, decide or act on his or her own behalf.

The "social model" describes the main needs of a person with an impairment as being the same as anyone else: life, love, employment, having control and choice in one's life, and access to adequate services as of right. The problem of disability lies in how society responds to the individual and his or her impairment. This approach focuses on matters that can be resolved. Therefore it can be a helpful tool for disabled people and their allies to make positive changes in their lives, and for non-disabled people to understand more about disability.

It Works!

The idea of Disability Equality offers a completely different way of thinking about being disabled and about one's place in the world. Disabled people are no longer the problem, but the solution.

Disability Equality is a powerful tool, one which helps people to move from shame to pride, from passivity and dependence to activism and action. Myrvete from Kosovo sums it up: "Learning about human rights of disabled people ... we began to recognise the existence of barriers, but above all we began to realise that it is possible to break down those barriers ... we are the ones who have to create that environment [of equality]; we can't wait for others to do things for us."


This article is based on material from "Disability, Equality and Human Rights: A training manual for development and humanitarian organisations" - an Oxfam publication in association with Action on Disability and Development. For further information visit: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what_we_do/resources/diseqhr.htm or email publish@oxfam.org.uk


Your say ..

Have you considered Disability Equality in your work?

What have you done about it?

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Submitted by miccharlys on June 30, 2009 - 6:13am.

Yeah very rightly said that disability is equality in practice and i think we should not underestimate disable people as they are also an important part of our society and culture we should back them up and help them out so they can also feel their selves a part of this society.

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