Topic 1.2 – Module 1 – Discrimination Faced by Persons with Disabilities Around the World

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Mother holding on to a baby with a mobility disability using a walker
Young children with disabilities are vulnerable

Many children and adults with disabilities are ignored by others. Their rights are not recognized. They do not have the chance to participate in activities in their communities. Schools refuse to accept them. Employers do not hire them as adults.

Persons with disabilities continue to face discrimination in both the richest and poorest countries of the world.

Here are some examples of people around the world who have been discriminated against because they are disabled.

Video: Disability Access in Ghana

Video Summary

To be physically disabled in Ghana, sometimes means to be denied access to the most basic human rights: education, employment and even transportation. In this video EfuaAcquaah-Harrison highlights how Elvis Alipui (Elvis is affected by spinal cord injury) gets around daily.

To turn on AMARA close captioning, click on the close captioning button on the bottom left side of the video next to the word amara. For full details, see the FAQ page (Question 9).

Transcript of Video

Disability Access in Ghana Speaker: Efua Acquaah-Harrison, Elvis Alipui

Transcription provided by: Caption First, Inc. P. O. Box 3066 Monument, Colorado 80132 877-825-5234

>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: Have you ever seen a physically challenged person trying to board a public vehicle reliant on his wheelchair? Elvis Alipui says if it’s not a taxi, you would have to go to a station. Otherwise he is refused passage straight off just like this.
>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: What did some of the mates tell you?
>> ELVIS ALIPUI: What they tell me is your wheelchair can’t get a place in my car. Even in the backseat you can’t go there. And I say I will go there. They said no, they can’t get a place for my wheelchair. The second driver also was telling me they don’t open their booths this wide.
>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: So Elvis has to wheel himself everywhere he goes, but his trouble is not only with public transportation.
>> ELVIS ALIPUI: Look at our pavements. They are not accessible. You don’t see where you can climb the pavement to cross the streets and also to pass. Sometimes you are in the middle of pavements because they don’t hear me. You don’t know where to park you have to get down to the roads and maybe there they can’t ignore you again because of your disability.
>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: Elvis was not born this way. He says he fell victim to Polio when he was only five years old. Because of this he says his education was cut short.
>> ELVIS ALIPUI: My disability did not allow me to go to school. The school environment itself is not accessible. Also from the family, from the belief, some people will say, “Oh, he’s become a disable he’s the son of Leva”. Don’t focus on him; focus on the other brothers and sisters who are not disabled.
>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: What did you want to be when you were little?
>> ELVIS ALIPUI: I wanted to be the technician that produces TV’s like you. I wanted to be an electrician man in the TV station as I say. But you are not a God so what I propose is empty.
>> EFUA ACQUAAH-HARRISON: Despite societal restrictions, Elvis now makes a living as the manager of the Ghana Society of the Physically Disabled Chalk Factory, supplying chalk to the Air Force for schools around the country. So Elvis says he usually has to make a few rounds every week, but almost all the public buildings he visits have no wheelchair access.
At the Greater Accra Regional Co-Ordinating Council he was fortunate to have these men help him up the stairs, but he only ended up at the reception area.
This is how he made his way in and out of the bank.
And at the Accra Sports Stadium where he is a member of the sports council.
Even though there’s a working lift at the stadium, it was locked and it only provides access to this space. This is how Elvis moves around every day, every week.
The sad reality but this is the situation that most public institutions in the country, even here at TV3. If Elvis was a technician here, he would have to rely on people every day to get in and out and about because even here we do not have accessibility for persons with disability. I’m Efua Acquaah-Harrison.

To view the transcript for this video, click on the black bar above. To close the transcript, click on the bar again.


Group Discussion

If you are taking this training in a group, it can be helpful to have a group discussion about the material.  Throughout the training we will suggest group discussion questions like these.  If you are completing the training by yourself, take some time to reflect on the questions.

Things to think about and discuss with your group after watching the video:

  • How accessible is your own environment?
  • What is being done to make it more accessible in your town or city or country?

Share your opinions with us on Twitter or Facebook.

Video: Causes of Discrimination

Video Summary

In this video individuals speak about their personal experiences living with disabilities, they talk about discrimination and challenges that they face and share their hopes for the future.

To turn on AMARA close captioning, click on the close captioning button on the bottom left side of the video next to the word amara. For full details, see the FAQ page (Question 9).


Transcript of Video

The Real Story of Disability in Ghana

Transcription provided by:
Caption First, Inc. P. O. Box 3066 Monument, Colorado 80132 877-825-5234

>> VIDEO: Around 10% of the world’s population lives with a disability. 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries. They are the world’s largest minority, United Nations, 2006. In 2009 the disabled community of Eastern Ghana told their story. Discrimination against people with disabilities acts as a barrier to their full and equal participation in society.
>> ISSAC: The discrimination in Ghana is on the ascendance. People have perceptions that if you are disabled it means you are not all that important to society. But being disabled doesn’t mean you are out of your senses. So normally when you are looking for employment, once you are disabled they can just shun you, they can even throw your application letter away.
>> SULE: In terms of discrimination, I think it is UN the whole wide world, in Europe, in Africa, everywhere. But I think in Africa it is more in terms of marriage, in terms of school, in terms of house, in terms of community.
>> VERA: I am worried about the difficulties and challenges I face. I sometimes find schooling and learning the trade difficult. It is sometimes not easy for people to give help; sometimes people who are willing to help want something from you in return. Sometimes the taxis that pass by are reluctant to stop and collect me, they feel the wheelchair takes too much effort and time to handle, they see it as a waste of their time.
>> SULE: If you are physically challenged, it doesn’t mean inability. A physically challenged person can do anything to help society.
>> OBENG ASARE: Disability is everybody’s lot. Anyone can become a disabled person by walking, eating, or even drinking water; at anytime, anywhere. Persons without disabilities should not marginalize, reject and discriminate against persons with disabilities.
>> DANSO LARBI: They will normally think that disability is a curse, that maybe our forefathers did something wrong some time ago and they are receiving their punishment at the moment. So any child becomes disabled is perceived as a curse from the gods. So, in fact it is something that they African populous believes in, so if you become visually impaired, or physically challenged or hearing impaired normally you are not in fact integrated into the family very well because they all become afraid of you.
>> VERA: The challenges are great. The majority of the community feels that this is taboo or a curse becoming this way disabled. Some people don’t want to associate with me. I remember at school people laughed and talked about me, and they shunned me. They believed my disability was a disease, and they could be infected by me.
>> MARY: Life is difficult even for the sighted, so it is also difficult for those with visual impairments. Some people do not want to associate themselves with the visually impaired because they believe that it is a curse or taboo for they sighted to associate with the visually impaired. But few people like to intermingle with the visually impaired.
>> VIDEO: There are no accurate statistics about the rate of disability in Ghana, Jacqueline Slikker, VSO Ghana Researcher, 2009.

To view the transcript for this video, click on the black bar above. To close the transcript, click on the bar again.

Let’s take a look at the following testimonies by persons with disabilities in Kenya, for example: “ … [my mother] beat me up badly, threatening to break my legs or throw them out. Even my siblings hit me. They even refused to pay for my fees in secondary school. They disowned me and discriminated against me. Indeed, my food was different from the rest of the family’s. I was not bought clothes like others. I felt different.”

“ They used to give me a lot of work, other staff members would make mistakes and I would be blamed as if I was the one who made the mistake… Then later, at the end of the day, the management and everybody else would turn the blame on me.”

Group Discussion

Things to think about and discuss with you group after watching the video. If you are completing the training by yourself, take some time to reflect on these questions:

  • What does disability mean to you?
  • Have you faced similar challenges, discrimination and prejudice?

Share your opinions with us on Twitter or Facebook.

Causes of Discrimination

The following causes of discrimination are discussed in more detail below:

  • Myths/Misinformation
  • Attitudes
  • Language
  • Social and Legal Barriers
  • Environmental Barriers


In many societies, what people think about persons with disabilities comes from myths and misinformation that suggest that persons with disabilities are:

  • sick, deformed, or undesirable
  • throwaways
  • non-people
  • menaces (i.e., bringing disease, danger)
  • people to make fun of

These myths have been used as excuses for denying rights and entitlements to persons with disabilities. Even though most people will experience some form of disability at some point in their lives, people who do not have disabilities often treat people who have disabilities as a separate group, different from others and less valued.


Over time, persons with disabilities have been seen in many negative ways. For example, persons with disabilities have been considered carriers of sin, to be demons, to bring bad luck, to be helpless dependents, to need charity, and to be second class citizens.

When people have negative attitudes or ideas toward persons with disabilities they put up invisible barriers that limit the experiences and opportunities of persons with disabilities. For example, because of negative attitudes, persons with disabilities have been:

  • isolated in institutions and special schools or in their homes;
  • taught to be ashamed of themselves and their disabilities;
  • controlled by caregivers by being told what to do, and when and how to do it.

In all countries, these negative attitudes have led to the exclusion of persons with disabilities through social, legal, and environmental barriers, including degrading language.


An important way that people are left out is through language. Words that highlight the differences between persons with disabilities in a negative way — whether used by professionals like doctors, therapists and teachers, written in newspapers or spoken in the street — make people feel that they are not valued. This language often leads to people making fun of or shunning persons with disabilities because of those differences.

Story of discrimination from a person with a disability in India: “People make fun of me because I am short, even children do not hesitate to make fun of me and of course that is insulting … The auto rickshaw drivers tease and make fun of me. They invite me to enter their auto as if I were a street walker and pass me by yelling out Shorty! Shorty! … How can we feel respected? When we are passing by if someone were to call, hey you, of course you lose respect in front of others, it is because we are disabled they are calling us like this.”

Use language that respects persons with disabilities

There is a lot of discussion about respectful ways of referring to disability and persons with disabilities. DRPI want to be careful to show that respect in our language so that it is not derogatory or demeaning in any sense. There has already been, and there continues to be, so much discrimination found in the references to different types of disability. Rights are based on dignity and equality and language can do great harm to people’s sense of self and also to a general disrespect for persons with disabilities. DRPI follows the same protocol as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which uses “persons with disabilities”. In some cases, we also use “people with disabilities”. Click here to view a study related to this published by the International Epilepsy News: Stop Saying Epileptic.

Video: Reclaiming Language

Video Summary

Language is a powerful tool. Watch this video and think about how language affects your life. Share your thoughts with your group and with us of Facebook and Twitter.

To turn on AMARA close captioning, click on the close captioning button on the bottom left side of the video next to the word amara. For full details, see the FAQ page (Question 9).


Transcript of Video

Reclaiming Language Introduction

Transcription provided by:
Caption First, Inc
P.O. Box 3066
Monument, Colorado 80132

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: We swim in a sea of language.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 1: Language shapes perception.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: Well language is a very powerful tool.

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: Language can be used to liberate.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: People will automatically assume because you can’t walk or because you can’t talk, because you can’t see, that you are more vulnerable, that you need to be taken care of.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 3: It isn’t necessarily true.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: I don’t consider myself vulnerable even though I am a person with a disability.

>> MALE SPEAKER 3: People with disabilities are not inherently more vulnerable than anyone else.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: I would rather people treated me not as vulnerable but with dignity and respect.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: Everybody is vulnerable.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: Each and every one of us can be vulnerable.

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: The truth is that we are all vulnerable.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 4: People are made vulnerable.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: I think the worst word for people to be described as is suffering.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 5: It’s highly detrimental to our lives.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 4: Suffering is a dehumanizing term.

>> MALE SPEAKER 3: They are not suffering.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: I don’t think persons with disabilities are suffering.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: No. I don’t suffer from polio.

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: All language can be challenged and changed.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: I am not a pity person.

>> MALE SPEAKER 2: They don’t want pity. They don’t want sympathy.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 3: It just perpetuates the stereotypes.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 1: Our lives are rich and they are complex.

>> FEMALE SPEAKER 2: I’m not a victim. I’m not suffering. I’m not, you know, vulnerable. I’m just me.

>> MALE SPEAKER 1: We can reclaim language.

To view the transcript for this video, click on the black bar above. To close the transcript, click on the bar again.

Share your opinions with us on Twitter or Facebook.


Social and Legal Barriers

In many places, laws, policies, and practices put in place by governments and others in the community or country have meant that persons with disabilities have been denied their human rights, such as the following:

  • the right to live
  • the right to marry
  • the right to work
  • the right to have children and raise families
  • the right to inherit property
  • the right to go to school
  • the right to access the same services that other people have, and specific services that persons with disabilities need

Story of discrimination from a person with a disability in Cameroon:  “After my computer training, I sought for a job in one organization. We were short listed for interview. So, when we went for interview, I performed best. But, the employer told one, he will have to employ second person to clean up the surroundings, if he employs me, because of my disability. For this reason, I was not employed because of my disability.”

Environmental Barriers

Environmental barriers have also resulted in exclusion. An environmental barrier is created when buildings, products, services, or open spaces are designed or work in a way that makes it difficult for persons with disabilities Graphic representation of three types of barriers showing three different coloured triangles. The Social triangle contains the phrase "universal design, safe and secure". The Economic triangle contains the phrase "cost-efficient over time". The Environmental triangle contains the phrase "resource efficient".to use them. Environmental barriers create obstacles that prevent persons with disabilities from equal participation in their communities and their societies. Here are some examples of environmental barriers:

  • a person with an intellectual disability might have difficulty dealing with the amount of information found in a grocery store
  • a person who uses a wheelchair might not be able to travel on a sidewalk or road that has potholes
  • a person who is blind might have difficulty finding his doctor’s office in a building that does not have Braille signs or door markers
A woman in a wheelchair on a subway platform.
People with disabilities often face transportation barriers

Universal design is an approach to the design of products, services, andenvironments that makes them usable by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation. Universal design recognizes that many different people live in a community, and takes that into account from the beginning. However, no matter how good universal design is, it still might not accommodate all persons with disabilities. To be sure that everyone is included, it is important to keep looking for additional adaptations.

To learn more about universal design, please visit the FAQs page for Global Universal Design, a not-for-profit group that develops universal design standards.

People with disabilities often face public transportation barriers, which could be addressed by universal design. Many issues around building access could also be addressed by universal design.

Concluding Thoughts

Over the past forty years, persons with disabilities around the world have stopped seeing themselves as sick, tragic or different. They are seeing themselves as people like everyone else and members of their communities. Through their involvement in the disability rights movement, persons with disabilities have come to recognize that often the way they are treated is unfair and discriminatory. Disability is another characteristic just like gender, age, and race. There is nothing abnormal about persons with disabilities. Everyone is different in some way and so are persons with disabilities. The world is like a patchwork quilt — each piece of the quilt is different but all people are part of the quilt.

Decorative logo says "Persons with disabilities do have rights."

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