Topic 2.2 – Module 1 – From Charity to Rights

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Thinking about Disability from a Human Rights Approach

Thinking about disability from a human rights approach has meant a shift from seeing persons with disabilities as people who receive charity to people who hold rights. Consider the differences:

When persons with disabilities are seen as:
Recipients of Charity Rights-Holders
The person giving charity has the power to decide what to give. The person receiving charity is expected to be happy with any gift that he or she receives. For example, the charity-giver wants to donate a coat to a person in need. The rights-holder has the power to say what types of things she or he needs. The rights-holder can say: I don’t want a coat. I want shoes. Or, I don’t want a coat because I live in a warm country where coats aren’t needed.
The person giving charity decides what type of gift will be given. The person receiving charity is expected to be happy with any gift that he or she receives. For example, an institution run by a charity provides the same type of food (rice and beans) every day. The rights-holder has the power to choose what he or she prefers. The rights-holder is able to choose the type of food that he or she will eat.
There is no law that requires that the person receiving charity must get any resources so they must rely on the whim of the charity-giver. For example, if the charity-giver decides not to provide clothes or food one year, the charity-recipient will get none. There are laws that make sure that the rights-holder gets resources equal to those enjoyed by everyone else. The rights-holder does not have to worry about the generosity of the charity-giver. Adequate clothing and food are considered essential to survival, and rights that everyone is entitled to.

The psychological impact brought onto people with disabilities because of lack of approaches that make them productive, instead of objects of charity, is well expressed in the following quote by a girl with disability in Montenegro:
“I feel bad because I am a very useless at home, sitting around all day, watching television, listening to music, and I do get bored. And I’d like to get a job, to get my own money, to not depend on anybody.”

To achieve full recognition of persons with disabilities as rights-holders everyone needs to understand that:

  • the needs of persons with disabilities are not ‘special’. If someone owns a car and wants to drive on a highway, we don’t say they have a ‘special’ need for a highway. In the same way, if someone has a wheelchair and needs a sidewalk without potholes to move on, that should not be considered a ‘special’ need.
  • the issues are politicized. Discrimination and injustice are present when persons with disabilities can’t go to school, don’t get jobs and live in poverty.
  • separate but equal is not equal. Services that limit a person’s freedom do not support a person’s autonomy (independent choice), dignity (sense of self-worth) and human rights.
  • persons with disabilities have to be recognized as decision-makers. There is no need for other people to decide what they want or what is good for them. They know best what they need and want.

Look at the following contrasting terms. The first term in the pair is from a charity perspective, the second is from a disability rights perspective:

Charity Model Versus Disability Rights Model

Charity Disability Rights
Disempowerment Empowerment
Professional Control Self-Advocate Control
Fixing Weakness Developing Strength
Service Support
Limiting Activity Facilitating Activity
Discrimination Equal Rights

Our understanding of disability has changed and continues to change because of the increasing understanding and recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities. We are moving away from seeing disability as a matter of charity to seeing people with disabilities as having rights and being equal to others. People are recognizing that persons with disabilities are entitled to the same basic human rights that others enjoy. Persons with disabilities are part of the community.

Graphic that says disability rights are human rights

Universal design, education for all, equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws are all examples of this new approach to disability.

Watch this video and think about disability and human rights.

Video: Lawrence Mute on Disability Rights

Video Summary

Video discusses human rights approach as it applies to the issue of education for children with disabilities in Kenya.

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Transcript of Video

Lawrence Mute on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Lawrence Mute

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>> LAWRENCE MUTE: I look at myself, look figuratively at myself, and I think I grew up a child of charity. So I went to school you know, because there was this Consolata Catholic missionary who established a school.

There was this Consolata doctor, physician, who at an opportune moment told my dad, you know now that your son is blind, the best thing you can do for him is to take him to this school. So you see, all of those in a sense were circumstances or coincidental.

I think today we need to be at a place where we are not dealing on the basis that our children will grow up because of charity but actually our children will grow up as a right.

So then when in Kenya a child with a disability, when they go to the Ministry of Education and they are asking so I want a school, I want to be in school, the Ministry will not respond go to alliance CAP, or go and find charity, go somewhere and find someone who can pay your school fees.

It will be clear that actually that child as a matter of right will get an education.

And so for me I think that’s a critical thing and so you can look at education, you can look at healthcare, you can look at the issues of accessibility, and that is why we need to have a focus on the human rights approach.

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See the following link for an example of the right to transportation for persons with disabilities in Canada.Student’s Horrific Bus Trip Prompts a call for Improvements

Have you experienced barriers to transportation in your own country? Discuss your experience with a partner. If you are going through the training by yourself, take some time to reflect on your experience.

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