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RUNNING HEAD: Disability and Human Rights

Disability and Human Rights: An Exploration of the Issues [John Wall]

2 Disability and Human Rights While many minority groups such as; homosexuals, African-Americans, NativeAmericans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and women have seen significant improvements in enforcement of human rights laws regarding their populations the physically and mentally disabled still lag behind and in many nations they still lack even the most basic of human rights, the right to make decisions for their own lives. In some cases the disabled are confined to poorly maintained hospitals for the physical disabled or mentally ill and mentally disabled where they lack even basic necessities of life such as; nutrition food, and decent clothing. The disabled have been denied education, access to public facilities, employment and housing all because of illnesses, genetic disorders, or psychological deficits that define them as "abnormal" in the eyes of the dominant groups in their society. It must be stated that human rights apply equally to everyone regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, age, or ability. Thus, the physically and mentally disabled have the same rights to life, liberty, security of person, freedom from persecution, and legal recognition as a person as stated under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Policies must recognize a person's disability while simultaneously recognizing an individual's basic human rights thus policies need to be formulated to prevent marginalization and discrimination against the disabled that allow them the same equal opportunities given to other groups. Understanding the links between disability and human rights is critical for several reasons. First, disability crosses all racial, gender, age, religious, sexual preference, and ethnic barriers. This means if someone is a member of a minority group as well as being

3 disabled they may be facing discrimination and denial of human rights on two fronts. Thus human rights protection must be viewed as doubly vital in many parts of the world. Second, even though many groups have been granted full human rights in many countries, the disabled still lag behind other minority groups in relation to human rights and civil rights. Finally, the application of human rights to the disabled is necessary in order to prevent the disabled from being unfairly targeted by discriminatory behaviors and in some cases genocide. According to Bickenbach (2011), the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006 has created many problems in terms of international public policy. He argues that one of the main difficulties is that the disabled are not often viewed as a legitimate minority group in need of human rights protections. Disabilities are viewed primarily as medical or psychological problems and some governments have argued that since everyone has physical or mental health problems the disabled already fall under the aegis of existing human rights policies in their respective nations. Another issue is that the political, scientific/medical, and social welfare communities rarely communicate on disability issues. This often results in problems because governments may not even be aware that there is an inequality in the provision of human rights to the disabled in comparison to other minority groups. Bickenbach (2011) states that one of the tools used by the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO) is the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF). The ICF classifies disability in several ways. First, if a person suffers significant impairments body function and structures. These can be either physical or mental. A second classification variable is limitation in physical and

4 intellectual activities. Third, are variables that prevent an individual from participating in the activities of daily living. Finally, environmental and personal factors such as; discrimination or family problems may increase the level of disability. Bickenbach (2011) proposes that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that individuals with disabilities have the same human rights as all other people at the international level. However; he argues that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities must ensure that human rights laws are applied fairly and equally to all citizens. This is not means that the disabled have the same right to security, life and liberty as non-disabled citizens. This means equal access to education, employment, housing, and political representation as well as fair and equal treatment under the law. While human rights inequities with some groups have been addressed by governments at the international, federal, and state/provincial level other groups such as; disabled infants have been primarily ignored by the political and social welfare systems. MacKay and Covell (2011) have studied the issue of human rights as applied to disabled infants. In a false jury experiment including 282 participants from a small city in Nova Scotia, jurors were asked to read one of four cases in which a parent had committed infanticide. The infant's disability status, age, race, and gender were varied for each case. In the cases where the mock child had some level of disability jurors were less likely to submit a guilty vote, and were less likely to see the parent as liable in their child's death. MacKay and Covell (2011) argue that the main reason for this is that disabled infants are viewed as being unworthy of life. Many jurors responded that they felt sympathy to parents for having to "put up with a child like that". The number of mock jurors that felt less sympathy for the parents of disabled children was insignificant.

5 MacKay and Covell (2011) state that this seems to be correlated to the lack of recognition of the disabled as human beings with the same basic human rights as the rest of society. They are viewed as less human, less worthy of life, and as a burden on society. In some ways disabled individuals may be blamed for their own disability or at some level if they are an infant their parent are blamed for their problems. The results of this study indicate that there are few possible reasons for the lack of awareness that either infants or disabled infants have the same human rights as any other citizens. One reason could be the traditional view that children and infants have yet to reach the age of reason and therefore are not perceived as fully being human beings yet. Another reason may be that this same perception is often applied to the disabled in that they are assumed to be incompetent, this perception is even more common when applied to the mentally ill and intellectually disabled. According to Drew, Funk, Tang, Lamichhane, Chavez, Katontoka, and Saraceno (2011), people with mental and intellectual disabilities are more commonly discriminated against than those with physical disabilities. They are often under-employed, underpaid, marginalized, denied housing, denied access to healthcare, sexually emotionally and physically abused, detained illegally for crimes that they did not commit, and denied the rights to control their own sexuality. Drew et al (2011) further argue that this is but a symptom of a general lack of recognition that people with mental and intellectual disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. Even in the United States, the mentally and intellectually disabled are paid less per hour from worksites than employees with no disabilities, they are given fewer hours, and they are often denied housing. While this is technically illegal according to the

6 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the ADA is not always unilaterally enforced equally throughout the United States which means that in many cases means that the disabled are not always being treated equally.

One of the most well-known policies that make provisions for the disabled in the United States is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1996. (Drew et al ,2011)This law provides for the enforcement of basic laws regarding human and civil liberties for the physically, mentally , and intellectually disabled as well as making it illegal to discriminate against members of these groups for any reason. Dew et al (2011) suggest that the ADA has been one of the more successful laws created to protect the human rights of individuals with disabilities however; it is not always fairly and evenly applied in all areas. For example, the physically mentally and intellectually disabled who live in group homes and work in workshops rather than living on their own and working in the community still get paid less than normal employees. It is also fairly common for communities that do not want group homes for the physically, mentally, or intellectually disabled in their neighborhoods to use zoning laws to keep groups homes by doing things such as; claiming they are businesses. In spite of these minor problems the ADA has ensured that the core principle of human rights, being recognized as a human being, and not denying a person liberty, security, and rights to life. Similar policies have been implemented in other nations however; since many of these nations do not have a strong existing body of legislation regarding human and civil rights the application of laws protecting the human rights of the disabled have not been as effective as the ADA . There are also a great many

7 countries that still do not have existing laws in place to protect the human rights of the disabled simply because they deny the most basic of human rights to non-disabled minority citizens, and non-minority citizens. The ADA sets up a series of effective guidelines which can be utilized to create new policies for nations which may not have laws in place to protect the human rights of the disabled. In spite of this the United States still has a long way to go in relation to fair and equal treatment of the disabled despite all of the good that has been done by the ADA.

In conclusion, the human rights of the disabled are still not protected in many countries. Marginalization and discrimination are still common against the physically, mentally, and intellectually disabled. This is specifically true in relation to certain subgroups such as, disabled infants, and the intellectually challenged. It is not uncommon for people to perceive the disabled as barely being human and as being unable to make decisions for themselves. The primary difficulty at regulating human rights for the disabled at the international level is that organizations such as; the WHO, or the UN can only recommend courses of action but they cannot implement them into law. While several nations like the United States have implemented laws to protect the rights of the disabled many nations still lag behind either because they did not previously have an existing body of civil and human rights legislation at all, or out of failure to recognize that the marginalization of the disabled is a serious issue.

8 References Bickenbach, J. E. (2011). Monitoring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: data and the International Classification of Functioning,Disability and Health . BMC Public Health, 11 (4), 1-8. Drew, N., Funk, M., Tang, S., Lamichhane, J., Chvez, E., Katontoka, S., ... & Saraceno, B. (2011). Human rights violations of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities: an unresolved global crisis. The Lancet, 378(9803), 1664-1675. MacKay Mariah and Covell Catherine . (2013). What about the Rights of Infants with Disabilities: Responses to Infantiicide as a Fucntion of Infant Healh Status . Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 2 (2), 36-69.