Although violations of human rights are a daily issue all over the globe in many different ways, we live in a “fairer” world today, a world that is increasingly taking care of minorities. In this context, media has been used by social movements to spread their message, encouraging people to empathize with social issues such as racism or gender equality. This social awareness has led to a new focus on diversity and inclusion in society, education, the workplace, and marketing campaigns. However, it seems that people with disabilities are still being marginalized. According to the World Economic Forum, “90% of companies prioritize diversity, 4% consider disability.” Calling people with disabilities a “minority” is reductive: they are more than 1 billion people worldwide, representing about 15% of the global population. Disabilities cover a wide range of different conditions, from physical to mental ones. Disability inclusion is an imperative not only to achieve substantial equality, but also to reach sustainable and inclusive growth, which really benefits everyone: people with disabilities represent 15% of the global market, being not only “consumers”, but being also contributors to the world economy. To allow them to play an active role in their community, we should focus on some key points.
- Changing the way we talk about disability
In her Ted’s Talk, Amy Oulton, a woman forced to use a wheelchair, says: “My disability is part of my identity in the same way other things are.’’ In her talk, she tells us that the media tend to identify disabled people solely through their disability, forgetting it’s just one part of their life. This also leads to a binary description of their life: miserable or inspiring. On one hand, popular imagination leads us to think they have a sad life, forgetting that their disability does not make them ‘’unable’’ to do many activities, despite having to face more obstacles; on the other hand, they are seen as ‘’exceptional’’, simply because they have a social life, they work, and travel. Amy Oulton, while describing her trip to South-East Asia, says: “you can still achieve the things you want to, you just have to be creative about how you do it. When people tell me it’s amazing to see me out, they could well be right […], but if they think it’s impressive because my life is otherwise meaningless and fulfilled, they’re completely wrong. None of these achievements is an indication that I’ve overcome my disability. My disability and my mental health are not something I’m trying to overcome, It’s something that I’m learning to live alongside.”
- Overcoming architectural barriers
In the 60s’, in North Carolina, a man who used a wheelchair decided to study architecture. He was used to architectural barriers, but he also had to deal with them on the university campus, at the faculty of Architecture. Indeed, he understood that designers used to conceive spaces and create products without thinking of the needs of everyone. However, an inclusive and innovative alternative was possible. He created it. This man was Ronald Mace, who coined the term ‘’Universal Design’’, contributing to the development of this new design branch, also known as ‘’Design for all’’. According to the WHO, overcoming architectural barriers is a crucial point to allow the political participation of people with disabilities. Although for low-income countries, some Universal Design innovations may be too expensive, high-income countries are trying to completely adopt these principles. A successful example is Singapore. Due to the rapid aging of the population, Singapore had to develop a plan to create a user-friendly environment in 2006. After 8 years, almost every government building was accessible to everyone; basic access to the buildings located in Singapore’s main street increased by 41%. As we can see, the plan encouraged the building owners to voluntarily adopt Universal Design innovations.
- Technology: a powerful ally
It’s not uncommon to see people being able to run or to hear thanks to a prosthesis or hearing aid. The new digital era seems to be the best historical age to solve many problems deriving from disabilities. Technology is a great ally in the field of education and employment, too. Digital classrooms provide different ways of communication: texts, videos, voice-messages; smart working allows people with disabilities to better manage their personal needs and their work life. However, advanced digital devices might be too costly, especially for people from developing countries. Universal Design and technology aren’t enough. Inclusive policies should ensure people with disabilities not only assistive technology, but also the right to an education, a necessary condition to participate in the political and economic life of society.
- Right to education
One of the greatest musicians of all times was deaf: Ludwig Van Beethoven. One of the most important scientists of the last century had a disability: Stephen Hawking. Although the so-called ‘’inspirational porn’’ must be avoided while speaking of disability, here the point is different: how many talents may we have missed because of discriminatory educational systems? According to the World Bank, “In China, for instance, approximately 5.8 million school-age children with disabilities face difficulties in accessing education. The rate of school dropouts for these children is close to 35 percent, with more than half having never attended school at all.” We should prioritize inclusive education rather than special schools for children with disabilities; public schools should provide individual, learning assistance by recruiting specialized teachers; digital learning, as already stated, is a powerful tool, too. Remember that this is a great opportunity for every child. Disability is not confined to being in a wheelchair, being deaf or blind; it’s a spectrum of many shades. It shows us that ‘’normality’’ is a relative concept: everyone has his way of learning and of expressing ideas, everyone has weaknesses and strengths. People with disabilities remind us of this every day.
“Work ennobles man’’. This citation might sound like chlichè, but it matters in this context. One of the biggest stereotypes regarding people with disabilities is their alleged inability to be productive. As you can easily understand at this stage, this is false. However, “As of July 2018, only 29 percent of Americans of working age (between ages 16 and 64) with disabilities participated in the workforce, compared with 75 percent of Americans without a disability.” People with disabilities are often excluded from the job market because companies don’t recognize their potential. Nonetheless, it is shown that in the USA “employees with disabilities offer tangible benefits, including increased innovation, improved productivity and a better work environment. And, of course, workers are consumers, too. The GDP could get a boost up to $25 billion if just 1 percent more of persons with disabilities joined the U.S. labor force.” Therefore, encouraging people with disabilities into the workforce is the final and crucial step to achieve the inclusion of disability.