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Weekly Session 7 - Disabled People's Access to Politics

Secretary Mon, 12/03/2018 - 21:24

Disabled People's Access to Politics

Thursday, 6th December, 6pm , Parkinson B.08

It's the 3rd December and the International Day of Disabled Persons 2018; With Special Guest Speaker Miro Griffiths what better week than to discuss our topic of "Disabled People's Access to Politics".


-------- Study Guide --------

Disability affects over 20% of the world’s population and takes a multitude of forms (Rains, 2010). While some people’s disability may present itself as a lack of hearing, others are invisible to an onlooker, like a chronic pain or mental illness. Roughly 1 in 6 working-age Europeans have a long-standing health problem or disability; this varies from country to country. 32% of Finland’s population is disabled, while Italy has the smallest demographic in Europe at a 6.6% population (Rains, 2010). Developing nations in Asia and Africa have less-reliable information on how many disabled people are present on the continent, often supplying out-of-date, or repressed data (e.g. 2% of Zimbabwe’s population was disabled in 1997).

Similarly, how able-bodied people interact with disabled people is unique to different cultures. Disability activists have produced two major different models for classification: the Medical Model, and the Social Model. The Medical Model discusses how impairments must be “corrected”  to “fix” disabled people, focusing on what is “wrong” with them. However, the Social Model argues that disabled people are held back by how society is organized, rather than their own body. It focuses on providing accessibility to support disabled people, rather than “correct” them. The implementation of these models is illustrated with how countries apply the use of institutions to disabled people. Countries like Serbia, Romania, and Mexico use institutions for disabled children in purely medical model environments. 70% of Serbian children with disabilities receive no education in institutions, and Mexican institutions provide no emotional or educational support, often tying disabled children to their beds “for their own good” (OpeningDoors, Larsson, 2016). Meanwhile, Finland provides free equipment for disabilities and subsidized emotional therapy for all forms of impairments.

In 2007, the United Nations published the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), signed by 119 countries and ratified by 91. The UNCRPD argue that all of the rights (bodily autonomy, own property, vote, etc.) mentioned in the document must be Accessible, Available, Affordable and of Good Quality. “In all countries, vulnerable groups such as women, those in the poorest wealth quintile, and older people have a higher prevalence for disability” (UNICEF, 2011). In fact, many reports from around the world conclude that disabled people are more likely to be in poverty than their able-bodied counterparts (Rohwerder, 2015). 50% of disabled men have access to a primary education (compared to 61% of able-bodied males) and 40% of disabled women have basic education (compared to 52%) (UNICEF, 2011). Disabled people around the world encounter barriers that can prevent them from accessing the most fundamental forms of human rights, thus some people consider the concept of disabled people participating politically seems insurmountable.

Political participation for disabled people is a struggle in developed western nations like the US and UK. There are a total of 5 self-identified disabled MPs in Parliament (out of 650), while over a quarter of the UK population is disabled. Further, there are 4 American representatives (out of 435) in Congress as of 2016. While nations like Portugal, South Africa, and Turkey all have affirmative action laws in place to encourage employment of disabled individuals, none actually have any politicians with impairments. Brazil and Germany have laws in place that require companies to pay heavy fines if they do not fill diversity quotas, yet only have one disabled politician in their governments. While one does not have to be disabled to fight to further disabled people’s rights, the number of able-bodied people in government in comparison to the population indicates there are systemic problems that prevent disabled people from fully accessing the political stage.


Questions to Ask:

  • Which Disability Model does my country use when helping disabled people?
  • What is the disabled population of my country? How many of them are in poverty?
  • Does my countries government have laws in place to help disabled people?
  • Is it illegal in my country to discriminate against disabled people?

Helpful Resources:

Charts to consider:

mun chart 1

(source: UNICEF, 2011)

World Policy Analysis Centre, Constitutions Database, 2014