Disabled people have traditionally been marginalised in social development discussions. This report outlines the magnitude of obstacles to the exercise of disabled people's human rights and how these obstacles may be overcome. It is intended as a contribution to the debate on the social construction of disadvantage and effective measures for overcoming such disadvantage.
Current debates about the nature of disability in society are now being focused on discrimination and the redefinition of disability as a human rights issue. This shift has been marked by the development of an increasingly politicised disability movement at all levels.
However, despite important advances at international level, and a sea-change in attitudes towards disabled people in some countries, the situation for the vast majority of the world's disabled people remains bleak.
The 1987 Mid-Term Evaluation of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992) found "that very little progress has been made throughout the world, especially in the least developed countries, where disabled people are doubly disadvantaged by economic and social conditions", and that "the situation of many disabled people may indeed have deteriorated during the last five years". In 1993, the United Nations' report on Human Rights and Disabled Persons, by Special Rapporteur Leandro Despuoy, described, in considerable detail, the miserable condition of the majority of the world's disabled people.
The World Summit on Social Development provides a timely opportunity for a shift in attitudes to, and implementation of, social policy and development. It is axiomatic that if new approaches are to be examined and debated, then the people concerned must be at the forefront of those approaches and discussions.
Traditionally, disabled people's issues have been marginalised and categorised as "special" or "different", and the concept of "integration" has been based on changing the individual to conform to society, rather than promoting social change that liberates, empowers and incorporates the experiences of disabled people. The recommendations of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons (1982), the emphasis on equalisation of opportunities during the United Nations Decade, and the focus on human rights for the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons (3 December), all acknowledge integration as an issue of social change: changes in legislation, policy and awareness of disability as a human rights issue.
Disabled people will not be assimilated into their societies through the goodwill of the powerful. Disabled people will change society through their increased participation, their skills, experience and insights.
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