The Global Disability Rights Movement


PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — One billion people worldwide have a disability and are in the midst of a global struggle to have their basic human rights recognized. Despite binding international treaties that say otherwise, disability rights in the developing world are frequently disregarded as unimportant.

In America, at least, the disability rights movement has made immense progress. By using many of the same tactics as the civil rights movement—such as civil disobedience, protests and marches—the American disability rights movement won a sweeping victory in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Yet there is still much work to be done internationally.

In countries like Tanzania and Uganda, albinos are dismembered and hunted like animals. Little people around the world are denied their right to an education just for being short. And children with disabilities are subjected to electrical shock devices to punish and control them, a practice that has been deemed torture by the U.N.

Problems of this magnitude exist across the globe. Children with disabilities have much higher than average mortality rates, and disabled women are frequent victims of sexual assault.

According to a report published jointly by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, people with disabilities face a 50 percent greater risk of incurring “catastrophic health costs,” which threaten to plunge disabled people into the poverty trap. And worst of all, about 80 percent of the world’s disabled population come from low-income countries.

As such, disability rights is one of the most pressing issues in the developing world.

Thankfully, the international community has come together to form a global disability rights movement. So far, that movement has won a series of key victories to bolster the cause.

Most notably, in 2008 the U.N. passed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), marking the first international treaty aimed at protecting the human rights of people with disabilities. To date, 147 countries have ratified the treaty.

The United States became a signatory back in 2009, but still has yet to ratify.

For those countries who have ratified, a unique system for dealing with disability rights violations has been established. The CRPD is the only human rights treaty that has established both international and national monitoring mechanisms.

The national disability rights institutions make it far easier to report and learn about disability rights violations. Similarly, this new system allows for local solutions to local problems, rather than imposing the usual one-size-fits-all approach.

Another innovative method the disability rights movement is utilizing is the Global Disability Rights Library (GDRL). The project is the result of a collaboration between the U.S. International Council on Disabilities and the University of Iowa. Together, they compiled a library of over 500,000 digital resources documenting all the available information on how best to protect and promote disability rights.

This knowledge will prove instrumental to countries with budding disability rights movements. Unfortunately, 60 percent of the global population still does not have internet access, and thus would be unable to access the GDRL at

But yet again, the movement has developed a unique solution. A one-of-a-kind technology developed by the WiderNet Project will allow access to the GDRL without the need for an internet connection.

Basically, the technology involves downloading the library onto disk drives and then distributing the information to schools and hospitals across the developing world. More than just copying static information, the project has been dubbed “The Internet in a Box,” and for all intents and purposes, it will grant free access to a local network.

By utilizing these resources, the global disability rights movement hopes to spread the requisite knowledge of how to build a successful movement in the face of extreme adversity.

Sam Hillestad

Sources: Huffington Post, The Gazette, eGranery Digital Library, Disability Rights International
Photo: Social Adventure Group Media


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