Bullfighting, Barbie and Borges

Latest international disability news from nearly 60 countries

Hello Debriefers,

We're back at the world news buffet, with updates on bullfighting, Barbie and Borges.

This month's stories explore disabled people's place in popular culture, adapting to becoming blind, and how disability culture can contribute to fighting the climate crisis. And much more, of course, from a criminal gang in Romania exploiting disabled people to young adults in China commuting by wheelchair.

These are the lowlight and highlights from news curated from nearly 60 countries. As ever, they are organised across subjects. And now, to make it easier to browse what's relevant for you, also organized by countries. This update picks up from where we left off in July.

All this feeds into the ever-growing library of disability resources that I told you about last time. Thanks y'all for the kind words and sharing that with others.

Disability Debrief is supported on a pay-as-you can basis. Thanks to Jessica and Trinh for new contributions. This edition has support from Center for Inclusive Policy and Sightsavers.

“We are artists, and this is our dream.”

Earlier in the year, Spain's parliament banned “comic” bullfighting events which feature dwarfs dressed in costumes. Disability rights groups welcomed this as ending a form of mockery, but not all the performers thought the same way. So some carried on performing.

This New York Times feature lays out the complications well. On the one hand these events are perceived as denigrating and socially damaging. And on the other hand, performers defend their right to perform and to continue work. A right which they say the same law guarantees. As one bullfighter said, “we are artists and this is our dream.”

Spanish bullfighting isn't the only place with discussion of popular culture representation of dwarfs. The upcoming film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has a character traditionally played by dwarf actors but in this version will be played by Hugh Grant. Some lamented this as taking away one of the few roles that Hollywood makes available for little people.

An upcoming Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has raised similar questions, and also divides opinion. Erin Pritchard asks the entertainment industry to reconsider how dwarfism is represented. She points to how those films have contributed to stereotypes and abuse, and asks for more empowering and true-to-life roles:

“People with dwarfism are not novelties or figures of fun. Yet their place in entertainment has been culturally constructed as if they are. Actors with dwarfism need to step out of their comfort zone and push for more roles that break away from those purely reliant on height.”

As well as the vital questions of representation that these discussions raise, they show the difficulty in challenging existing social structures around disability, no matter how discriminatory or inappropriate they are. Disabled people have found livelihoods and purpose in those structures, and change might put that at risk.

I'm a Barbie girl, in an inaccessible world

The cultural impact of the new Barbie movie also rippled out into the disability community. A wheelchair-using Barbie made several appearances in the film, albeit without a speaking part.

Katie Pennick wrote the best twitter thread she will ever post, a critical comparison of her own pink wheelchair with the one that Barbie uses. Katie is shocked Barbie rides without mud-guards on her chair. (Maybe Barbie-world doesn't have mud?)

Madison Lawson gives context on the importance of seeing Barbie in her own image in the film and wider marketing. And over on TikTok, ItsAliceElla has a parody version of Barbie Girl:

“I'm a Barbie Girl in an inaccessible world,
Life's fantastic, I'm being sarcastic,
I can't get through there, or get up all these stairs,
Discrimination, please feel our frustration”

Replacing the visible world

Argentinian literary giant Jorge Luis Borges lost his sight at the same time as he became director of the National Library. One of the ways Borges adapted was to learn Old English, saying that he had “replaced the visible world with the aural world of the Anglo-Saxon language.”

This is one of several great essays by US author Andrew Leland, coinciding with the release of his book The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight. Andrew writes about the choices he makes about his blindness:

“I could pull out my phone and try to use its magnification or text-to-speech capabilities to read the menu, or ask my family for help. There’s a powerful tension between the independence facilitated by assistive technologies, and the possibility of interdependence that can emerge from the exchange between disabled and non-disabled people. This tension has never been more pronounced than today, when advances in technology stand to usher in an unprecedented era of independence for disabled users.”

Speaking of accessibility and technology, there's a glorious multimedia presentation of Comics Beyond Sight, “a highly visual case” for how comics can be made accessible. “Access is an art of translation – it's own creative journey.”

We lead with love and joy

Many of you have already been exploring the latest climate news in the resource guide that Áine put together. The recent months in particular have seen a lot of new writing, with many arguing for the importance of disability to tackling the climate crisis.

Julia Watts Belser shares what she learned from disability and disability culture:

“Disability has forced me to reckon more forthrightly with the limits of my flesh, to confront the truth that bodies and minds cannot do it all. It has helped me learn to embrace rest, to resist the voices that clamor for more, always more. But disability has also taught me to push back against injustice, to fight hard against the structural barriers that stand in disabled people’s way. Both of these insights are powerful tools for confronting climate change.”

Another piece exploring how activists with disabilities are leading the climate fight shares Daphne Frias' view on what disability can add:

“Disability and the disability community, we lead with joy and love. And that is such a huge thing that I feel like is often missing from the climate conversation.” 

And in Jamaica, Ginnel Peart has another point on what a disability view can add:

“We need to use the most limiting concerns of people with disabilities as the blueprint to tailor the approach in empowering all.”

There is also an important collection of articles on climate and disability, going “beyond vulnerability” on Harvard Law's Bill of Health site.

I appreciate, and take inspiration, from how the disability community can contribute to tackling the climate crisis. But not all of the disability community is joy and love. We are too often locked-in on disability as a single issue and have our share of hierarchy and segregation. The climate crisis has many demands and challenges for how we advocate on disability. Our own movement will have to change for our advocacy to stay relevant.

A criminal network abusing disabled people in the name of “care”

Horrifying news from Romania about the inhumane conditions in care centres controlled by a criminal gang:

“The crime ring collected all the state subsidies earmarked for the disabled, which can run up to around €1,000 per person per month, and in exchange, put them away for good.

“Almost €800,000 has been received by the hospices in recent years from the local authorities. Although the money was intended for the care of the elderly, most of it was spent on drugs, prostitutes and parties, prosecutors said.”

The European Network on Independent Living sees this as a “result of a continued refusal by the Romanian Government to move away from institutional care”.

Something is better than nothing

“Something is better than nothing, right?” Weh Yeoh reveals the attitudes of an international NGO supposedly supporting people with wheelchairs in Cambodia:

“The first thing I noticed about these wheelchairs was that they were adult sized. But, in communication with the founder, she was insistent that the recipients of these wheelchairs had to be children, since the volunteers found working with children more gratifying.”

As for adults using wheelchairs... Allegedly young people in Guangzhou are getting around rules on e-bikes by using wheelchairs to commute to work:

‘The electric wheelchair “saves effort and is flexible, and you can ‘drive’ directly to your destination without having to find a parking space””

Won't stop the protests. In South Korea, Park Kyoung-seok, the co-leader of the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination, was referred to the prosecution for obstructions that the series of protests against inaccessibility have caused. He says they will continue.

The dark background also represents rage and protest against the mistreatment of the disabled community.” A breakdown of the colours in the disability pride flag.  

“No one is talking about it” A feature on long-covid in the Global South. “When people die, that gets into the media. But chronic, disabling conditions do not.”

Rebuilding broken societies. Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur at the UN, has a new report on the transformative role of persons with disabilities in peacebuilding processes.

Take your chances. In 2022, US airlines mishandled wheelchairs at rates ranging from 0.4% to 5.8%. This is one of the ever-increasing pieces of news on inaccessibility of air travel.

Eh? Research in Canada finds the pay-gap between persons with and without disabilities is 21.4%.

Sometimes we don't need to speak too much.” The paper plane is a cute animation arguing for inclusive education in Lebanon. (Albeit without visual description).

Where is a woman's place? Multimedia feature on six women with disabilities defining their own places in society.

Happy browsing,


Recent News

This update has 269 curated links from 58 countries and regions, organized across 54 subjects.

There are a few updates in how things are presented. You can now browse the latest news by country as well as by subject.

I've added use of a tag system so that links which belong to more than one subject or country will now appear in both places.

And of course, as before, all this feeds into the Debrief library and so clicking the headings on each page will take you to those respective sections.



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Many thanks to readers and Sightsavers for the support that keeps this going. News curation is done with support of the Center for Inclusive Policy.

The Debrief is produced by me, Peter Torres Fremlin. Opinions or mistakes are mine.

Thanks to everyone that sends me links to news! Keep them coming.