The Debrief is getting into the swing of 2024. Here's your guide to recent disability news from around the world.
In a year of elections we explore disabled people in politics as well as the conflicts remaking the world, and the disability price tag. All this and much more in an edition that starts by trying to get into a seventeenth century castle.
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Castles in the air
Should a seventeenth century castle have an elevator? I appreciated this discussion from Japan about Nagoya Castle. Originally constructed four hundred years ago, the castle was already rebuilt after being destroyed in the Second World War. But that concrete structure isn't earthquake resilient, so the main tower needs to be taken down and rebuilt again.
Some feel that a castle will be more authentic if it isn't accessible. Plans for the new structure didn't include elevators, so a group of 600 protested at the city hall. The following discussion had all too familiar resistance: complaints against cost, insistence on historical authenticity and downright hate speech. At a town hall meeting one person told a wheelchair user “don't confuse equality with your selfishness”.
The double standards about accessibility are evident, as professor Yoshihiro Senda points out. The project is due to cost almost $350 million and its earthquake resistance and fire standards weren't available in the seventeenth century either. In Senda's words: “Why can modern technologies be used to make the castle tourist-friendly but not to make it accessible to all?”
“Today, throughout the country, 204 people with disabilities are either elected local councillors, parliamentarians, senators or official representatives in local working groups, including myself. The number of people with disabilities registered to vote has also risen from 8,000 in 2011 to 40,000 in 2022.”
In India, political parties were warned not to use derogatory language about disabled people and given guidelines on inclusivity and respect. Hyderabad is one of the cities working on accessibility in voting.
In Europe, the European Disability Forum has a checklist to see if an election campaign is accessible and the European Commission put out a guide to good practices by governments. Voting rights are still denied, however, with seven EU countries not allowing people with intellectual disabilities to vote.
In fact, these efforts to promote inclusion in elections are becoming so widespread that they are even present in the pseudo-elections held by authoritarian regimes. In Egypt, for example, the National Council on disability did not notice any barriers for disabled people to vote.
And meanwhile, in what will surely be everyone's favourite election this year, disabled people in the US are building coalitions and political power. And disability is a rare subject where there is common ground across the polarization.
Conflicts remaking the world
When I started writing Disability Debrief I hadn't realised that there would be so much about disability in conflict. But not only do conflicts continue to erupt, disability is intimately bound up in them. How they are conducted, who they impact, and what the world looks like after they've done.
Even as war still goes on in Ukraine, disability has been brought higher on the agenda due to the “dramatic demand” for disability-friendly services created by veterans with disabilities. Even as the war deepens the crisis for older people and disabled people in overburdened care systems, there are discussions about what comes after for an inclusive reconstruction:
“War destruction offers a ‘chance’ to rebuild Ukraine in a way that considers its changing identity — and with special attention for people with disabilities such as soldiers and amputees”
Heatbreakingly, the devastation in Gaza makes survival the primary question. Intense violence is accompanied by displacement, conditions of famine, and destruction of the health system. Updates from Palestine show the awful situation is compounded for disabled people, and the numbers of people acquiring disabilities grows rapidly. Some folk see that disability is a frame to see the situation of everyone in Palestine.
On the other side of the conflict, Israel also sees a growing number of soldiers and civilians acquiring disabilities. But a review showed that the Defense Ministry didn't do enough to realise its plan to support veterans disabled by head injuries or trauma.
For the newly disabled, peer support has been important. Disability groups have been doing this in Ukraine, and Paralympians in Israel are aiding those wounded. Daniil Melnyk is one of the Ukrainian veterans working for more visibility.
Disability Price tag
Give me the money, honey. Over the January break I just got awarded a disability benefit from the UK government. Since I've been back in the country for a few years I was eligible to get Personal Independence Payment (PIP). The process took over six months. The benefit isn't means tested and I'm getting it at the maximum level available, of just under £9,000 per year.
“Cash alone is not sufficient.” Or so says this Infostory from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It shows that globally I am now in the one third of people with “severe” disabilities who get cash benefits. Rates are as high as 86% in high-income countries and decrease quickly to 9% in low-income countries. And as the ILO explores, these benefits are not enough by themselves, and often designed in harmful ways.
Disability price tag. Meanwhile, in Qatar, researchers show the disability price tag for families of children with disabilities. Costs to the family were found mostly to be between $740 and almost $4,000 per month. But one family was spending as much as $11,000 per month out of pocket on education, care and medical expenses.
Pain into purpose
“Advocacy is my way of turning my pain into purpose.” Profiles of activists in the Asia-Pacific.
When are we going to get there? A report from Transport for All in the UK: “We do not have equitable access to any mode of transport, and the impacts of this injustice can be felt in every corner of our lives”.
Climate conference. Last year the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) saw a still-limited but increased presence and more discussion of disability issues. Disability organisations came in with key advocacy messages. One of those present was Umesh Balal, an indigenous advocate from Nepal, one of the advocates Áine spoke to for their piece on showing up disabled in the climate movement.
Podcasting from down under. Peta Hooke shares five podcasts about disability from Australia. Meanwhile I was on episode 3 of Business and Disability Forum's If you don't mind me asking sharing about my life and work.
And, in case you missed them... recent Debriefs were:
- Successes and setbacks life stories of women with disabilities in Yemen
- A disabled farewell to 2023 my reflections on the year and where it left us
- Stories you won't read anywhere else a stocktake on the Debrief and where it can go.
The road ahead
Three Kings. In Spain, wheelchair users dressed up as the three wise men bearing gifts. They gave symbolic gifts to the mayor, rector of the university and the bishop to represent accessible heritage, inclusive education and a more diverse society.
“Fruition of seeds planted in the past.” Catalina Devandas, director of the Disability Rights Fund, writes about cultivating hope and how she finds in spanning across the generations of work in disability advocacy.
The star chart shows an accessible entrance. Satire-site Squeaky Wheel read our 2024 disability horoscopes.
Browse the contents for the full set of links below and me know what stood out for you. Cheers,
This update has 253 curated links from 61 countries and regions, organized across 56 subjects.
- Accessibility and Design
- Assistive Technology
- Black Lives Matter and Racial justice
- Civil Society and Community
- Climate Crisis and Environment
- Communication and Language
- Conflict and Peace
- Culture, Entertainment and Media
- Data and Research
- Digital Accessibility and Technology
- Disaster Risk Reduction and Crisis Response
- Economics and Social Protection
- Education and Childhood
- Employment, Business and Work
- Gender Equality and Women with Disabilities
- History and Memorial
- Humanitarian, Migrants and Refugees
- Independent Living and Deinstitutionalization
- Indigenous People and Minority Communities
- International Cooperation
- Justice Systems and Legal Capacity
- Lived Experience and Opinion
- Mental Health
- Mobility, Travel, Transport and Tourism
- Policy and Rights
- Politics and Elections
- Relationships, Sex and Reproductive Rights
- Space Exploration
- Sport and Paralympics
- Violence and Harassment
- War in Ukraine
- Water and Sanitation (WASH)
- North America
- South America
Many thanks to the readers and organisations whose support makes this possible.
The Debrief is produced by me, Peter Torres Fremlin. Opinions or mistakes are mine.