A duty to shed light

Guide to recent disability news from 50 countries

Dear Debriefers,

Here's the May guide to disability news from around the world.

We start with the war in Gaza and follow that with news on assisted dying. If those aren't for you, then skip to the section on elections to see how disabled people are getting more access to vote around the world.

There's plenty more, including the “empty promises” of national disability policies and “major shortcomings” in disability-inclusive aid. Plus photos of inaccessibility in Tashkent and protests in Auckland.

As I write, the news has come of Bhargavi Davar's passing away. Bhargavi was an activist, academic and community organiser, in India and beyond. Her passing is a deep loss to the international disability community. Get to know more about her work in the deep conversation I had with her two years ago.

I'll be off next week for a break - see you in June!

Explore the full guide of 171 curated links organised by 50 countries or 40+ subjects. This update follows on from April's guide.

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Reader support makes the Debrief possible. Thanks to Michael and Say for new contributions.

“A duty to shed light”

There are harrowing updates from the war in Gaza and a call on the disability community to do more to support Palestinians.

Raya Al-Jadir's profile of thirty-year old Abeer Harkali captures the multiple displacements and losses one family has been through. Before the invasion of Gaza, Abeer played wheelchair basketball and was a founding member of a wheelchair-using Dabke band. Since the invasion she's been injured, lost her father, and forced to flee many times:

“We are soulless bodies, living in constant fear under the never ending bombing and what feels like eternal suffering, there is no end in sight and we are all aware that we may die at any second.”

Last month also saw the loss of Hashem Ghazal, a carpenter and disability activist, killed in an Israeli strike. Among the tributes to him, academic Nour Naim described him and his wife as “spiritual pillars and role models for the deaf community in Gaza”.

Hundreds of human rights activists have signed an open letter to the disability rights community insisting that it “cannot remain silent”. The letter calls upon disability rights leaders and institutions to “actively join global efforts to end the war against the Palestinian people”:

“Collectively, we have a duty to shed light on the plight of Palestinians with disabilities, and demand that those responsible for crimes against them are held accountable. The human toll and magnitude of the atrocities being committed in Gaza does not leave room for indifference.”

Disability activists have also been among the pro-Palestine student protestors in US and European universities. At the now-cleared encampment in George Washington University, for example, Deaf protestors joined from Gallaudet university with American Sign-Language interpreters.

While the prominent disability-related positions on this conflict are in defense of Palestinian people, there are some individuals referring to disability in pro-Israeli positions. A Jewish student with disability at Columbia university felt threatened by the encampments and their effect on accessibility. And a British writer who describes himself as an “Autistic Conservative Inspired by Zionism” rejects the positions disability groups have taken.

“Exchanging social welfare for euthanasia”

The rapid expansion of Canada's programme for medical assistance in dying (MAID) continues to shock. In Quebec, Normand Meunier got a pressure sore from a four-day stay in hospital when they didn't have an appropriate mattress. The sore was so bad he chose assisted dying: “I don't want to be a burden”.

One academic described Meunier's case by saying “Medical assistance in dying is more easily available and on a more regular basis than some of the most basic care.”. A Jacobin article says bluntly that the “Canadian State is Euthanizing Its Poor and Disabled”:

“Canada boasts one of the world’s highest assisted-death rates, supposedly enabling the terminally ill to die with dignity. However, this suicide program increasingly resembles a dystopian replacement for care services, exchanging social welfare for euthanasia.”

For international context, the Open University has prepared a resource sharing different countries' approaches to assisted dying. And in the National Post, Sharon Kirkey compares the Canadian programme to others:

“In 2022, MAID accounted for 4.1 per cent of all deaths in Canada, compared to 0.27 per cent of all deaths in California. In the Netherlands and Belgium, which legalized assisted dying 22 years ago, 5.1 per cent of Dutch citizens and 2.5 per cent of Belgians die by MAID.”

Here in the UK the subject is once again in public debate, with proposals considered for assisted death for those terminally ill. Liz Carr, an actor and activist, campaigns against it, including through a new BBC documentary Better Off Dead?

Some disabled people are on the other side of the debate, however. In the UK Tom Shakespeare says that the focus on terminally ill means there won't be the dangers of the Canadian system. In Peru, Ana Estrada was able to die after a years-long campaign for euthanasia. And in the Netherlands, a 29-year-old Zoraya ter Beek, has been granted her request for assisted dying on grounds of unbearable mental suffering.

Disabled people at the polls

As so much of the world goes to the polls this year, disabled people will join them.

In states across India, activism and legislative change are making provisions for disabled people to vote. In Tamil Nadu disabled candidates have been standing for election. Jharkhand has announced a range of measures for disabled voters, and in West Bengal nearly 5,000 disabled people voted from home.

In Rwanda, Disability Justice Project reports on advocacy for blind and DeafBlind voters. And in Mexico, Yo También features two election officials with disabilities encouraging voter participation at the election.

There's even good news from US democracy. An Election Assistance Commission report shows that the 2002 Help America Vote Act has been followed by increased turnout of voters with disabilities and significant improvements in accessibility of polling places. And a congresswoman used assistive technology to deliver a speech in Congress. It's not all rosy of course, and one report looks at inaccessibility in churches and the impact of that in their use as polling places.

Empty promises

Empty promises. The UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed the situation analyses they did on policy in 34 countries. They conclude:

“All of the situation analyses confirm that critical gaps exist in the capacities of the stakeholders responsible for implementing and monitoring commitments towards disability inclusion. Policy-level commitments at the national level are easy to make. They do not require specific capacities and they generate positive feedback from the international community for leaders. However, if these commitments do not lead to implementation and enforcement mechanisms with sufficient resource and capacities (at the local level as well), they will remain empty promises.”

“Major shortcomings”. A UK parliamentary review on disability-inclusion in foreign aid shows no definition, no delivery plan and deep aid cuts putting disabled people at risk.

“Limited and fragmented”. Analysis on Japan's disability aid explores some case studies but analysis shows they are not held together by organisational targets or strategies.

An important legacy

“An important legacy of the games” As the summer Olympics and Paralympics come to Paris, accessibility is improving but serious concerns remain.

Too much ramp. There are also different levels of accessibility, including downright dangerous, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Dilmurad Yusupov writes up and shares photographs from monitoring visits done to public service centres.

“No ifs, no buts, stop the disability funding cuts”. D*List has a great photo-essay from protests against recent changes to disability funding in New Zealand.

With honours

Correction: two weeks ago I wrote about the passing of Sir Robert Martin. In the original article I didn't use his title, and this has been amended.

In case you missed them, catch-up on recent Debriefs:

See the full guide of recent news below. Hopefully this will keep y'all busy till June – all best till then,


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Recent News

This update has 171 curated links from 50 countries and regions, organized across 44 subjects.

You can explore it organized by subject or by country.




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