Understanding the stigmas and disenfranchisement that disabled people have been faced with over centuries of civilization adds context to the current movements to advocate for their rights and equal treatment. Rimmerman helps bring some of the struggles of disabled people to light by demonstrating how religious beliefs have characterized this population, specifically Christianity through the Bible and Islam through the Qur’an. According to Rimmerman, “we cannot understand disability without knowing the way that humanity treated people with physical and mental impairments throughout history” (9). This author highlights a paradox mentioned in the Bible which is relevant to how society approaches people with disabilities in modern day. Persons with disabilities were seen as blemished and unworthy of God, yet it is recognized that society has an obligation to remove obstacles for them (10). Isolation of people with disabilities was seen as a paradox to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. Although this aspect of religious culture is not widely emphasized in mainstream society today, the disenfranchisement of people with disability has still been treated as a misfortune to manage rather than a problem that has a solution.
After centuries of facing cultural stigmatization- and even systematic removal through euthanasia (18-19) – we are finally reaching an era where people with disabilities have advocacy for equal rights and inclusion. Civil rights protection for persons with disabilities wasn’t a major issue until the 20th century in America (20); and even then, important movements such as the MDGs lacked specific language advocating for persons with disabilities. We are just now starting to see advocacy for disability inclusive development. Amartya Sen’s revolutionary theory in Development as Freedom is one key element of the change in perspective that allowed people with disabilities to gain recognition. Measuring development in terms of capabilities and access to choices is the cornerstone of Sen’s theory. In addition, he talks about people’s actions being productively complimentary – in other words, the unintended consequence of acting to benefit oneself benefits everyone (255-56). This idea is not unique to Sen. He even cited Adam Smith in his writing. Notwithstanding, the effects of unintended consequences can be interpreted positively or negatively, especially in context of advocacy for disenfranchised groups. The way I see it, the unintended consequence idea is the best advocate for getting the public interested in disability inclusive development because it appeals to human selfish nature, but in a way that suggests it is productive for an individual to empower another individual to participate.
Empowering participation is becoming more relevant to development discourse of late. One of the key movements to thank for this is the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders framework (MGoS). The first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 recognized that all sectors of society need to be engaged in development discussions in order to develop sustainable solutions to grand challenges. Since then, the nine major groups were officiated. However, people with disabilities still do not have recognition as a major group within this framework. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) designed as a mechanism to oversee the implementation of the SDGs is inaccessible to delegates who are not a member of one of the organized major groups. This conference, which is boasted as the most inclusive political forum at the UN, does not invite participation for advocates for people with disabilities. This goes to show that while there have been monumental successes in terms of disability inclusive development awareness, there is still a long way to go before the SDGs in regards to disability are met.
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