The high cost of living in a disabling world

For all the advances that have been made in recent decades, disabled people cannot yet participate in society ‘on an equal basis’ with others – and the pandemic has led to many protections being cruelly eroded

Republished courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd, written by Jan Grue

At times, it feels as if the disability rights movement won. After years of groundwork, 1981 was declared the International Year of Disabled Persons. I was born that year, in Oslo, Norway, and though I did not receive my first diagnosis of muscular dystrophy until I was a toddler, the coincidence is apt enough: I was born into a world that was, at last, beginning to recognise this aspect of my being in it.

Then, from 1983 to 1992, came the United Nations’ Decade of Disabled Persons. And the Americans With Disabilities Act, the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The turn of the millennium was marked by a litany of good intentions and disavowals of unequal treatment – by an endorsement, as the first article of the UN convention has it, of disabled people’s right to “full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

I came of age in this world, more or less protected by these rights. In Norway, which produced its own act in 2008, I received an education, found work and started a family. I am writing this as a tenured professor, as well-protected as a member of a protected class can be. And yet I am writing with a feeling, as Tony Soprano had it, that I came in at the end – that the best, in the sense of our best and greatest hopes for universal, rights-based protections, and for the logic of anti-discrimination, is over…

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