On the eve of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights advocates shared with viewers of Qatar Foundation’s Doha Debates #DearWorldLive programme recommendations for how disability justice can be achieved for the one in seven people living with a disability — the world’s largest minority.
The programme, watched live by nearly half a million people globally, included some of the world’s most renowned disability rights activists.
Advocate Judith Heumann, who contracted polio as a child and went on to serve in the administrations of US Presidents Clinton and Obama and, provided practical tips for how to ensure people with disabilities receive the respect and opportunities they deserve.
Speaking with #DearWorldLive host Nelufar Hedayat, Heumann said: "It's being willing on your part and others to listen, and to learn and to take our guidance and to work together.” Saying that "disability needs to be normalised", she addressed the issue of inspiration. “What we're saying is that people should not be inspired by disabled people doing things that are typical for other people. Inspiration is something we should gather from things people are doing that are above and beyond what people typically do."
Haben Girma, a human rights attorney and the first deaf-blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School, said: "All my success is an example of what can be possible when society does the work of removing barriers." Girma said that much work remains to be done to achieve disability justice. "One thing to keep in mind is that it is going to be an ongoing, never-ending process. The work will never be over. We're all continually growing. Accept that you will always work on removing barriers." She urged people and media outlets to change their views of people with disabilities.
Hari Srinivasan, an autistic student and instructor at the University of California, Berkeley, encouraged those with disabilities to do their part to achieve disability justice. "We have to get out there, show that we exist, show our humanness to the community," adding, “the more contact and exposure non-disabled people have with us and our talent the more they get to see our ability and the less the stigma. This repeated exposure is a path toward acceptance and inclusion, and then towards belonging."
Maysoon Zayid, a disability rights advocate, actor, and comedian, set the stage for the discussion by describing what disability justice means to her. "There are no groups that are free of disability. There's not an age that does not have disabled people, or a race or a gender or an orientation that doesn't include disabled people. Therefore, disability rights are human rights."
Viewers around the world joined the program, with questions and comments coming from Palestine, Rwanda, India and beyond.
The show included a preview of one of three short films produced in collaboration with World Enabled, an education nonprofit organisation led by Dr Victor Pineda, a social development scholar and disability rights advocate.
Amjad Atallah, managing director of Doha Debates, said: “Partnering with World Enabled, we are proud to release three new original short films by people with disabilities, celebrating the work of people with disabilities. I dare you not to be moved by Antoine Hunter’s dancing, or Abia Akram’s work with women with disabilities in Pakistan, or Mia Farah’s artistry and fierce drive. These amazing and beautiful reflections of humanity are all around us, if only we are ready to acknowledge and celebrate their stories.”
The #DearWorldLive program, the World Enabled short films, and more can be seen on-demand on Doha Debates’ Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube channels, and at DohaDebates.com/DisabilityJustice.”