Dignity of Persons with Disabilities

People with disabilities often feel humiliated.
- Sylvia Caras, personal message, December 19, 2004

HumanDHS is primarily grounded in academic work. We are independent of any religious or political agenda. However, we wish to bring academic work into "real life." Our research focuses on topics such as dignity (with humiliation as its violation), or, more precisely, on respect for equal dignity for all human beings in the world. This is not only our research topic, but also our core value, in line with Article 1 of the Human Rights Declaration that states that every human being is born with equal dignity (that ought not be humiliated). We agree with Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development, who advocates the building of bridges from academia as follows, "I have always believed that good scholarship can be relevant and consequential for public policy. It is possible to affect public policy without being an advocate; to be passionate about peace without losing analytical rigor; to be moved by what is just while conceding that no one has a monopoly on justice." We would like to add that we believe that good scholarship can be relevant and consequential not only for public policy, but for raising awareness in general.


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

On December 13, 2006, the Plenary of the General Asssembly of the United Nations adopted by consensus the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the optional protocol. The Convention and the optional protocol will be open for signature by all States and by regional integration organizations at United Nations Headquarters in New York as of 30 March 2007. The convention recognizes that discrimination against any person on the basis of disability is a violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.


Do Labels Humiliate?

Allison Buehler, in her paper "Initial Perceptions of Labels to Initial Perceptions of Our Common Humanity: A Paradigm Shift in the Disability Field" writes, "The disability field endlessly battles stigma and harmful assumptions in its attempts to provide services to those who need them the most." She quotes Howard Adelman and his article, "Appreciating the Classification Dilemma," where he cites Aristotle as saying that "to think is to order" (Adelman, 1996). Adelman calls for "better conceived classification scheme and valid procedures for making differential diagnoses" (Adelman, 1996).

Allison explains how "politically correct terminology has evolved from idiot, to retard, to mental disability, and to its current term only in the most progressive circles, intellectual disability." She points out that "professionals in the disability field, such as Adelman, have expressed concern for these 'frequent changes in diagnostic history' (Adelman, 1996)."

Allison continues: "The problem of finding appropriate labels is not only a problem of the past. 'Consumer' is a term used today in the field. Consumer lies on the cusp of being outdated or identified as misused. Some consider it a dehumanizing label, while others see it as an empowering term. It was chosen by a group of individuals with disabilities and their advocates when they interpreted it to be an empowering term, indicating that persons with disabilities are participants in the economic market, purchasing their services, amongst other consumers. The term, once amongst other legal jargon, is no longer interpreted within the context in which it was chosen. Currently, it is used in the context of interpersonal relationships. The term 'consumer' is a dehumanizing term, referring to any potential buyer. The term may be appropriate within an economic context or amongst legal jargon, but in interpersonal relationships this sort of dehumanization applied to actual individuals is humiliating. Many circles in the field recognize this and have since tried to do away with the term, while others continue to use it, either ignorant or blinded by their faith in empowering abilities of the term.
Political correctness in how to identify other human beings is an endeavor that carries a negative stigma itself. In the disability field it is a particularly necessary endeavor, at minimum required of those who work within the field. The field has recently begun to recognize that ongoing terminology changes may not be effective. As soon as you give a name or label to an underling minority group, it almost inevitably becomes a pejorative term that acquires psychologically harmful stigma. This inherent tendency makes label changes an endless process in the field. Some professionals in the field seem to have settled on this solution by endlessly keeping up to date on terminology and political correctness. New, better and lasting solutions must be found. We must look more closely at the functions that labels serve to find better solutions that will coincide with and support the new human rights paradigm.

Adelman, Howard (1996). Appreciating the Classification Dilemma. In Controversial Issues Confronting Special Education, pg. 96-111. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

See Allison's final paper here.



Please note that the entire HumanDHS website is maintained by volunteers, since its inception in 2003, and this is mainly done by Evelin Lindner. Until 2012, she usually pasted interesting news into this Links section. From July 2012 until 2017, she tagged interesting information on delicious.com. From 2017 onward, you see Evelin's personal list of interesting web links on Twitter:

The Disability Rights Fund (DRF)
DRF supports Disabled Persons Organizations in the Global South and Eastern Europe/former Soviet Union to take the lead in advocating for the human rights of persons with disabilities at local and national levels, utilizing the mechanism of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP)
The Center for the Human Rights of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (CHRUSP) works for full human rights and legal capacity for all, an end to forced drugging, electroshock and psychiatric incarceration, and support that respects individual integrity and free will.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol are serviced by a joint Secretariat, consisting of staff of both the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), based in New York, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
DESA services the Conference of States Parties to the Convention that convens in New York and OHCHR services the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that meets in Geneva.
In New York, the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is housed in DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development, which is responsible for activities related to poverty eradication and employment, generational issues and social integration, inclusive development and indigenous issues.
The objectives of the Secretariat at DESA are: (i) to support the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in social life and development; (ii) to advance the rights and protect the dignity of persons with disabilities and; (iii) to promote equal access to employment, education, information, goods and services. The mandate of the Secretariat at DESA also includes the review and implementation of the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities adopted in 1994, and the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons adopted in 1982. In addition, the Secretariat prepares publications and acts as a clearinghouse for information on disability issues; promotes national, regional and international programmes and activities; provides support to governments and civil society; and gives substantial support to technical co-operation projects and activities.
In Geneva, the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities currently comprises the Advisor on Human Rights and Disabilities, housed in the Operations, Programmes and Research Division. With the establishment of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Secretariat also comprises the Secretary and staff supporting the Committee.
The objectives of the Secretariat at OHCHR, drawn from the High Commissioner’s Plan of Action, are: (i) country engagement - to support UN human rights field presences increase their work at the country level on the Convention, with a particular focus on awareness-raising and promoting ratification; (ii) support for human rights bodies - to mainstream disability within the UN human rights programme, specifically in the work of the Human Rights Council and the existing treaty monitoring bodies; (iii) leadership – to encourage the High Commissioner to raise awareness of disability as a human rights issue and to provide tools and publications to assist States, civil society organizations and national human rights institutions to implement the Convention; and, (iv) partnership – to work closely with other intergovernmental and civil society organizations to strengthen work on the Convention through cooperation.

Inclusion Promotes Innovation
September 12, 2007
by Jutta Treviranus