Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by Rhonda Neuhaus

Academic journal article Proceedings of the Annual Meeting-American Society of International Law

Remarks by Rhonda Neuhaus

Article excerpt

The social and civil rights models of disability must be framed in the context of the different ways in which people with disabilities are viewed worldwide. The social and civil rights models see disability as a product of a society that is not fully inclusive of all its members. This approach starts with the expectation that people with disabilities have the basic human right to education, employment, political participation, access to healthcare, and the wide range of civil, political, social, cultural, and economic rights, (1) People with disabilities do not need to be "fixed"; rather, development programs and legal instruments must be expanded and universal access implemented to ensure that society is inclusive for all of its members. This contrasts with the charity model (in which people with disabilities are seen as objects of charity) and the medical model (in which people with disabilities must be "cured" or "fixed"). (2) Instead, this approach envisions a society where architectural, communication, and other barriers are eliminated so that people with disabilities have access to the world like any others. (3)

This model fuels the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, (4) recognizing that in addition to physical or mental impairments, there are societal barriers, including negative stereotypes and architectural and communication barriers that can give rise to the denial or limitation of opportunities. (5) Similarly, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the first non-discrimination treaty of the 21st century, broadens the view that people with disabilities hold the same human rights to education, employment, family life, political participation, healthcare, and so on as anyone else. (6)


Viewing healthcare as a basic human and civil right for the last 40 or more years, there has been a shift in the trend towards de-medicalizing disability. For that reason, there has not been a strong focus on the intersection of health and disability in general, or as a form of violence against women.

To frame the issues in terms of equity and apply the civil rights approach in relation to healthcare, the disability movement rejects the idea that people with disabilities are seen as "sick." We must address some serious implications about how people receive healthcare and recognize the significant health and health care access disparities existing between women with disabilities and the general population.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion's report and framework, Healthy People 2010, identified that people with disabilities have health disparities and identified disability as a demographic issue, noting that people with disabilities experience significant barriers to healthcare. Ten years ago, this legitimized for the first time the concept that people with physical and mental disabilities face barriers to accessing health care similar to those barriers confronting other groups, such as racial and ethnic groups. Removing these barriers does not receive sufficient or consistent attention so that access to health care is ensured. (7)

When we speak about access to healthcare for people with disabilities, we are referring to three core areas:

1. Physical access. Hospitals, medical clinics, and doctors' offices must be accessible. In addition, we must consider equipment and the barriers they present in terms of examination tables, scales, and diagnostic equipment.

2. Communication access and equity. People with disabilities often lose important information because of communication barriers such as a lack of sign language interpreters, sufficient time for communication, information in easy-to-understand language, or materials in alternate formats, depending on the disabled individual's needs. …

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