International Human Rights Day (IHRD) is observed every year on 10 December – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is a milestone document, which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
To mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) 2021, several staff members across UoR have written blog pieces about protected characteristics and their importance.
Reflecting on Disability targeted violence
Dr Yota Dimitriadi, Associate Professor, Institute of Education
I was born with a physical impairment, the result of medical complications during labour. My twin sibling did not survive. I never thought of myself as Disabled and grew up in a family that encouraged me passionately to explore the world and try things out (a social model of disability) in spite of the world around me telling me what I could not do (a medical model of disability). Some family friends called me ‘hook arm’ or ‘The Beggar’ in a loving attempt for me to change the way I used my impaired arm and fit in! The personification of difference and vulnerability became the language they used to encourage me to fit in. These were considered acts of love rather than ableist attitudes that needed to be challenged.
My physical impairment is not too obvious and over the years I also became very good at covering it. Covering became my norm and I did all I could not to draw attention to my difference. Whether my approach as a young person was right or wrong I do not know but it shaped me and made me good at problem solving. I did not want to be pitied for the physical things I could not do [though it got me out of P.E. sometimes]. I did not want to be seen as ‘weak’, as history had shown to me what happens to the ‘weak’. Over centuries the economic justification for forced sterilisation, overmedication, involuntary euthanasia, killing of Disabled people happened as they were seen as less worthy and their lives less valuable or as a solution to wider social problems. The Eugenics movement and the pass of the ‘The Mental Deficiency Act (1913) in the UK encouraged further ableist approaches that some people are better than others and as a result their lives are worth more than others. The ‘idiots, the ‘imbeciles’ and the ‘feeble minded’ were ostracised and institutionalised.
Negative and overgeneralised portrayals or accusations of Disabled people in the press, especially during times of economic crises, as ‘welfare recipients and favoured in access to resources’ (Hall, 2019: 9) contribute to demonisation and mistrust towards disabled people that can lead to further discriminatory approaches and hostility. Such press coverage isolates Disabled people more, perpetuates stigma around disability and becomes part of a wider set of barriers of a disablist society.
It may also lead to microaggressions, that unfortunately several disabled people experience every day. Sometimes it can also lead to more overt expressions of disapproval in private and public spaces: from name calling to physical attacks on them, their property or their support dogs. 10 out of the 21 crimes that were reported to the police daily in England and Wales in 2019-20 involved an act of violence against a disabled person, including assault and harassment (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Quarmby’s study (2015) reported on offender motivations ranging from disabled people been seen as ‘benefit scroungers’ to ‘jealousy of the perceived ‘perks’ of disability’, such as having an adapted car or being accused of being ‘in the way’, for instance on the buses. For some Disabled people violence, harassment and exploitation is not the result of random hateful strangers but happen systematically within institutional care and domestic contexts (Sin et al, 2009).
Targeted violence and abuse against Disabled people are not new and research into disability hate crime is in its infancy. However, while disability hate crime incidents have increased by 11.5%, only 1.6% of all cases receive a charge (Leonard Cheshire, 2020). Many times disability hate crimes go unreported because Disabled people may be scared, isolated or because they have no trust that they will be taken seriously, treated with respect or supported when they report these incidents. The idea of vulnerability associated with Disabled people also positions them as having to expect some degree of discrimination as part of their daily lives and shifts the focus away from the impairment in such crimes. Roulstone and Mason-Bish (2013) discuss that as a result, assumptions can be made by the police that perpetrators are motivated by an individual’s perceived vulnerability rather than their impairment and the motivated crime is a result of disablist attitudes.
I am here today having a voice because of the actions of other people before me who were imprisoned, castrated, killed because of their difference or in their attempt to fight for equal rights to life and work. As we are celebrating the UN International Human Rights Day in 2021, we are celebrating the otherness that we all have. Recognising, reporting and raising awareness about disability hate crime may not change the prejudice against Disabled people but it will highlight that disability rights are human rights. Disabled people have been in the periphery of social action for centuries. Without their active involvement in challenging misconceptions and in decision making processes, prejudice, mistrust and hostility against them will remain. This is why the disability movement motto is ‘Nothing about us, without us’.
Hall, E. (2019). A critical geography of disability hate crime. Area, 51(2), 249-256. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12455
Leonard Cheshire (2020). Reports of violent disability hate crime continue to rise as number of police charges fall again. https://www.leonardcheshire.org/about-us/our-news/press-releases/reports-violent-disability-hate-crime-continue-rise-number-police
Quarmby, K. (2015). To combat disability hate crime, we must understand why people commit it. The Guardian, 22 July. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/22/combat-disability-hate-crime-understand-people-commit
Roulstone A., & Mason-Bish, H. (2013). Disability, hate crime and violence (eds.). Routledge, London
Sin, C., Hedges, A., Cook, C., Mguni, N. & Comber, N. (2009). Disabled people’s experiences of targeted violence and hostility. Equality and Human Rights Commission, London