Human communities worldwide have tended to move gradually to develop closer associations over a long time. However, lately the speed of the movement appears to have considerably accelerated. For instance, the invention of the jet planes, the computer chip, and availability of electronic mail (email), cheap telecommunication services, huge but fast sea vessels, instantaneous financial transactions across national borders, all seem to contribute to the movement to make the globe even more mutually dependent than ever. The production and provision of branded goods and services by transnational corporations (TNCs) such as Coca- Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Dulux Paints, Barclays Bank Gestetner, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chickens, Nandos, Dunlop, and Ford to name a few, marketed throughout the world, all seem to contribute to make the globe a more symbiotic place. The exchange of information and communication technological knowledge along with products and finances, ideas and cultures now seem to circulate more liberally. And this seems to be the current and future trend.
Globalization undoubtedly, appears to be one of the most prominent aspects of the present century. Consequently, laws, economies, and social engagements seem to now form at the global level. Professionals, politicians, intellectuals and journalists seem to treat the global trends as both predictable and generally welcome. And for some of the world’s population, globalization has increasingly become a catchphrase or buzzword and may mean getting rid of the old ways of life and hostile livelihoods and cultures (Guinness, 2003).
However, signs of globalization of the past few decades are recent compared to at least four other major phases that appear to have shrunk the world throughout history. Historically, globalization can be viewed as having been signaled by;
The cross-oceanic European voyages of discovery from 1492 to about 1565 (Guinness, 2003).
The forced migration and translocation of Africans and Indians into slavery and indentured labour to the plantations in the West Indies.
The massive human migration of the 1930 from Europe and Asia to the Americas (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995).
The economic depression of the 1930s (Stiglitz, 2002).
While each of these earlier episodes of globalization saw rapid growth in world economy, Guinness (2003), contends that they tended to exert a heavy human toll especially on the less economically developed nation states. In addressing the challenges and opportunities of globalization, there currently appears to be increasing global concerns with both the positive and negative impacts of this phenomenon on the local, national and international levels of developments in all spheres be they social, political, or economic (Priestley, 2001). Of concern in this essay, is the area of disability and how globalization has impacted on the challenges or opportunities for disabled people.
Although Lauder, Brown, Dillabough and Halsey (2006) note that most researchers on globalization have tended to focus on particular aspects, globalization, however, appears to be multi-dimensional (Waters, 1995; Cheng, 2004). Hence, perceptions on the phenomenon tend to be varied and accordingly, the definitions of the term so far postulated, appear “fuzzy”. And indeed Lauder et al (2006) observe that there is no agreed definition as yet because it appears globalization represents a process that is never ending and cannot be thought of as either cyclic or evolutionarily progressing from simple to complex.
Indeed, with a new crop of writers such as Brown and Lauder (1996), Schirato and Webb (2003), Stiglitz (2002), Burbules and Torres (2000) and Bottery (2004), to mention a few, it appears a plethora of concepts which include, technological globalization, economic globalization and learning globalization, environmental globalization, demographic globalization, American globalization, (Nye, 2002) cultural globalization political globalization (Bottery, 2004) emerged, advancing new insights into the meaning of globalization. The list of the kinds of “globalization” appears endless and is on-going, as debate on the phenomenon continues to forge ahead. But according to Bottery (2004), some kinds of globalization are more pressing in their immediate effects than others. This paper examines and defines globalization from a general perspective and also explores how the globalization process has “pressed” on the creation of challenges and, or opportunities for disabled people worldwide. Other terms such as “disability” that are embedded within the globalization context will be defined as the discussion unfolds.
What is globalization?
While the terms “globe” and “global” appear to have been in English usage for over four centuries, the noun form “globalization” did not seem to be in common use until about 1960 (Guinness, 2003). According to Weekley (1967), in “An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English”, the term “globalization” was first recognized in 1959 but remained dormant until the mid-1980s when its usage increased dramatically in academic language (Guinness, 2003). To some authors, the term seems to refer to the emergence of transnational organizations whose decisions tend to shape and constrain the policy options any particular nation state may wish to take (Burbules and Torres, 2000). To yet others, globalization may mean the “transition from national ‘walled’ and regional economies towards global ‘free’ trade and markets” (Lauder,et. al. 2006; 30). It may also, to yet others mean the impact of global economic processes that include production of standardized goods and services, consumption patterns and financial interdependence and “footloose” capital flows (Brown and Lauder, 1996). To still others, globalization means the appearance of new global cultural forms, media, information and communication technologies, which seem unrestricted by national borders (Held, 1991). It is perhaps, to political skeptics, where globalization can be viewed as a mental construct utilized by the state polity to garner support for or to squash opposition to reform resulting from mightier forces such as global trade competitions instigated by the World Trade Organization (WTO): or responses to structural adjustment programme (SAPs) demands of the Bretton Woods Institutes-the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) (Brown, 1999): or to obligations to fulfill agreements of intergovernmental organizations or regional economic blocs (Held, 1991) such as the European Union, The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Committee (SADC), or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that leave the nation state with no option but to play along an imposed set of global rules (Burbules and Torres, 2000).Guinness (2003; 3) posits that the nature of certain jobs tends to influence views when thinking of globalization. For instance, to Kofi Annan (the former United Nations Secretary General) globalization may mean “world inclusivity”; to depots and other like minded dictators, globalization may be perceived as meaning a threat to the national sovereignty of their nation states. While to Bill Gates of Microsoft Corporation, globalization may mean connecting the world virtually in cyberspace, by a world wide web. Thus, myriad views on globalization surfaced as the concept ignited across a wide range of intellectual interests with some views on the one end vilifying the concept and on the other, praising it (Stiglitz, 2002).
The use and popularity of the term “globalization” may be partly due to its vagueness and ability to assume different dimensions depending on the user and context. Held and Koenig–Archibugi (2003) and Schirato and Webb (2000; 1) concur and describe globalization as a word that is often used to designate the global power relations, practices and technologies that characterize, and help to bring into being the contemporary world. Robertson (1992) defines globalization as a concept that refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole. Waters (2001), in coining his definition argues that the most appropriate way of defining globalization would be to predict what a totally globalized world would appear to be like in the future. Waters (2001) therefore, visualizes globalization as being characterized by a single global society with a single culture, where there are no territorial boundaries which, in that status quo, seem to exist in principle for organizing social and cultural life and where there could be high regard for tolerance, diversity and individual choice. Waters (2001) also views the flow of trade as well as migration of people and ideas across national and political boundaries, as being interlinked and thus, forcing previously homogenous cultures to rationalize each other. Thus, globalization can be perceived s a process that simultaneously differentiates and homogenizes and consequently “pluralizing the world by recognizing the value of cultural niches” (Guinness, 2003; 2). From this vantage therefore, Waters (2001) defines globalization as;
A process in which the constraints of geography on economic, social and cultural arrangements recede, in which people become increasingly aware that they are receding and in which people act accordingly.
To an extent, Waters’ definition of globalization seems to concur with Stiglitz’s (2002; 9) description when he says globalization is fundamentally,
the closer integration of countries and peoples of the world which has been brought about the enormous reduction of costs of transportation and communication, and the breaking down of artificial barriers to the flow of goods, services, capital , knowledge and …people across borders.
To Waters (2001), globalization, not only is it a major historical process that impacts heavily on culture but is also, a central focus of attention of modern culture and economy. He contends that globalization has a tendency to take issues from the centre levels to the periphery. For instance, through the speedy and continuous transmission of the “so-called” western culture to peripheral communities, And vice versa, globalization has also tended to bring issues, from peripheral levels to the centre. For instance, the area of disability to be discussed below, has been taken seriously onto the agendas of supra national institutions such as the United Nations, International Labour Organization The Bretton Woods Institutes and the World Health Organization or to organizations that have merged with existing ones to function across borders. In this sense, it appears to me that the United Nations’ programme of work on globalization is in response to the changing international context to promote effective development oriented disability policies and strategies. Accordingly, the aim of the United Nations through various arms such as the World Bank, World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, to name a few, is to ensure that disability policies and strategies and globalization function together to improve the health, welfare and rights of the poor as well as the disadvantaged population (World Health Organization, 2005).
Disability as a global concept: Historical background and definition of disability.
Disability is one socio-cultural issue that appeared to have remained in the periphery but has currently been brought to the centre of most global agenda. It is a term sometimes confused with two other terms “impairment and handicap. The terms “disability” “impairment” and “handicap” were often used interchangeably but in an unclear and confusing way, and may have tended to give poor guidance to policy-makers, for political action as well as for practical use. The terms used to be perceived from a medical and diagnostic angle (Shakespear, 2006).
What is a Disability?
Disability is a phenomenon that exists in all societies and tends to affect predictable proportions of each population (Metts, 2004). Although there are a number of definitions in use to describe disability, disability largely depends upon context. And apparently, universally, it appeared there was no agreed definition of disability until 1980. Historically, disability was on the one hand, viewed as a medical condition, with a medical problem located within the individual. Hence, some definitions tended to reflect this understanding that disability was an individual pathology; i.e. a condition grounded in the physiological, biological and intellectual impairment of an individual (Shakespear, 2006). The medical definitions gave rise to the idea that people were “objects” to be “treated”, “changed” or “improved” and made more “normal” (Wolfensburger, 1972). The medical definitions tended to perceive the disabled person as having to “fit in” rather than about how society itself should transform. They did not seem to adequately explain the relationship between societal conditions or expectations and the unique circumstances of an individual.
Disability can be viewed as a highly varied and complex condition with a range of implications for social identity and behaviour (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). Therefore, a growing realization to articulate a definition of disability, which was in conformity with human rights values, principles and practices was needed. Whilst some disabled people may have medical conditions which impede them and which may or may not require medical treatment, current knowledge, technology and collective resources are already such that their physical or mental impairments need not prevent them from participating in community lives. According to Rieser and Mason (1990), it is society’s unwillingness to employ these means to altering itself that causes disabilities. But, it seems at the centre of society, lies the values that respect the variation in human cultures and the appreciation that people are different on several considerations such as gender, race, class, sexuality, and disability (Lauder, et al, 2006; 29).
On the other hand , while the medical model seemed to be in vogue, it was challenged by disability activists who reconstructed disability as a social phenomenon (Shakespear, 2006). The social model of disability seems to draw a clear distinction between impairments, handicaps and disability, because society tends to ignore the imperfections and deficiencies of the surrounding environment which in turn tends to disable people by its failure to recognize and accommodate differences. And also, through the attitudinal and institutional barriers it erects towards people. Disability thus seems to arise from a complex interaction between health conditions, the social context in which they exist and the individual. To some, disability is a relative term with certain impairments becoming more or less disabling in different contexts.
In 1980, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the terms disabilities, impairments and handicaps, and suggested a universal, more precise and at the same time realistic approach to their definitions and use Metts, 2004;3). The World Health Organization made a clear distinction between “impairment”, “disability” and “handicap”. However, there were concerns that the definition of the terms “impairment” and “handicap” may still be considered too medical and too centred on the individual, and may not adequately clarify the interaction between societal conditions or expectations and the abilities of the individual. Hence, the need to separate and clarify the meanings of these terms. By description, the term “disability” tends to summarize different functional limitations occurring in individuals anywhere in the world. People may be disabled by physical, intellectual or sensory limitations, medical conditions or mental illness. Such limitations or illnesses may be permanent or temporary (United Nations, 1993).
The term “handicap” tends to mean the loss or limitation of opportunities to participate in the life of the community on an equal level with others (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). It may describe the encounter between the disabled person and their environment. The term emphasizes the focus on the shortcomings in socially organized environmental activities; such as, access to information, communication technology, health services and to education, which prevent disabled persons from participating on equal terms with everybody else (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). Although the term continues in use, its technical use was, according to Stone (1997) discarded by the United Nations in 1993. During the 1970s there had been a strong rejection among representatives of organizations of disabled persons and professionals in the field of disability of the term at the time (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). The term “impairment” can be defined to mean “any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function” (WHO, 1980). The distinction and clarification of the terms “disability” and “impairment” and “handicap” seemed to perch the views on the medical and social models of disability in opposition to each other. This seemed to pave the way for a new and seemingly acceptable disability model framed along Human Rights. In the light of modern society values, it was a model, appealing to both advocates of equal rights and the United Nations (Shakespear, 2006).
In 1975 the United Nations General Assembly made its first Declaration on the Rights of the Disabled Persons (Priestley, 2001). After the declaration, the United Nations proclaimed 1981 as the International Year of the Disabled Persons and commenced on the development of World Programmes of Action that led to the adoption of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1994 (United Nations, 1993). As a result of the experiences gained during the 1983-1992 Decade of Disabled Persons, in the implementation of the World Programmes of Action and of the general discussions that took place, there was a deepening of knowledge and understanding concerning disability issues and the terminology used. At the same time disability was more clearly defined (Priestley, 2001; Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). (Although multi-culturally, there still seemed to be problems in defining disability in a global context-for instance, how could imperfections of the body and of the mind be understood in different societies? Or how could a person’s culturally defined identity be affected by one’s disability? (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995). Hence, according to Haddad (2001), President of the Canadian Medical Association, the term, disability, tends to have various meanings depending on the context in which the term is used. However, for the purpose of this essay the World Health Organization (WHO) functional definition of disability shall be used. The World Health Organization definition of disability is framed on the model of the International Classification of Diseases and “because it attempts to categorize the consequence of disease, it includes a consideration of social contexts” and at the same time captures aspects of Human Rights (Ingstad and Whyte, 1995; 5). According to this classification, disability is defined as “any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being” (Mett, 2004; 3)
However many governments and organizations appear to have adapted this definition and developed legislation to suit their own social and economic situations as evidenced by the definitions from the following country examples. The Israeli Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law of 1998 notes a person with a disability;
as meaning “a person with a physical, emotional or mental disability, including a cognitive disability, permanent or temporary, as a result of which that person’s functioning is substantially limited in one or more the major spheres of life. (Wolfgang, Preiser & Ostroff, 2003).
United Kingdom Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 notes that “a person has a disability… if he has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” (Department for International Development 2000).
In the Zimbabwe Disabled Persons Act of 1992 which was enacted after the war of political liberation a “disabled person” means
a person with a physical, mental or sensory disability, including a visual, hearing or speech functional disability, which gives rise to physical, cultural or social barriers inhibiting him from participating at an equal level with other members of society in activities, undertakings or fields of employment that are open to other members of society (Government of Zimbabwe, 1992).
Evidently, the few illustrations serve to show that the definition of disability seems to be framed along the individual circumstances and social contexts of particular nation states but also seems to imply an empowerment of disabled people through recognizing them along equality of rights.
The global extent of disability
To measure national regional and local disability populations, let alone the global population is according to Metts (2004) almost impossible. There is therefore a wide variation in the estimated disability rates reported by the developed and developing countries (Thomas, 2005). Most United Nations agencies, use estimates developed by the Rehabilitation International in the 1970s and by the United Nations Development Programme (1997) that approximately ten percent of any given population are born with a disability or acquire one during their lifetime (Disability World, 2003). This however, appears to have changed over time because in the United States of America as Stone (1997; 4) observed, the prevalence of disability, is about twenty percent of the population. In developing nations and elsewhere, especially in Africa, the percentage appears to be a lot lower that ten percent. The Zimbabwe Inter-Censal Demographic Survey of 1997 conducted by the Central Statistical Office established that out of a population of about twelve million, 218 421 persons were disabled (Government of Zimbabwe 1997). This figure is less than 2% of the population but in the developed countries, the percentages are higher. The SINTEF table below seems to give a sympnosis of the situation. This seems to be the trend globally. This is an irony, but not surprising, if the causes of disabilities were to be discussed. (Unfortunately this paper will not discuss these because it would be a detour from topic). However, at the global level, the United Nations note that the primary causes of disability are disease (51.2%e), malnutrition (20%), accidents, war and trauma 15.6$% and other causes and aging 13.2%. (Metts, 2004).
Apparently the variation in numbers in the different countries can also depend, to a large extent, on the definitions of disability used, which either expand or diminish the disability groups and also the difficulties in the data collection procedures and the different assessment systems used in the different countries. This may be a probable reason most data gathered by national governments of the developing states are perceived by organizations working in disability, as underestimating and downplaying the extent of disability in their countries. However, to me, it appears the research data may be representation of the real situation on the ground despite popular ‘western’ wisdom that the contrary may be true. The census figures gathered by The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) shown in the diagram overleaf seem to vindicate this representative scenario. The SINTEF report most probably reflects the correct perspectives in the light that the world seems to be experiencing a demographic evolution and also that the more sophisticated urban environments become, the more they tend to be disabling because they tend to erect barriers that limit or diminish human functioning; thus in a sense ‘creating’ disabled people (Harwood, Sayer and Hirschfield, 2004). (For instance a mentally challenged person in the unsophisticated agricultural farms of Africa is capable of productive activities in terms of demonstrating agricultural skills whereas if the same person were brought to an urbanized environment would become useless because the means of production in that situation differ and may present challenges to the individual)
Table 1; Prevalence (%) of disability in selected countries (The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research, SINTEF, 2004).
Another research by The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research (SINTEF) research done in Zimbabwe seems to reinforce this assertion as it found higher disability rates in urban than in rural areas, suggesting that ‘complex societies in a sense produce disability'(Arne, Nhiwathiwa, Muderedzi, and Loeb, 2003).
In the developed countries there also appears to be an increased life expectancy because of improved medical technology and health care meaning that more people will reach old age and experience age related disabilities (Harwood et al, 2004). Today, demographic statistics indicate that there are approximately more than half a billion people with disabilities globally. The World Health Organization predicts a huge increase in the global population which is set to rise dramatically between 2000 and 2050.and consequently, a proportionate increase in the global number of people with disabilities (Harwood et al, 2004). It is forecast that over the period, the Indian Sub-continent could have an increase in population of approximately 120%, China, 70%, the Sub-Saharan Africa, 257% and Burkina Faso, Congo, Liberia, Niger, Somalia, Palestine, Uganda, could have a combined increase of over 400%. (Harwood et al, 2004).
Disability in the Global Context
There is growing evidence that disability as an issue seems to have shifted significantly over the past few years from the periphery to the centre of the international human rights agenda (Mett, 2004;1), and also of numerous literature that disability policy agenda has risen to be a global policy issue (Barton & Oliver, 1987; Priestley 2001); and also that it has become a challenge to policy planners who map out development oriented policies and strategies for social and economic programmes for disabled people. The processes of globalization seem to be shifting not only the populations of person with disabilities but also their experience of disability. People with disabilities globally seem to be empowering themselves to assert greater involvement and equality in global challenges affecting them. Such claims are not only about control over individuals’ lives, but also about greater influence over the societies and economies within which they live (Swain, Finklestein, French and Oliver, 1993). Thus, the observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons ( IDDP) declared in 1982 and commemorated on 3 December tends to focus on the active involvement of disabled persons in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives. The annual observance of the day, with the slogan “Nothing about Us without Us,” seems to offer an opportunity to foster changes in attitudes towards disabled persons to eliminate barriers to their full participation in all aspects of life (Stone, 1997; Rowland, 2001; Swain, et al 1993).
The declaration of 1981 as the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) further elevated disability onto the international human rights agenda (Priestley 2001). A major outcome of the International Year of the Disabled Persons was the formation of the World Programmes of Action concerning Disabled Persons, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted at its 37th regular session in 1982, by its resolution 37/52 (United Nations, 1982). Subsequent International Years were supposed to bring focus to a particular area and create new links and opportunities (Swain, et al. 1993).
In Southern African countries like Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, the motto has been “Disability is Not Inability” (Salmonsson, 2006). This slogan and motto tend to rely on the principle of participation, and has been used by disabled people’s organizations throughout the years as part of the global disability movement, to achieve the full participation and equalization of opportunities for, by and with disabled persons (Watermeyer, Swartz, Lorenzo, Schneider & Priestley (2006). Therefore, to disentangle the lived experience of disability from the social context of disabling societies at the local, national, and global levels appears impossible.
Thus, the recognition of disabled people, to improve their lives has been demonstrated by the United Nations, as is implied in the active involvement of disabled persons in the on-going elaboration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 2006), and in the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (UNESCO, 1993). These conventions seem to have proved to be excellent examples of how the principle of full participation can be put into practice and how disabled people can contribute to the development of truly inclusive communities to shape a better future for all.
The United Nations’ establishment of the World Programmes of Action, led to the UNESCO Framework for Action of the World Conferences on Education for All held in 1990 in Jomtien (Thailand), The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Special Needs Education (UNESCO, 1994) and the Dakar Framework on Education for All (UNESCO, 2002). To demonstrate the importance of placing disability on the global level, more than one hundred and fifty-five countries from all over the world were represented by leaders of government, international agencies, non-governmental organizations and professional bodies who committed themselves to recognizing the education of all disabled individuals, attended the Jomtiem conference (Ndawi, 1997). The Dakar World Education Forum conference, in April 2000 attracted more than 1,100 participants from one hundred and sixty four countries (UNESCO, 2002). Participants ranged from teachers to prime ministers, academics to policymakers, non-governmental bodies to the heads of major international organizations. They adopted the Dakar Framework for Action, Education for All (UNESCO, 2002). The Dakar Conference was complemented by earlier conferences which all addressed issues related to the challenges and empowerment of disabled people. These were namely, the Sub-Saharan Conference on Education for All held in South Africa in 1999; Asia and Pacific Conference on Education For All held in Bangkok in 2000; The Arab Regional Conference on Education for All held in Cairo; The Third Inter-Ministerial Review Meeting on the E-9 Countries held in Recife, Brazil; Conference on Education for All in Europe and North America held in Warsaw, Poland in 2000 and The Regional Education for All Conference in the Americas held in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic in 2000 (UNESCO, 2002).
GLOBAL DISABILITY CHALLENGES TO THE EQUALIZATION OF OPPORTUNITIES
It appears disabled people are most challenged in four fronts, namely, by poverty, wars, access to education and work.
With the disability policy agenda having reached the highest levels of global recognition, globalization seems to have constructed a universe that offers endless opportunities and new life patterns to all; for instance easy access to education, information and technology, health and social amenities and etcetera. But, according to Ghai (2001), the paradox is that on the one hand, globalization places emphasis on economic power to improve the livelihood of mankind but on the other, methodically marginalizes certain groups of people, in particular disabled people by its use of modern technology and its removal of these people from participating to contributing to the gross national product of individual nation states. And in this way, globalization seems to have created challenges to the equalization of opportunities to disabled people. More so, the apparent disparity in economic, social and technological developments between the different nation states has led globalization to seem to have a different meaning for disabled people and to challenge them differently in the different communities (Ghai, 2001); with some communities wealthier than others. Poverty seems to be afflicting the half a billion disabled people or so in the world today, According to Ghai (2001), more disabled people seem to be suffering on every continent, perhaps more than ever before. Most of them are on the lowest end of the socio-economic scale (Beresford, 1996; Frieden, 2002).
Consequently, disabled people have tended to be more vulnerable to, their incapability to combat poverty, exclusion, stigma and lack of access to basic education and services. Disabled people seem to experience poverty more intensely but have fewer opportunities to escape from it. A former President of the World Bank observed this and asserted that “unless disabled people are brought into the development mainstream, it will be impossible to cut poverty by half by 2015…” (Richler, 2005, 37). Hence, according to Beresford 1996), combating global poverty is a key issue in the disability movement.
Wars and political upheavals
Another aspect that appears to challenge the equalization of opportunities for disabled people is war and its associated political upheavals (Priestley, 2001). As Driedger (1987) observed, war and political upheaval have had adverse effects on disabled peoples’ lives and their rights seem grossly violated in war times anywhere in the world; effectively excluding them from participating in the social and capital capacity building of affected nations. Priestley (1987) also notes that wars have resulted in millions of disabled refugees and displaced persons in and around war tone zones. Supposedly, in Central Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan and in Central America, war is perceived as a major cause of disability. Anti-personnel landmines have also massively contributed to causing disability of various sorts and thus the achievement of peace has become a global disability issue. The European Union’s commitment to eradicate landmines on a global scale seems illustrative, but the role of the United Nations in this matter appears “invisible”.
In a speech to the European Union parliament, the European Union’s Commissioner for External Affairs noted that one hundred and forty four countries have so far ratified the Mines Ban Treaty (Waldner, 2005). Numerous other summits have been held to discuss the reduction of the number of people either killed or maimed by landmines. Waldner conceded that the annual number of landmine victims has dropped from 26 000 to below 15 000 (Waldner, 2005). The Disabled Peoples International (DPI, 1998) took issue with this matter at their World Assembly in 1998 in Mexico City and a subsequent visit by the DPI World Council to Hiroshima, the site of the Second World War atomic bomb, resulted in the International Peace Declaration by the global disability organizations.
However, war and political upheaval have ironically also, had a positive impact on the lives of disabled people. In countries where there were revolutions such as Vietnam, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Nicaragua, Ingstad and Whyte (1995) and Montero (1998), observe that disabled people, in the process were venerated and “practically considered national heroes and were given all the opportunities possible to develop and strengthen their organizations”, and to access funding, education, jobs, and other services. War veterans seemed to experience disability in positively very different ways as compared to those disabled before the revolutions.
For many disabled people, the demand for access to work may be perceived as a major signifier of independent adulthood and a crucial component to the struggle for equality. Yet, as Priestley (2001; 8) asserts, disabled people globally “continue to be disproportionately unemployed, underemployed and underpaid…” This assertion is reflected in, for instance in the focus of the British Government’s proposal to tackle oppression of disabled people on the work place (Barton and Oliver, 1997). The British Government cut back on the Access to Work scheme and the disabled people’s organizations fought that decision asserting that the right to a job is a fundamental human right (Barton and Oliver, 1997). Such challenges for access to jobs by disabled people appear to have become common in many countries. Hence in 1983, the International Labour Organization adopted a Convention Concerning Vocational, Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) (ILO, 1983) to ensure equality of opportunities and equalization of treatment of disabled people at work and social integration. However, despite much effort at the global level to include disabled people in the work world, at the local level, some would continue to be excluded by their impairments because some tend not to be capable of producing goods or services to contribute to the social and economic capital base. To this, Barton and Oliver (1997;35) comment that this is so “because in any society……..certain products are of value and others are not regardless of the efforts that go into their production.”
Education occupies a unique position in modern society today because it tends to benefit both society and the individual as it is considered a public good (Psacharopoulos and Woodhall (1985). The advances in knowledge and scientific understanding seem to strengthen the optimism that society holds of education (Lauder et al.2006). Education offers optimism to influence the well being of people and nation state because according to Lauder et al. (2006), education is perceived by almost all people as the means by which to improve individuals’ lives and an understanding of their place in the world.
.Typically, therefore, as global market trends and technologies continue to develop in new pathways, education tends to become commdified and free access to education seems to also become even more important for everyone. However, disabled people seem to continue to be challenged in their quest to access educational opportunities available. In their zeal to acquire knowledge and skills needed in the evolving world of work, Peters (1996) notes that the inequitable access to educational benefits results in the inaccessibility to work; thereby propelling further the creation of an impoverished community. In some societies, for instance the Pakistani, disabled girl children education is not considered important (Shah, 1990). And from a personal viewpoint, it appears this perspective is in existence among some religious communities in Southern Africa. Such barriers to access to education challenge many disabled people and compel them to be dependant upon their families in many countries (Priestley, 2001). In addressing these matters, the United Nations, through the various protocols such as the Salamanca Statement, the Dakar Framework, the Jomtien Conference and others, seeks to
Ensure equal educational opportunities at all levels for children, youth and adults with disabilities in integrated settings, taking into full account of individual differences and situations (World Summit on Social Development, Commitment 6, item f, 1995). Consequently, at the national level, governments the world over have had to formulate legislation and initiatives consistent with the vision of the United Nations.
However, in most African States, these policies and legislation were absent and a concerted effort was made to put them in place through the African Unions’ Continental Plan of Action which is aimed at implementing priority activities on disability during the African Decade of Persons with Disabilities (1999-2009) (Secretariat of the African Decade, 2004). In order to create an equitable society in Africa, the Secretariat of the African Decade facilitates the development of highly progressive policies and legislation, which if properly used, can over periods drastically reform the social disadvantages experienced by all disabled persons. For example, Ghana adopted the Free, Compulsory and Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) (Sawyerr 1997), initiative in line with this United Nations vision. In Zimbabwe, the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) was initiated cognizant of the same vision. The USA initially passed Public Law 92-142 (PL 92-142) Education for All Handicapped Persons Act (Gearheart, Weishahn and Gearheart, 1982). Then in 1975, the American Congress enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) from which initiatives like the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) (Astoria 2007), were born. In the United Kingdom, the “Every Child Matters” Green Paper (The Stationery Office, 2003) is similar in principle to the American IDEA.
Several nations have put in place similar protocols to deal with equalization of educational opportunities to all people in their systems. To emphasize this, the United Nations Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development included specific pledges on equal educational opportunities for disabled children and young people. (World Summit on Social Development 1995).
A PERSONAL THOUGHT
It may be naïve to conclude that globalization alone has caused the challenges experienced by disabled people, or that nothing can be done to improve the equalization of opportunities in their situations. In real essence, it appears; the less developed countries have not been able to integrate disabled people within the global economic and social development as quickly as others, partly because of their chosen policies and partly because of factors outside their control such as imposed economic structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), debt burden caused by the Bretton Wood Institutes and wars and conflict. In my opinion however, it appears no nation state, least of all the poorest, can afford to remain isolated from the global social and economic capacity building initiatives. Every country should seek to provide for the needs and access to the basic services of all its citizens in order to reduce challenging situations and to increase equal opportunity initiatives to ameliorate suffering among its disabled people populations. The self organization of disabled people into groups seems to raise their values and voices, and is also a fundamental right that disabled people should continue to exercise. Through globalization principles, the international community should endeavour to invest in disabled people. On economic grounds, investment in disabled people is justified as long as the consequential capital investment does not exceed the cost of benefits derived. .
In conclusion, this essay discussed the concepts of globalization and disability. Descriptions and definitions of both terms were made. Within the globalization concept, disability was discussed. Then a historical framework of disability in the global context was suggested. It seems definitions of disability vary across communities. The challenges that face disabled people in their zeal to achieve full independence in the control of their lives and to contribute to the social and economic capacity were also highlighted. However, as globalization progresses; living conditions seem to improve significantly in virtually all countries. But that the economic disparities between developed and less developed countries seem to have grown wider and wars and political upheaval as well the incapability of escaping from poverty are matters of concern that seem to affect the majority of disabled people. The number of the world’s citizens who are in poverty seems disturbing- let along among the population of the disabled people.
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