series event

Disability Goes Global: The Repercussions of the International Year of Disabled Persons (1981) for Global Health

(co-hosted with the International Centre for Evidence in Disability (ICED)

Monika Baár 
(Leiden University)

1981 was designated by the United Nations the International Year of Disabled Persons, to be followed by the International Decade of Disabled Persons (1982-1993). It was the first occasion to place disability into a global context by endorsing it authoritatively as a human rights issue. It was in preparation for the International Year that, in 1980 WHO produced the first classification of disability designed for universal application. This classification was based on an ideological framework which reflected the standards of the modern ‘Western world’.

It focused on the individual and assumed that equality, independence, self-reliance and personal self-fulfilment are universally desirable and applicable values and that dependence constitutes a problem. The conscience of the international community was stirred during the International Year, spawning numerous governmental and non-governmental initiatives in ‘developing’ countries. These initiatives brought into sharp relief the notion that focusing on individual rights runs contrary to accepted norms and practices found in many developing countries, where the disabled person is seen as part of a larger whole: the care-giving family and kinship networks. The presentation seeks to reflect on the impact of the International Year up to the present day by raising the question as to how the concept of disability may be understood in a multicultural world.