What You Need To Know: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
In Australia, around one in five people live with a disability. Although we have come a long way in our recent history to create inclusive and accepting spaces for everyone from different walks of life, many individuals still face significant barriers in work, study, sport, and generally getting around and participating in daily activities.
December is awareness month for persons with disabilities, and December 3rd is the official International day as declared by the United Nations (UN). This day was declared to bring awareness to the stigma of disability. We can work to create more compassion and understanding of the challenges faced by people living with disabilities.
As noted by the UN, “Disability inclusion is an essential condition to upholding human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security.” Let’s take a look at the details behind the awareness month and day and give due credit to the people who make them happen.
Why do we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities?
The spirit of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is to bring awareness to the importance of all people across the globe to have equal opportunities for work, play, health, and success. It helps to show that people with disabilities are often contributing members of society and to appreciate them as such.
The community of people with disabilities across the globe has had a troubled history working for recognition for their rights in modern society. We tend to forget that, less than a century ago, people with disabilities were placed in institutions or prisons being ignored, hidden, and cursed. Things have improved throughout the last century, when people living with disabilities have finally gained traction to receive independence, acknowledgement, and modern medical interventions.
Dedicating one day of the year to recognise people living with disabilities helps to emphasise the changes we have made to make our world more inclusive and accessible, and also, how far we have to go to providing equal rights for everyone.
How can we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities?
If you want to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we have a few ideas to help you make the most of it:
- Create or join an awareness campaign – this can be a way for people to share their stories or for others to speak out about adjustments they may require in the workplace, school, or public spaces. It could include awareness to highlight the individual and business benefits of diversity and inclusion in society.
- Encourage people to learn – Sharing the voices of those living with disabilities is a great way to spread awareness, compassion, and understanding. This could be as simple as sharing something on social media or organising an event with speakers and activities surrounding the idea of learning about people living with disabilities.
- Join an event – If you don’t have the capacity to create an event yourself, search for other events that might be taking place in your community and join in. The day is about inclusivity, after all.
What Can We Do To Include People Living With Disabilities?
Although having a day of awareness is important to highlight the cause, it is of course important to recognise those with disabilities every day of the year. By challenging your own mindset and changing your routine to include people living with disabilities, some of these activities can help you along:
- Become an advocate for people with disabilities – keep an eye out at all of the places you frequent. If you see room for improvement for easier access such as ramps, railings, lower buttons, or other more accommodating apparatuses, ask elected officials, the store owner, restaurant manager, or whoever has the capacity to add these. This is the law in Australia.
- Volunteer a helping hand – If you know someone who lives with disabilities, or even if you don’t, you can enquire at your local care facility or an outpatient clinic. Simple tasks such as dropping off medication, doing some grocery shopping, or giving them a ride may make a big difference to their day.
- Be compassionate – Of course, this applies to most situations but you never know what someone is going through. A disability can be invisible to the naked eye, so showing compassion instead of frustration to someone who may be slowing you down or getting in your way can make a difference to everyone around you.
- Become aware – Educate yourself and others on the history, civil rights movements, and legislation surrounding people with disabilities such as the Disability Services Act, established in 1986 in Australia.
- Acknowledgement and empathy – Imagine all the things you do in your daily life and then imagine what they would be like were you to live with a disability. This is a good way to help you understand people who have this lived experience. Acknowledge how the world around you can be restrictive and keep that in mind in your daily life; it can be a step towards meaningful change.
Who created National Disability Day?
The Paralympics was first established in 1960. In 1976, the United Nations General Assembly made the decision to create the international year of disabilities in 1981 to raise awareness and emphasise the importance of this group in society. By 1992, the International Day of People with Disabilities was proclaimed by the United Nations as a yearly celebration to “promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society.”
How Do You Address a Disabled Person?
If you find yourself unable to find the correct terminology or are unsure about how to address someone with a disability, first refer to the person and then the disability. That is why we say “person with a disability” because they are people first and being a person defines them, whereas their disability is a part of their lived experience. Calling someone ‘disabled’ or ‘handicapped’ without addressing that they are a person first can be disrespectful and dehumanising. If you are in doubt as to how to address someone, it’s ok to respectfully ask questions.
You can also find our Ultimate Guide to Inclusive Language for Disabilities to learn more about this topic.