Sharing some of her findings she came across her work, Maha Damaj explains the concepts pertaining to Disability Studies, drivers and barriers of inclusion and significance of Public Health on February 5 at C.V. Raman Auditorium, University of Hyderabad. She is an Assistant Professor of Public Health Practice in the faculty of Health Sciences and the Coordinator at Global Master’s in Health & Sustainable Development at American University of Beirut, Lebanon. She obtained her Ph.D in Health Policy from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of London.

Talking about the different perspectives regarding disability, she says, “The general perception of disability as curse, stigma, pity, sympathy, abnormal and burden has been constructed from the ancient priest and been carried over to different traditions and cultures. However, there are some older definitions of disability that one should know.” According to WHO explanatory document (WHO 1980) definitions; Impairment has been defines as any loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological or anatomical structure or function. Disability has been defined as any restriction or lack resulting from impairment or lack of ability to perform in a manner which is considered as normal and lastly handicapped as disadvantage for a given individual resulting from an impairment or disability that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role depending on age, sex and cultural factors for that individual.

Damaj briefed the two main models of disability; Medical model that mimics medical industry, focuses on an individual and aims to treat and cure with stigmatized disabled identity as outcome. However, Social model are on the hand of disabilities movement, where disability is in social and physical environment and not the individual and his/her impairment. The aim of this model is to except a person the way he/she is and to be ready for inclusive shifts for changes. This model changed the vernacular, conversation, discrimination and rights of the subject.

Reflecting on language used, Damaj strongly forbidden the use of the term, ‘handicapped’. “The word ‘handicapped’ originally came from ‘hand in cap’ because people with disabilities, traditionally or historically were beggars which is very insulting,” she says. Changes can be seen in the usage of language, from disabled person and disabled child that are more reflective of the social model. They also came up with person with disability and child with disability. The entire focus is on person and the person has this disability. And this is the language which is currently used in the Conventions on the Rights of Persons with disability. “Differently abled person, mentally challenged are used when one is trying to sugar coat the embarrassment while there is no need,” she added.

Tossing the thoughts of audiences, she raises a question, “Instead of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which is global, inclusive and still valid to date and then why after 50 years we needed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with disability? Beautifully presenting her answer she says, “Because the practice and perception of people with disabilities overpowers the application of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was not enough for everyone to recognize the rights applied alone through Universal Declaration.”

Quality education is inclusive education, according to UNESCO. But inclusive education is seems to be the biggest challenge. The act of non-discrimination is inclusion and has been described as strategy contributing towards promoting an inclusive society one which enables all children and adults whatever their gender age ability ethnicity impairment or HIV status to participate in and contribute to that society difference is respected and valued. Some major obstacles to inclusion or drivers of exclusion are societal attitude, poverty, low education levels, resistance to change and rigid curriculum. Damaj sees parents as the major drivers of inclusion. She says, “Parents’ support is pivotal to break the barriers and bring in major differences in the society.”

Coming to health and development she says, “Within social health we are ethically bound to deal with the marginalization or the violation of rights of any vulnerable person of a nation and as we know people with disabilities is one of those.” “One simple way could be the use of the intervention systems to raise awareness,” she added.

Social workers and health professionals can help much better than others by including, involving, supporting and empowering parents and children because they are skilled. They can expand it to the specific needs of children and parents of people with disability adjusting, adapting and including people with disabilities. “This is not a separate science. Being little creative and mingling and meshing with people with disabilities will help all other things to do,” Damaj concludes.

By Nidhi Gupta, MA-Communication