Promoting discussions on disability to generate a holistic and inclusive human rights dialogue

Currently many groups working in the disability rights movement, and even the broader human rights movement, compete amongst each other in political debates and institutions in order to gain recognition, funding and policy changes.  Instead of recognizing their common goals and challenges, human rights groups often isolate themselves along victim hierarchies where, for example, someone living in poverty may be better off than someone who is physically disabled, experiences politically-motivated torture or lacks access to clean water.  The International Center for Bioethics, Culture and Disability proposes a holistic approach that views the human rights movement as a united coalition of groups seeking a shared-rights outcome. The Center emphasizes an inclusive, social justice approach to disability. This involves giving all marginalized people a voice in current human rights discussions as well as raising the ability of those who have not been marginalized to welcome and understand the views of those who have been.

Disability and gay rights groups, along with movements against female infanticide or sex selection, share experiences in societies that often marginalize them based on perceived social or medical defects.  The disabled and others are similarly affected by developments in science and technology (S&T).  Because of its potential to generate new marginalized groups, all human rights movements have a stake in how S&T are governed and how much affected groups and the general public are involved in that process.

Given the ever-increasing impact of advances in science and technology on human rights movements, the Center also challenges people to explore the exclusive definition of “person,” as written into legal and human rights documents.  Persons are given human rights and legal protections, but this legal term raises questions for human rights groups, considering new advances in nanotechnology and cognitive science that profoundly shape the very meaning of personhood. To that end, the Center promotes discourse on bioethics and the goals of S&T between marginalized and non-marginalized groups, sometimes within the human rights movement itself.  

For many people it is not evident how issues such as genetic manipulation, research on non-competent people or the convergence of technologies - such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and cognitive sciences - to enhance human performance have the potential to jeopardize the social status of the disabled, other marginalized groups and the public at large.  Yet human rights groups, who often advocate for social acceptance themselves, sometimes question the goals of disability movements that push comparable social inclusion agendas.  The discussions on disability and culture, then, serve to raise awareness and build common platforms among the human rights movement.  

One difficulty for the Center is locating funding to promote disability and social justice awareness.  Though money is often available for medical procedures and the promotion of a medical model of disability, it is rarely given to promote a social model of disability, especially for groups exploring bioethical issues and a shared human rights platform.

The International Center for Bioethics, Culture and Disability continues to build a dialogue among disabled people and other marginalized groups on bioethical and human rights issues.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.