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GHF2006 – PS18 – Access to Health for People with Disability:A Right or a Favour?

Session outline

Parallel session PS18, Friday, September 1 2006, 11:00-12:30
Chair(s): Félix Bollman, Switzerland, Pierre Perrin, Switzerland
Reduced Access to Health for People with Disability: An Overview of Causes for an Effective Environmental and Human Rights Approach
Patrick Fourgeyrollas, Institut de Réadaptation en Déficience Physique de Québec - IRDPQ, Québec, Canada 
Nicolas Heeren, Department of Programmes, Methods & Techniques, Handicap International, Lyon, France 
Giampietro Griffo, World Council member, Disabled Peoples International - DPI-Europe, Trentola-Ducenta, Italy 

Session Document

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Session Report

Submitted by: Stephanie Berry (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Irene Amodei (ICVolunteers)
"The key point is always to link actions with long-term development processes". Image:

Although the estimated 600 million people with disabilities have formally been recognized, in reality they are still often being overlooked and by no means enjoy the same rights as the rest of the world's population. The goal is to ensure that all people, disabled and able bodied alike, have the same access to all kinds of services in society, in particular health care.

The reason why the disabled are overlooked, claimed Dr. Patrick Fougeyrollas from the University of Laval, Canada, is that the definition of disability is often too narrow. Disabled people are not only those sitting in a wheelchair but also those who are disabled for language reasons or age. Indeed he emphasized that most people are disabled at some stage of their life, which is why it is particularly important to pay attention to the diverse forms in which disability appears.

Ignoring the less able members of society can have several implications, not only for the person concerned, but also for the people around him/her. It can produce secondary, mental disabilities. The person may feel angry or neglected, which makes them become a greater burden for others.

The goal of equal access, regardless of physical ability, can only be achieved if the barriers to equal access are identified and if people with disabilities are included in the planning of public policy and their demands are not overridden.

Dr. Giampiero Griffo from Disabled Peoples' International, Italy, affirmed that we have to adopt a Human Rights approach towards disabled people, without which it is impossible to ensure social inclusion and recognition. This means that disabled people are not to be treated any differently than others. They should be eligible to the same rights and have the same claim to self-determination. During the last week there has been a turning point on this issue. The United Nations (UN) has now finally officially recognized the need to provide more services for persons with disabilities and to work for their integration into society. The UN has affirmed that it will work for the promotion of respect for all disabled people, and in particular for disabled women because they are doubly discriminated against. Dr. Griffo concluded that this will become a reality only if eople with disabilities if they are not truly included in the process and can actively contribute to it: in fact, "nothing for us without us."

A participant from the floor voiced the concern that, although the UN has taken this first step towards an improvement of the situation, in many of the official organizations none of the people actually have disabilities and thus are not sensitive to the problems of those who do. A lot remains to be done in raising awareness about the issues that more vulnerable people face.

Mr. Nick A. Heeren, Former Director of Programmes, Methods & Techniques of Handicap International, France, gave practical examples both in development contexts and emergencies. He began his presentation posing two principal questions:

1) How to guarantee the right of access to aid and services during emergencies for people with disabilities and other extremely vulnerable individuals?

2) How to take into account people with disabilities before, during and after emergencies through anticipated action, direct action of specialized actors and creating "disability-confidence" among generalist emergency actors?

Disasters, wars and crises raise new challenges for all, but people with disabilities are disproportionately the victims of complex emergencies and more impacted by them, because their coping mechanisms are confronted with a new environment while their support system is also dramatically altered. During an emergency, people with disability become more "invisible" than they usually are, because they are excluded from the emergency registration systems; they face communication difficulties and misinterpretation of the situation and, often, they suffer from an inadequate physical accessibility, or lack of mobility aids; not to mention emotional distress and trauma which can have long-term consequences. In order to mitigate the impact of the crisis on people with disabilities, medical attention has to be combined with social and economic interventions, to build so-called "disability-confidence". According to Mr. Heeren, "People with disabilities need special attention, which doesn't only mean the attention of specialists. Disability is in fact a cross-cutting issue that requires a double track (generalist + specialist) and a right-based approach". Time is also an important variant that should be taken into account. "Before the crisis we need awareness and training; planning and risk-and-resource mapping for an efficient early warning system; as well as preparation of local actors and rescue teams by strengthening their capacity building. On the other hand, after the crisis, it is important to deliver disability services, promote partnerships with disabled people's organizations and set-up outreach work. The key point is always to link actions with long-term development processes".

The symposium gave an overview, not only of the issue of disability/diversity, but also of underlying social factors. Strongly defending the right to be different that is the difference to be right.

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