Unit 1 Human Rights

Chapter 5 The Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Ask yourself:

  • How does legislation, in the form of an act or charter, ensure and protect the rights of persons with disabilities? Why is it necessary to have these codes?
  • How might someone’s assumptions have an impact on his or her treatment of persons with disabilities?

The systematic removal of people’s rights and freedoms during World War II shocked the world and so Human Rights acts were legislated in order to protect all people from discrimination. The French Revolution produced legislated human rights…. WWII directly inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this chapter, you are given opportunities to build connections to and understandings of those with physical and mental disabilities. Activities are designed to invite you to face your assumptions about the rights of people who identify as being disabled, and to consider a human right, open, free, and unfettered access in one’s life. You have the opportunity to examine a human rights case involving a student with spinal muscular atrophy, and to investigate the life of Rick Hansen, a Canadian hero for human rights.

People with disabilities - Benoit Huot, Paralympic swimmer

The quest for rights and freedoms

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982 and in relation to people with disabilities states that:
"15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability."
Canadian Human Rights Act

Canadian Human Rights Act was enacted in 1985 to extend the laws to ensure that “all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated….” The Act further states that Physical and Mental Disabilities are prohibited grounds of discrimination and includes “a duty to accommodate”. This means that employers are bound by law to prevent discrimination and to provide needed access and support of people with disabilities.

Prior to legislation, before the enactment of these Acts, people with disabilities had to depend on landlords, schools, and employers to accommodate them. It was not within their rights as it is now. This legislation requires that society address the needs of people with disabilities so that they might enjoy the same rights and freedoms as all Canadians…the right to work, the right to an education, the right to practice their chosen religion. The public view of people with disabilities brought about the inclusion of their rights into this legislation. The public view is important in creating equality.

During the Holocaust, the German government used propaganda to influence the people to turn against and strip the rights of people with disabilities. The government goals to create a perfect Aryan society instituted unjust and heinous programs of sterilization and euthanasia against people with disabilities, both German and Jewish. Similarly other groups were stripped of their rights and sent to work and death camps, including Roma people, homosexuals, and Jewish people.

One of the reasons that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations (1948) was drafted was to ensure that what happened to groups of people in the Holocaust would not happen again. The systematic removal of people’s rights and freedoms during World War II shocked the world and happened, in part, because of a lack of protection against discrimination of people based on religion, race, sexual orientation, physical and mental disability. These Acts are designed to protect all people.

Action 1  


Facing our Assumptions

In this task you will be considering a number of statements related to issues concerning the rights and freedoms of persons who identify as having a disability, or differently abled, by responding independently and with others. The following outline provides you with a way to use this assumption guide:

  • Read and complete the assumption guide independently.
  • Next, choose one statement that you strongly agree with and share with a partner. Explain why you so strongly agree.
  • Choose one statement that you strongly disagree with and share with a partner. Explain reasons for their choice.
  • Choose one statement that you are uncertain of, have questions about and share with a new partner.
  • Choose one statement that you know is true for someone they know in their lives. Share this person’s story with a partner.
  • Where do our assumptions about others come from?
  • How might someone’s assumptions about disabilities have an impact on their treatment of persons with disabilities?
  • What role did assumptions and myths play in the marginalization of people in Germany during the Holocaust?
  • There are several terms that help us understand the diversity amongst those who identify as having a disability. Investigate definitions of such terms as, disability, impairment, handicap, discrimination, accommodation, and undue hardship.
Facing Our Assumptions: Thinking about the rights of those who identify as disabled
Circle the following whether you:
Facing Our Assumptions: Thinking about the rights of the Disabled.
Circle the following whether you:
1. People who are deaf are less likely to succeed in life. SA A D SD
2. People with dyslexia have a disability. SA A D SD
3. People who work really hard can overcome any obstacle, including mental illness. SA A D SD
4. Students who use wheelchairs cannot take physical education or dance classes. SA A D SD
5. It is impossible to accommodate ALL students with disabilities in one school. SA A D SD
6. Not every student with a disability can be integrated into a regular classroom. SA A D SD
7. All students should be treated equally. SA A D SD
8. Students who identify as being disabled are not discriminated against in the school system. SA A D SD
9. Someone who requires a wheelchair should not teach in elementary schools. SA A D SD
10. More money for programming should go to Special Needs students vs. extracurricular activities. SA A D SD
11. All restaurants accommodate all people. SA A D SD

Action 2  


Class Picture: A Human Rights Case

A. Examine this photograph of a grade two class in British Columbia. When the parents of the seven-year-old Miles Ambridge saw their son set aside from the rest of the class they reported the incident to raise awareness of how such things could be hurtful to those who identify as disabled.

Class of grade 2 students in British Columbia with student Miles Ambridge in a wheelchair off to the side rather than being included with the group

An elementary school class photo for picture day, with a young boy in an electric wheel chair visibly separated from the rest of the class and off to the side.enlarge image

Credit: Lifetouch Canada

In small groups, discuss:

  • What are your initial reactions to this photograph?
  • What decisions do you think were made by the photographer? The teacher?
  • How do you think the boy in the wheelchair felt when this picture was taken?
  • How would you feel if you were the parents of the child?
  • What other choices do you think could have been made in setting up this photograph?

B. When the father of this boy saw this picture he was ‘disgusted and appalled’ that his son with spinal muscular atrophy was ostracized in this class photo. The following is an excerpt of an article that appeared in Canadian newspapers in June 2013:

"It’s wrong, but it doesn’t mean it was intentional. It just means that somebody dropped the ball for a moment and that can be incredibly hurtful."

Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

Readers are encouraged to leave a comment to share their reaction. Imagine that you had a chance to respond in one hundred words or less to this story, what might you say? What suggestions would you make to the school for dealing with the situation? What advice might you offer to the parents to protect their son’s human rights? Do you think this picture should be retaken and if so, how should Miles Ambridge be placed in the photo to give him dignity? Share your comment by posting it on a class website.

C. Reflection

In small groups, discuss:

  • How does this story inform you about the human rights of an individual?
  • What other stories with which you are familiar concern those with disabilities whose rights have been challenged or jeopardized?
  • The teacher and the photographer claimed that they did not intentionally mean any harm in setting Miles Ambridge apart from his classmates. How can we raise awareness and educate others to examine their behaviours and attitudes to those who have a disability?
Pictured here is a smiling Rick Hansen on his wheel chair, in front a body of water and city skyline in the background. enlarge image
Rick Hansen recognizing the 25th Anniversary Relay, 2011

Source: www.hellovancity.com

Action 3  


RICK HANSEN: A Canadian Hero for Human Rights

The Rick Hansen Story (Excerpt)

by Dennis Foon

Canadian playwright, Dennis Foon has written the play Rick: The Rick Hansen Story, that tells the story of Rick Hansen’s accident and subsequent adjustment to his paralysis. In the following excerpt, Rick has just returned to school and shares his frustration with a friend.

Don: You okay?

Rick: This is all wrong. It shouldn’t be like this.

Don: What do you mean?

Rick: I can’t get up the stairs to get into school. I can’t get into stores or restaurants. I can’t even get my chair across the street because of the curbs.

Don: Your dad built you a ramp.

Rick: It was that or he’d have to buy me a tent to live in…except they don’t make any a wheelchair can fit.

Don: Anyhow—the coach wants to see you in the gym.

Rick: Why?

Don: Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger. You coming?

Rick: Sure let’s go.

(Don and Rick move together, both facing the audience. As if staring in through the doors of the gym. Rick stops at the sound of a practice, balls bouncing, shouting, the coach’s voice barking instructions. Rick freezes, overwhelmed.)

Don: The volleyball team is hopeless without you.

Rick: They’re doing fine.

Don: Well, the coach is waiting.

Rick: (distraught): I can’t go in there. I can’t. (Rick wheels away)

Don: What’s wrong?

Rick: I gotta go -

Permission granted, Playwrights Canada Press

3.	A concrete and marble statue of Rick Hansen on his wheelchair. enlarge image
Statue of Rick Hansen in honour of his Man In Motion World Tour
– Vancouver Canada

Credit: Wikimedia.org

A. Reading and Responding to the Script Excerpt

Read the script independently, then work with a partner to discuss the following:

  • What are two things you learn about Rick Hansen from this excerpt?
  • What is frustrating Rick about his disability?
  • How has Rick’s life changed as a result of his disability?  How prepared are Rick’s friends and teachers to deal with Rick’s circumstances?
  • What do you think the coach might say to Rick? What might Rick say to his coach?
  • What advice might you give his friends? The coach? To Rick? To move forward as a person with a disability?
  • Mr. Hansen is a hero and role model, but do stories like this create unrealistic expectations for those with disabilities?

B. Interpreting the script

With a partner, choose a role to read out loud from this script. Repeat the activity, switching roles. To rehearse this script, actors might play their roles in different ways. Once you have decided upon a role to practice, choose one of these ‘attitudes / emotions’ to interpret the lines (e.g., Rick could be calm and Don could be angry; both characters could be angry etc.)

  • calmly
  • with anger
  • with hesitation
  • with sadness
  • apathetic, uncaring

C. Rehearsing the script

As an actor rehearses, he or she explores a variety of emotions to inform how to best convey the meaning of the texts. Experiment with a few different ways to read these lines and with your partner, discuss which way seemed the most authentic theatre presentation (i.e., How would each character feel as they continue the conversation?).

Once you have rehearsed the scene, present it to another pair and compare different interpretations.

D. Writing a new scene

  • This scene describes one example of how a person with a disability struggles in a world built for able bodied people. In small groups discuss other situations when Rick’s rights, (or someone like Rick) would be jeopardized. What struggles might he encounter in maintaining his rights as a student in school, home and the greater community? What solutions might be offered to meet these challenges?
  • In pairs, or small groups, prepare a new scripted scene in which Rick appears. For this scene consider:
    • Which characters might appear in the scene?
    • What is the setting?
    • How will the particular challenge be conveyed?
    • What information and feelings will your scene represent about the human rights of a person who identifies as disabled?
  • Once completed, rehearse the scene with your group to present to others who have worked on a different scene. (The complete Dennis Foon script of Rick: The Rick Hansen Story is available through Playwrights Canada Press.)
  • What are some interesting facts you might learn about Rick Hansen’s accomplishments as an athlete, as a person? More Information about Rick Hansen and the Rick Hansen Foundation is available at: http://www.rickhansen.com/.
  • After his accident, Rick Hansen became a paralympic athlete winning several medals. The Paralympics follow the Olympic games every four years, bringing together athletes from around the world to compete in a variety of sports. Using the Internet, research other athletes to find out their story and find out how they became Olympic winners.

Action 4  


A new symbol for people who Identify as Disabled or Differently Abled

David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Canada, battled polio in his childhood that resulted in partial paralysis. Today he is able to walk using leg braces, crutches or canes but he prefers to move around in his electric scooter.

In 2013, Onley challenged Canadian secondary students to submit designs for a more inclusive accessible symbol of the world. Onley notes that even though 97 per cent of the population of persons with disabilities in North America don’t use wheelchairs or electric scooters, they have a definite disability. The traditional symbol that features a stick figure is not, according to the Lieutenant Governor, inclusive.

Though thousands of designs were submitted, a ‘winner’ was not declared. The Lieutenant Governor claimed that designs fell short of conveying the complex needs of people with disabilities. The challenge with a design is to ensure that people are not left out and that recognition is given beyond just those in a wheelchair. An honourable mention was given to the design below.

A. This activity requires you to rethink a symbol that has been valuable and transformed access for disability, but limits how disabilities are represented in many ways. Working alone or with a partner, create a new symbol design using an art medium of your choice. Consider:

  • What are your views of the traditional disabled stick figure in a wheelchair?
  • How might a symbol be more humanized? More inclusive of other disabilities?
  • What colors, shapes, objects and / or characters do you think need to be implemented?
  • Should there be any words included in the symbol?

(Search for an example of another symbol. (e.g. Beijing Paralympics symbol))

Further images: http://bit.ly/disabilitysymbols


B. Once you have completed a design, meet with your classmates to discuss submissions. For your discussion, you can imagine that you are members of a jury making choices for a symbol that effectively captures disabilities and that could be understood across cultures.

Where in the school and local community might these designs be displayed?

Current sign (blue)

Current sign (blue)

Submission for Competition (black)

Submission for Competition (black)

Source: Permission received by author: Credit: Copyright 2013 Tom Pokinko