Unit 1: Human Rights
Chapter 4: The Rights 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 people from discrimination. 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 are disabled, and to consider the importance of having open, free, and unfettered access to society 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 human rights hero.
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:
Canadian Human Rights Act
The 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 to people with disabilities.
Prior to legislation, 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 visibility of people with disabilities brought about the inclusion of their rights into this legislation. Visibility is important in creating equality.
Perhaps the most egregious assault on disabled people was the so-called euthanasia program (nicknamed T-4 after its address in Berlin, Tiergartenstrasse 4) of Nazi Germany, which operated from October 1939 to August 1941, and then continued covertly until the end of the war. Considered “life unworthy of life,” the mentally and physically disabled of Germany were either sterilized or “euthanized” by starvation or lethal injection. Eventually, people targeted by the regime in Germany and Austria were killed in one of six institutions that were converted into killing centres with gas chambers: Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, and Brandenburg. The gas chambers were disguised as showers and people were brought in by bus or train. The bodies were buried in mass graves outside the institutions and the family was notified that their relative had died, usually of a “contagious disease” so they could explain the disposal of the body without properly notifying the family.
The Nuremberg Trials put the number of T-4 victims at approximately 250,000; those sterilized number approximately 300,000. People with disabilities were the main targets of this murderous program but those with muscular sclerosis, schizophrenia, epilepsy, dementia, encephalitis, and chronic alcoholism were also included.
Facing Our Assumptions
In this task, you will be considering a number of statements related to the rights and freedoms of persons who identify as having a disability by responding independently and with others. The following outline provides you with a way to use this assumption guide:
Class Picture: A Human Rights Case
A. Examine this photograph of a grade two class in British Columbia. When the parents of 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 included with the group
In small groups, discuss:
B. When Miles’s father 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:
In small groups, discuss:
RICK HANSEN: A Canadian Human Rights Hero
June 27, 1973
On the way home from a fishing trip, Rick and his friend Don Alder are in a car accident and are thrown from the back of a pickup truck. Rick injures his spinal cord and is paralyzed from the waist down.
In five years, Rick wins 19 wheelchair marathons, three world titles, and 15 medals: 6 at the Paralympic Games and 9 at the Pan Am Games. He’s also Canada’s Disabled Athlete of the Year in 1979, 1980, and 1982.
March 21, 1985
Rick and his team leave Vancouver to embark on the Man In Motion World Tour, a journey around the globe to prove the potential of people with disabilities and raise awareness for accessibility.
May 22, 1987
Rick and his team complete the World Tour and return to Vancouver. The Tour raised $26 million for spinal cord injury research, rehabilitation, and sport.
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.
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
Statue of Rick Hansen in honour of his Man In Motion World Tour, Vancouver, Canada
A. Reading and Responding to the Script Excerpt
Read the script independently, then work with a partner to discuss the following:
B. Interpreting the Script
With a partner, choose a role to read aloud 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.)
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 like 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
A New Symbol for People with Disabilities
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 and accessible symbol of disability. Onley notes that even though 97 percent of people 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:
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 different cultures.
Where in the school and local community might these designs be displayed?
Current sign (blue)
Submission for Competition (black)
Source: Permission received by author: Credit: Copyright 2013 Tom Pokinko
Every effort has been made to gain permission from copyright holders to reproduce borrowed material. The publishers apologize for any errors and will be pleased to rectify them in subsequent reprints and website programming
Other chapters on Human Rights: