Handicap This!: January-February 2023

January 24, 2023

From the January-February 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Elise

Vanuatu, a Pacific island country, urged on by the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association and the Vanuatu Society for People with Disability, has developed a national sign language, Storian wetem han. Without it, too many deaf children either got no education or dropped out of school. Many deaf people have been isolated from society and unable to hold down jobs and have faced greater risk from disasters in what the UN calls the most disaster-prone nation in the world. Funded by the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank, Storian wetem han, which means using hands to communicate, will hopefully be fully deployed in this South Pacific nation by 2024.

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In Minnesota, Personal Care Assistants (PCAs)—those who assist the disabled and elderly with daily living and household tasks—bargaining through the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota union, have reached a tentative agreement with the state to provide an incremental pay raise over the next couple of years up to a minimum of $20 per hour in 2025, a 31% raise overall, which affects about 20,000 PCAs. In July 2021, PCAs won increases in wages, time off, and increased training. The disabled have historically been under servedr and treated as disposable members of society. The PCAs they often need have received low pay and limited benefits, leading to high turnover and job vacancies. That women of color are over represented in this workforce is a sign of the racism and sexism that continue to exist in the U.S. If the tentative contract is approved, it is hoped more people will become and remain PCAs in Minnesota.

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The UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, observed annually on Dec. 3, was founded for all disabled people to have full human rights and well-being in every part of society. This year’s theme is “Transformative Solutions for Inclusive Development.” Currently, about one billion people worldwide are disabled, 80% of them living in developing countries. Almost half are over 60. An estimated one of every five to one of ten women and one of every ten children are disabled. Here are some stories that reflect last year’s theme:

  • The Invisible Disabilities Association raises awareness about disabilities that many overlook, such as mental illness. Stiff Person Syndrome, which singer Celine Dion recently revealed she has and which impairs the brain and/or spinal cord, is another invisible disability.
  • A disabled teen from Alberta, Canada, with a prosthetic arm and glove is a top ringette goalie—even though she had been told many times that she would be unable to do that and many other things.
  • Paralympian Elizabeth, from Australia, used to hide her prosthetic arm and leg as a youth, but now speaks out and writes about being disabled, including directly confronting people who try to belittle her.
  • Disabled people continue to found support groups, disability rights groups and other organizations. They and others can learn about filmmaking and the film industry from Bus Stop Films’ Accessible Film Studies Program.

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