Disability in a Global Society: Space for Diversity?

Trani, Jean-Francois (2016). 'Disability in a Global Society: Space for Diversity?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

People with disabilities represent 15% of the world population according to estimations by the World Health Organization and the World Bank (World Health Organization & World Bank, 2011). This large population is not a uniform group of individuals but is characterized by its diversity. Such diversity is reflected in terms of personal characteristics (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity…), types of impairment defined by activity limitations and functioning difficulties, needs and aspirations and the social, cultural and economic environment in which people with disabilities live. This diversity of interacting factors raises multiple challenges for the identification, measurement and understanding of the disability experience and the definition of public policies aiming at improving the wellbeing and quality of life of persons with disabilities.
The Capability Approach embraces this diversity of the disability experience. In contrasts to the social model of disability, the Capability Approach does not ignore the complexities of impairments and individuals’ different requirements and aspirations (Dubois & Trani, 2009; Mitra, 2006). In a capability approach perspective, impairment becomes a factor among others (such as gender or ethnicity) affecting the ability and opportunity of individuals and groups to achieve the things they value, meaning that public policies and development interventions should aim at providing or restoring the conditions for those individuals’ agency to be expressed in determining a multiplicity of paths of human development (Trani, Bakhshi, Bellanca, Biggeri, & Marchetta, 2011). In practice, organisations working on promoting human well-being, such as government agencies, development institutions, or non-government organisations, are rarely able to tailor their interventions to the specific needs of individuals. Rather, these organisations have a tendency to define homogenous social groups, with presumed shared needs, as a target for their interventions. This targeting approach is justified by the lack of resources and organizational capacity to address diversity as development organisations attempt to structure themselves in ways that reduce complexity in terms of staffing, responsibility and organisational structure. Such an approach fails to recognise the complexity and intersectionality of social identity raising concern in the case of disability of negating diversity of needs and aspirations. Defining target groups has been criticised as constituting a process of labelling and the imposition of social identities by outsiders (Eyben, 2007). It has been argued that the imposition of social labels by policy makers or development actors contribute to perpetuate or even reinforce asymmetries of power that are already built around the social construction of identities, resulting potentially in more stigma (Moncrieffe, 2007). This opens new avenues for research on disability in a capability perspective. It suggests that while attempting to unpack people’s own views about their aspirations and barriers to well-being is crucial, researchers may also want to consider exploring systematic patterns of inequality and their relationship to social identities which may not be apparent to or always articulated by persons with disabilities themselves.
Keywords: capability, disability, identities.
Dubois, J. L., & Trani, J. F. (2009). Extending the capability paradigm to address the complexity of disability. ALTER European Journal of Disability Research, 3(3), 192-218.
Eyben, R. (2007). Labelling People for Aid. In L. Waldman, J. Moncrieff, & R. Eyben (Eds.), The Power of Labelling: How People are Categorized and Why it Matters. London: Earthscan.
Mitra, S. (2006). The capability approach and disability. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 16(4), 236-247.
Moncrieffe, J. (2007). Labelling, Power and Accountability: How and Why our Categories Matter'. In J. Waldman, R. Eyben, & J. Moncrieffe (Eds.), The Power of Labelling: How People are Categorized and How it Matters. London: Earthscan.
Trani, J. F., Bakhshi, P., Bellanca, N., Biggeri, M., & Marchetta, F. (2011). Disabilities through the Capability Approach lens: Implications for public policies. Alter, 5(3), 143-157.
World Health Organization, & World Bank. (2011). World report on disability. Retrieved from Geneva

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