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Recognising discrimination

In this video, different people with disabilities share their personal stories of discrimination.

Before we look in more detail at Human Rights and in particular at the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, we will explore discrimination as one of the reasons that a human rights framework is useful.

Last week we talked about the importance of human diversity and of valuing all human beings as equal members of society. Because we are all so diverse, humans tend to group ourselves and others in lots of different ways. We are all part of many different groups. Sometimes people claim identification with a particular group of people (as in the case of Jordanna and the Deaf community); and other times, we are put into groups by others as a result of having a certain trait or characteristic. In the Thinking through Disability course, we talk about this as a difference between “badging” ourselves and “labelling” others. The various groups to which we belong are a reflection of social and cultural values and change over time and across the course of our lives.

While belonging to different groups and participating in different communities are important for living a good life, being in a group can sometimes cause problems if that group is not valued by everyone in society. Discrimination refers to a person or group of people being treated differently as a result of belonging to a particular group or having a certain characteristic.

People sometimes make a distinction between “direct” and “indirect” discrimination. Direct disability discrimination refers to unfair treatment on the basis of someone’s disability — such as an employer refusing to hire a qualified applicant because they use a wheelchair. On the other hand, indirect disability discrimination is when a rule, policy or social convention — such as a law requiring voters to appear in person at a polling place — indirectly disadvantages disabled people.

In the above video our guest presenters talk about times when they have been discriminated against as a result of their disability or impairment, and when their rights as human beings have been ignored. We provide a link to an audio description version of this video in the See Also section below.

As our guest presenters point out, even when there are laws to protect people from discrimination, discrimination still occurs.

Vivienne tells the incredible story of the discrimination she experienced when she was in an aged care facility. As someone with a life-long disability, Vivienne has always found ways to do things her way. When someone told her she couldn’t knit, she went further by buying herself a sewing machine to make her own clothes. Her experiences of discrimination in the aged care facility centred on others failing to recognise her as capable of making choices regarding her own life.

The other presenters describe similar experiences of discrimination, particularly in the workplace. For a good summary of the different types of discrimination that can happen in the workplace, and of the differences between direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, see this helpful video from ACAS.

Finally, it’s important to note that what our guest presenters are mostly describing is institutionalised discrimination, or discrimination that comes from systemic societal practices and beliefs, rather than from a conscious decision to discriminate.

Talking points

  • Did anything surprise you about the stories from the lives of the guest presenters? If so, what?
  • When we talk about discrimination, we often talk about different types of discrimination. While in some ways we could talk about all of the above stories being instances of disability discrimination, in some cases they are more complicated than that. What other kinds of discrimination are going on? Is this important?
  • Have you witnessed or experienced discrimination in your own local context? What kind of discrimination was it?
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Disability and a Good Life: Working with Disability

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