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Araceli Arellano, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Let's celebrate diversity

Mon, 03 Dec 2018 10:09:00 +0000 Published in Diario de Noticias, La Rioja and Diario Montañés

Today, December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we celebrate diversity, with kind words and campaigns. Today we empathize and sympathize with those who year-round live with disability. We join them in their struggle, their stories, their revolution and their voice. It is a day in which a positive message must prevail: people with disabilities are part of society and face day to day joys and sorrows, achievements and failures, like everyone else. They love, work, suffer, play, have desires and goals, laugh, participate, live together, fight. And, just like everyone else, they have their own unique and unrepeatable lives. People with disabilities have taught us, unintentionally, that there are different ways of being and being. And it does not mean worse.

But it is also the day when we have to recognize the long road ahead. People with disabilities want to decide and to be heard. They are not satisfied with always being one step behind others. They want to take risks and be the protagonists of their lives. And this is uncomfortable to hear. Because we still think that people with disabilities are less, they are weak. We remain convinced that they are not ready to be part of the same world as others, when all the evidence points to the fact that it is the context, built around parameters of normality that are still a fiction, which is not able to respond to their needs. It is precisely this idea that is defended when proposing the concept of Functional Diversity, which implies going beyond the medical and social model of previous stages. This term emphasizes, from a realistic stance, the value of diversity as a richness and rebels against the injustices committed, from a large part of the majority, towards those considered different. Since the 1960s, with one of the first initiatives of the Independent Living movement, originated at the University of Berkeley, the social, economic, political and educational discrimination suffered by women and men with functional diversity has been denounced. Historically, there have been many initiatives to combat this discrimination. In March 1990, for example, hundreds of people with disabilities gathered in Washington, D.C., outside the Capitol. They left their wheelchairs, which were left empty and abandoned, on the sidewalk and began to crawl up the 83 stairs of the building. They represent the obstacles they have to face every day, in any of their activities: going to a restaurant, attend to school... They are not asking for favors, they are asking for an end to segregation and to have the same opportunities as everyone else. Recently, in our country, the mobilization of people with disabilities has achieved the unanimous approval by the congress of a reform that recognizes their right to vote, regardless of their way of exercising it and the support required to do so.

However, even with all the progress we have made, there are still important limitations for all people to participate and be recognized as citizens with plenary session of the Executive Council rights. The way in which we have built society means that we have not left room for diversity in many areas (Education, communication, leisure, etc.). We have failed to remove barriers for people who function differently. Often, they have been discriminated against in different areas and for different reasons: fear, insecurity, lack of knowledge, or even, at times, out of their own free will. They have been hindered in their opportunity to live life as they deserve. Fortunately, we have realized that this is not fair. We are obliged, families, administration and society as a whole, to ensure a level playing field. How do we know how far a person can go if they are not offered opportunities to develop their abilities?

This is not the time to look for culprits but to go all together. We must overcome the belief that these people need to be cured, and assume that they require certain support from their environment. It is time to highlight difference as an inherent part of reality and a reflection of human diversity, which does not rob a person of his or her dignity or make him or her less deserving of rights.

One day of celebration a year is the way to spread this message. But, hopefully, the time will come when there will be no need for a date on the calendar to remember something we should never have forgotten: we are all equal and different. And they are not the ones who have to change. A better world for people with disabilities is a better world for everyone. Let's build a new one together. Let's start by celebrating diversity.