A historical perspective on disability: From awareness campaigns to social change in consumer engagement

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is celebrated each year on the 3rd of December. First launched in 1992, the event is in its 31st year, marking over three decades of meaningful change for the disabled community.

“Evidence and experience shows that when barriers to inclusion are removed and persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in societal life, their entire community benefits. Barriers faced by persons with disabilities are, therefore, a detriment to society as a whole, and accessibility is necessary to achieve progress and development for all.”

United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Through education, collaboration, and provision of resources, the Spinal Research Institute (SRI) removes barriers that limit the involvement of people with spinal cord injuries in research. It supports them to co-design and co-deliver research that is relevant to their needs and priorities. Actively involving consumers benefits the quality and direction of research, and improves health outcomes for people with spinal cord injury and the wider community.

SRI’s Community and Consumer Engagement Manager, Antonio Vecchio, shares his thoughts on the significance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

“In my role in consumer engagement within the disability sector, my experiences are deeply informed by historical developments in disability rights and the evolution of the social model of disability. The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 stands out as a landmark event, reflecting a global shift in understanding and addressing the needs of people with disabilities.

This period marked a significant transformation in the disability narrative, moving from a medical to a social model. The social model, a direct outcome of various awareness campaigns and advocacy efforts, emphasises the societal barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, rather than focusing solely on their impairments. This shift resonates with me both professionally and personally, as someone living with a disability.

My role involves engaging with individuals with disabilities, ensuring their experiences and perspectives shape the research and outcomes that affect them. This is in line with the principle of “Nothing about us without us,” a core tenet born from the historical advocacy movements that sought to place people with disabilities at the forefront of conversations about their lives.

Through my interactions both personally and professionally, I aim to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about disability, informed by the historical context of the social model of disability. These engagements are opportunities to further the cause of inclusivity and accessibility, drawing on the lessons learned from past awareness campaigns.

This historical perspective enriches my work in the disability sector, emphasising the importance of understanding past struggles and triumphs in shaping a more inclusive and equitable future.”

Find out more about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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