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Discrimination on grounds of disability, or WHAT IS IT?

Discrimination on grounds of disability covers any restrictions, discrimination or disadvantaging of people with disabilities that prevent them from enjoying political, economic, social, cultural or civil rights in the same way as other persons. It is an unreasonable, unequal treatment of individuals by state authorities or other persons who have certain powers, competence or move within environments where people depend on  one another in a certain way. The state should oversee that society does not disadvantage people only because their physical or mental abilities differ from those of the majority population.

Who are persons with disabilities?

Persons with disabilities are people with a long-term physical or mental disability. Their disabilities may prevent them from a full and effective engagement in a public life on equal footing with other people, i.e., those without disabilities.

Disabilities particularly differ from any disease or illness in that they represent a permanent or long-term damage to health, which affects the working, social and private life of disabled persons.

There are various types of disability:

physical disabilities – cover disorders in organs of movement. People with physical disabilities are those with impaired mobility.

sight disabilities – involve permanent sight disorders; based on the type and stage of a sight disorder, people with sight disabilities are divided into blind, purblind, partially blind, persons with bipolar sight disorders, etc.

hearing disabilities – cover hearing disorders. Based on the severeness of the disorder, we can speak about partially or completely deaf persons.

chronic diseases or disabilities – include incurable diseases and disorders with a severe impact on the life of a patient: e.g., diabetes, celiac disease, haemophilia,  cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, etc.

mental disabilities – cover permanently impaired mental abilities that result in a worsened information exchange between patients and their surrounding, problems with self care and life skills and some social situations.

psychological disabilities – cover incurable psychological disorders. They primarily affect emotional life, feelings and behaviour. People with psychological disorders do not usually suffer from a mental disorder; their intellect remains unaffected.

multiple disabilities – some people may suffer from two or more types of disabilities at the same time (e.g., people with both physical and mental disability, diabetic patients with amputated limbs, the deaf-blind – people suffering from both sight and hearing disorders, etc.).

Discrimination against people with disabilities is often based on prejudice or community’s ignorance of their life, abilities and limitations. Sometimes, discrimination “only” takes the form of overlooking or ignoring, which translates into creation and growth of barriers in society and attitudes of people who have no direct experience with disabilities.Such barriers prevent disabled people from participating in social and community activities.

Who discriminates?

When disability-based discrimination occurs, it is important not only to say who is a victim of such discrimination, but who discriminates, as well.

The state discriminates through its representatives, i.e., public servants, police officers, customs officers, prosecutors, judges, etc. Discrimination often occurs with people who have a certain authority over the others, or a right to decide on affairs relevant to the others. They may include, for example, a teacher sitting on a committee approving school applications, a local government officer presenting a citizen’s request at a municipal authority meeting or a labour office employee providing information to citizens on available job opportunities.

Providers of public/community services can also be involved in discrimination; for example, a café or swimming pool owner, a public bus driver.

Discrimination may also occur with an employer recruiting and hiring a new employee, or a supervising officer who decides on bonuses or career promotion of their subordinates.

Colleagues at a workplace can also be those who discriminate – for example, by mocking, humiliating, slandering or encouraging to discrimination because people share a common environment at the workplace, communicate together, and results of their joint work, as well as remuneration of workmates often depend on cooperation with others. Equally, discriminatory behaviour can also be seen among classmates.

A condition that must be fulfilled in order to recognise a certain treatment as discriminatory is that a person who discriminates has the powers or rights, provides services or goods to others, or coexists with other people in a certain closed environment where people depend on each other in a way.

The fact is that discrimination primarily occurs against groups of individuals who are, in a sense, “weaker” than others. Reasons may vary; they may be different than a majority, or they may be ridiculed or despised for being physically underdeveloped, ill, less educated or less informed of their rights, as well as on other grounds. One can suppose that people with disabilities have no abilities, knowledge or energy to go and complain to the police or take recourse to courts to solve their problems. Of course, it does not always have to be true, but such a generalised approach (also known as a stereotype) can be a reason for the police or other public and private institutions to underrate complaints of disabled people and give less weight to the protection of their rights than to the protection of the rights of “healthy and strong” ones.

Hence, discrimination is an unreasonably different treatment that is unfavourable to a person whom it concerns.However, situations exist where different treatment by state authorities or private individuals has its rational grounds and is inevitable under given circumstances. In such situations, different treatment is not considered discrimination.

For example, it is obvious that a requirement of perfect sight and possession of a valid driver’s license is justified for applicants for a job of a public bus driver. Persons with impaired sight could not complaint for being discriminated against if they were denied to apply for such a driver’s job. However, if an XY city transport authority adopted an internal regulation requiring all its employees to have a valid driver’s licence, a discrimination complaint could be submitted because this would limit possibilities of disabled people and constitute indirect discrimination against such people. It is evident that even though a transport authority is involved, there are a number of jobs (in offices, workshops, etc.) for which applicants do not have to be fit to drive a car.

There are also other professions which have stringent requirements on excellent health conditions and physical fitness of applicants (for example, rescue professionals, police officers, professional soldiers, private security officers, etc.). Nevertheless, a reasonable review of qualification requirements for a particular job often reveals that, for example, not all police officers have to deliver arduous physical fieldwork daily. Given a multitude of administrative jobs in each sector, the physical fitness requirement is rather a formality, reflecting employer’s reluctance to adapt requirements to match the needs of a particular job position.

Discrimination on grounds of disability can be viewed from a slightly different perspective than discrimination on other grounds because it may concern each of us, under certain circumstances. If someone is born white, Slovak or catholic, they are unlikely to face discrimination on grounds of race, nationality, sex or religion inSlovakia.

However, anyone can be a victim of disability-based discrimination. In a car accident, for instance, it only takes a few seconds to change a healthy man in his prime to a person with severe physical disability, or a woman with a perfect sight into one with a sight impairment. Despite the achievements of the modern science, no one can be hundred percent sure that their child or grandchild will be born without some kind of disability/disorder. Many realise only then that there is a multitude of barriers which the majority population – i.e., people without disabilities – is not aware of at all until they meet with a world of people who have to struggle with such artificial and often pointless obstacles so that they could participate in society.