Global Disability Culture 101

Disability communities around the world represent some of most diverse aspects of humanity.

From country to country, you will find there are vastly different views on disability that are based on your ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, and disability type. Local politics, laws, geographic setting (rural versus urban), existing services for people with disabilities, and more add another layer of complexity to disability culture and identity.

Local people might assume you are relatively wealthy simply because of your country of origin and/or your ability to travel and treat you differently than local disabled people. On the other hand, your disability might offset the imbalance that can exist between citizens of richer and poorer countries. Some people experience more attention because of gender roles that are different in the host country than because of their disability.

Cultural Views on Disability

People with disabilities live in every country. But, the degree to which they participate in society (school, work, community life) is significantly influenced by the cultural roles and expectations placed upon them. People with disabilities may be:

  • Included in their communities and in leadership roles
  • Protected from the outside world by their families
  • Exploited or neglected and begging on the streets
  • Valued or limited in community roles or employment areas
  • Isolated in institutions with restricted rights as citizens
  • Perceived as religiously superior or closer to God
  • Educated in segregated or mainstream settings
  • Excluded from full involvement due to a lack of resources, including adaptive equipment or services, accessible transportation, and other barriers

In some cultures, there is shame attached to being disabled that comes from a belief that one’s disability is caused by that person or his/her immediate family having done something wrong, by black magic or by some ancestral sin. In other cultures, it is seen as an individual condition and accompanied by attitudes of pity or respect for diversity.

Regardless of the specific perceptions of disability and the terminology used in the country you plan to visit, know that your participation as a person with a disability from another country is critical in influencing global perceptions of disability. You have the power to positively influence communities of people with and without disabilities wherever you travel.