It may have escaped your notice, but today, December 3, is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It has been overshadowed by World Aids Day, which was celebrated on December 1. No worries. You have a good excuse. There are thousands of newspaper articles about World Aids Day in Google News and only a handful about today’s event.
There’s something disproportionate about this, because 33 million people are infected with HIV, but according to The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, 1,000 million are said to be disabled in some way or other. Aids is a killer and therefore far more dramatic than workaday disabilities like dementia, paralysis, blindness, mental illness and so one. But don’t the maimed, and the halt, and the blind deserve a few kind words from the likes of Bono, Elton John and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, too?
The Lancet devoted an editorial to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It points out that world disability is increasing as the world ages and chronic disease rates rise. People with disabilities are often doubly disabled because they often have poor health and must deal with discrimination.
Is one reason for the lack of attention paid to disability the increasing quest for gold star quality of life? Fine words in The Lancet about disability butter no parsnips for children with Down syndrome, for instance. More than 90% are aborted before birth with the connivance of the medical profession, even though these children normally live happy, fulfilled lives. This is sending an unambiguous message that disability is something to be feared and, if possible, eliminated.
The Lancet says that “Providing care with respect and dignity throughout is paramount” for the world’s disabled. However, I fear that we are not on the right path to achieving this. How do you think that our societies will cope with an avalanche of elderly and demented in 20 years’ time? With respect and dignity, or with grudging, tight-fisted indifference?