September is the commemorative month of the struggle for the rights of people with disabilities. However, in 2020 we do not have a reason to celebrate. We were caught by suprise by yet another act of regression in human rights policy of the federal government: Decree nº 10502/20 that institutes the National Special Education Policy: Equitable, Inclusive and with Lifelong Learning.
*By Maristela Lugon
For a simple contextualization of readers who are not familiary with the struggle for the rights of people with disabilities, we have known since the Middle Ages the segregation to which all those people were subjected. Whether by a shapeless body or a restless mind, these people were stigmatized and segregated to the margins of societies. Divine power was used as an argument to keep them away from social life, as they would have been a punishment from God for their parents’ bad behavior.
Wars were another factor that exposed situations of adversity and diversity in human lives. With thousands of young amputees and countless psychological consequences of the battlefields, it was necessary to think about a new model of disability, so that these people could return to normal social standards. The rehabilitating medical vision emerged to dominate this area and there was an attempt to “repair” people with disabilities so that they could return to production and engage in the labor market, so that they would not feel a burden on society.
At that time, special and segregatory schools also appeared. Institutions, which were designed to care for “exceptional” children, with intellectual, sensory and mental disabilities. In that period, shelters and asylums for people with disabilities proliferated. The underlying idea was that these people could live in their own world, far from the reality of their lives.
In the context of the emergence of a new perspective on disability, the social model emerged in the 70s and 80s. Bioethicist Débora Diniz (2003, p.03) states that it was the feminist movement that introduced the issue of care for people with disabilities. Although they seem different social movements, feminism and people with disabilities, both share a history of struggle, oppression
and inequality. The rehabilitating medical model begins to be reformulated from the perspective of the social model, for which disability is the result of social oppression.
With this new way of thinking, global civil society is mobilizing to build a Convention of rights that can recognize and expand the space for the participation of people with disabilities in society.
It is worth mentioning that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – CRPD (UN, 2006), does not create new rights – it only aims at to guaranteeing the enjoyment on equal footing by persons with disabilities to all human rights. The CRPD serves the purpose of promoting, protecting and ensuring the full and equitable enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and promoting respect for their inherent dignity.
For CRPD, people with disabilities are those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which, in interaction with various barriers, can obstruct their full and effective participation in society on equal terms with other people. This Convention breaks physical and attitudinal barriers, those that are in our daily lives, without being noticed.
An example of an attitudinal barrier is the phenomenon of ablism, i.e. the conduct of discriminating, isolating and segregating persons with disability due the prejudice of thinking that if a person has a given disability, she or he cannot perform everyday tasks or more complex tasks. The structural basis of ablism is similar to that of racism, that of misoginy and that of patriarchy, as it is deep-rooted in our culture that, subtly or explicitly, marginalizes its victims.
Inclusive schools emerged within the social model implemented by the CRPD, imposing on States parties the obligation to ensure the right of all people with disabilities to attend regular schools. In the inclusive school system everyone wins, everyone learns to live with diversity in a collective learning. Children who live with people with disabilities learn the importance of collective participation in building an egalitarian society.
Decree nº 10.502/20, distorting the interpretation of the right to inclusive education, equal opportunities, autonomy and independence, brings back special schools (only for people with disabilities) and special classes in schools (spaces segregated within the regular schools). By a
unilateral act, without the hearing of the main constituencies representing this social segment, the government ignores CRPD’s maxim, which was elaborated and elected by the disabled people themselves: “Nothing about us without us”. Do not argue, elaborate or decide anything without the participation of people with disabilities!
Once again, our democracy is attacked and the voice of vulnerable groups is silenced. The Legislative Branch responded to the Decree with the proposition of eight Legislative Decree Bills (01 in the Federal Senate and 07 in the Chamber of Deputies) to stop 10.502/20 applicability.
The Judiciary Branch had already expressed its opinion on the importance of school inclusion, when deciding on the Direct Action of Constitutionality ADI nº 5357, which aimed at a ruling by the Brazilian Supreme Court declaring the obligation of private schools to include children with disabilities unconstitutional.
The return of segregating institutions marks a return to the thinking of the beginning of the last century, where society simply excluded those who bothered it. To remove the opportunity for people to live together in common spaces, especially in schools, is to go back and throw down all inclusive education policies built collectively under the social model of disability. We must remember that the segregation that begins at school, will accompany the person for her or his whole life.
*Maristela Lugon Arantes is a doctoral student and has a master’s degree in Fundamental Rights and Guarantees from the Law Faculty of Vitória – FDV; member of ABRAÇA – Brazilian Association for Action for the Rights of Autistic People and member of the OAB / ES Commission on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.