The disability protests in the decade 1968-1982 : contesting the western-centric point of view

        The Anglo-Saxon countries are generally considered the main sites that generate protest and emancipatory projects at an international level. Some American and English associations used diverse means of protest (demonstrations, sit-ins, bus chaining, etc.) during the 1970s in order to defend their rights. Sociologists Sharon Barnartt and Richard Scotch listed 97 protests initiated by disabled people and deaf people in the United States between 1970 and 1982 (Barnartt, Scotch, 2001). The actions from the United States and from England share some common goals: the fight against charitable and paternalistic attitudes and discrimination, and the fight for access to self-determination and accessibility. However, mobilisations in the United States distinguish themselves by the way in which they defend a specific community organisation, that is, the centers for independent living founded on mutual aid and consumerism (Longmore, 2003). The English mobilizations distinguish themselves by the revendication of a social interpretation of disability (inspired by Marxism), by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation association (Shakespeare, 1993).

The period between 1973 and 1981 was identified by James Charlton as a crucial period for the disability rights movements at an international level (Charlton, 1998). We think it is necessary to extend this to at least the earlier date of 1968, identified by Michelle Zancarini as the time of a protesting trend at an international level, marked by politicization and aspiration to social change in several social sectors (Zancarini-Fournel, 2008)). The chronology of this protesting decade varies from country to country, but it could be said to last from the beginning of 1960 until 1981.

This decade (1960’s-1981) is characterized by the significant promotion of the disability rights concept at an international level. It starts at the end of the 1960s when several NGOs (Fédération internationale des mutilés, des invalides du travail et des invalides civils, International League of Societies for the Mentally Handicapped, International Society for Rehabilitation of the Disabled) adopt a program of social claims, and ends with the UN’s organization of the International Year for Disabled people in 1981, which also has consequences in 1982. These two factors – the political fervour and the promotion of the concept of rights – act as catalysts inside disability rights movements. In many countries they initiate the increase of a social culture of protest, the regular, large-scale use of protests inside the public sphere in order to defend their rights, and the building of new emancipatory utopias. Continuer la lecture