1. Disability: a social construct with many players

“Disability is a social construct, explained Leonor Lidón, professor at the Valencia Catholic University. This is because, beyond injury, it encompasses barriers. And these may be direct or indirect, physical or mental.

“There is often a symbolic violence in the disability,” she added. “When we look at the Venus de Milo —an armless statue— we see a work of art. But when we see a swimmer with no legs or arms, our attention is immediately drawn to what is missing.” Symbolic violence and indirect barriers can sometimes lead to a false sensation of inclusion.

For the needs of people with disabilities to have an equivalent in reality, it is key to ask them, understand first-hand what they need,” explained Facundo Chávez, advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Cities are being redesigned and will end up being home to more than 80% of the global population. But how can we integrate all the people with disabilities?”

One of the possibilities lies in the concept of universal design, a way of developing environments that allows for the greatest accessibility for the greatest number of people. “But there is a problem with this sort of design,” Chávez added, “because you can lose sight of the individual, of each person’s specific needs.” This is why Chávez advocates for a reasonable adjustment to correct for the possibility of ending up with a magnanimous design, with the best possible intentions, that doesn’t actually work when applied in real situations. A bit like Churchill’s response when asked what he thought of the French, as Director of the European Connected Health Alliance Joan Cornet mentioned:  “I can’t say, I don’t know them all.”

Other players involved were also mentioned. Technology is a basic tool for meeting the needs of people with disabilities, “and States are the ones that mobilize resources. We need them to act, and for technology companies to respond to this need,” said Chávez.

“We’re talking about rights, industry, individual care, etc.,” said Sara Rodríguez, president of Federación Provincial de Asociaciones de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica de Córdoba (FEPAMIC). “It seems like we all agree, and we’re just thinking about how to reformulate the message so it arrives, so it makes it through the wall.”

“Speaking has an impact,” stressed Karen Heinicke, senior advisor at CBM.