International Day of People with Disability - Resist to exist!

Leandra Migotto Certeza

24 November 2022

Image description: Color Photo of Leandra, aged 22, when she worked in one of her first reports as a journalist in 2000. The article was about a denouncement of physical accessibility in the means of public transport (buses) in the city of São Paulo. In the image, Leandra is on her back trying to climb the steps of the stairs of a bus that is with the entrance door open and parked in the garage. She is with one hand raised placing the crutch on top of a step and the other crutch resting on the floor. The size of the bus, and especially the steps (which are bigger than half of Leandra's body), show the glaring difficulty for a person with a disability like her (who is 96 centimeters) to use the collective public transportation vehicle. Leandra wears a red blouse, black pants and has white skin, brown eyes and brown hair. (Photo: Personal archive)

People with disability represent 15% of the world's population; that is, one billion inhabitants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the World Report on Disability. It is the largest called minority population on the planet that survives in extreme social inequality, such as illiteracy, unemployment and low income, since 80% of people who experience these situations live in developing countries. In addition, data from the United Nations (UN) reveal that 46% of people aged 60 and over have some disability. One in five women of any age group has a disability, and one in 10 children as well. In Brazil, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 23.9% of the population have disabilities. There are 45 million people (25 million women) who may have been born or acquired disability conditions. And these numbers are much higher after 2 years of pandemic!

The UN has been working since 1992 (year that 3 December was established as the International Day of People with Disability) and more actively since 2006 (year that the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability) to create a world that is accessible, sustainable and respects the Human Rights of People with Disability. In the total opposite of this global effort, the Brazilian federal government (of president Jair Bolsonaro) has, since 2018, a history of gigantic and successive authoritarian decrees, segregationist, welfarist and retrograde measures that have almost ended laws and public policies, conquered more than three decades ago! And other rights are still strongly threatened by unconstitutional decrees of school exclusion and attempted annihilation of place reservations for people with disability in companies and universities!

The damage was only not greater because the social movements that fight for the rights of people with disability protested and continue to resist - bravely and actively - with the bodies that defend the rights of people with disability to advance in the consolidation of the acquired rights. There is no room for setbacks! For this reason, the Brazilian Network for the Inclusion of People with Disability, composed by 18 civil society entities and/or collectives linked to the defense of this population, launched in 2022 the document: “Inclusion Plan - Independent Life, Inclusion in the Community and Political Participation of People with Disability”. It is a set of proposals for a dignified and autonomous life for Brazilian people with disability, such as biopsychosocial assessment, legal capacity, inclusive education, labor market, independent living, social security, accessible culture and communication.

In Brazil, there is an urgent need for effective compliance with legislation, especially the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disability and the Brazilian Law on the Inclusion of People with Disability (LBI 13.146 of 2015). There is no doubt that people with disability in Brazil have broad legislation, which is perverted daily. Therefore, it is not lacking laws that women with disability are mistreated, trampled upon. And yes, for complete lack of compliance with current legislation!

Plural feminisms cannot exclude women with disability!

Stop and think: Where are women with disability today in the countries where you are? Do they live autonomously within their capabilities? When did they start talking? Or do other people still speak for them? Are they heard? Are their human rights respected? Are they the protagonists of their stories? What is the first image of a disabled woman that still comes to mind today? Is it one who is completely physically and emotionally dependent on family or love relationships? Or the one who can choose to be the protagonist of her story, having a network of care and inclusive public policies? Perhaps, the answer is the image of the disabled woman “fragile” and “incapable”, do you know why? Because Brazilian society is still very ABLEIST!

Unfortunately, for Brazilian women with disability who attend or stay in institutions, their place of speech is still not heard! The overwhelming majority of them are also still completely excluded from plural feminisms in the world. They are infantilized, seen in a welfarist and ableist way, without the right to make choices about their lives and/or respect for their particularities and accessibility needs. In addition, there are many in poverty, who are not heard, live tied up in their beds and are unable to denounce their physical and sexual aggressors, especially women with disability who are black, obese, indigenous, bisexual, lesbian, queer and/or trans, as they are triple discriminated against.

The report of the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch entitled: "They stay until they die", carried out in Brazil between 2016 and 2018, documents a series of abuses (including sexual) against children and adults with disability in foster care. Abuse, sexual violence and rape are unfortunately also recurrent within these institutions. And these women can't even scream because they are silenced by staff and family members. And even if they managed to denounce, the Maria da Penha Law (document against femicide crimes in Brazil) only included women with disability 13 years after its existence, through Law 13.836 of 2019. A gigantic delay, which made it impossible to increase the number of complaints, further aggravating the situation of violence against people with disability in Brazil. And, in addition, trans, LGBTQIAP+ and queer women were not contemplated in this law. The ones who most need protection against the gigantic cases of violence and death of this population!

See how alarming the numbers of violence are! The Atlas of Violence 2018 developed by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea), indicated that of the 22,918 cases of rape found in Brazil in 2016, 10.3% of the victims had some disability. Of this total, 31.1% had intellectual disability and 29.6% had a mental disorder. Another shocking fact is that, among cases of gang rape, 12.2% are against victims who have some type of disability. And of 649 mentally disabled people raped, 275 were raped more than once.

What is the place of speech of women with disability in an ableist society?

As a journalist and writer since 1998, my voice is a warning to society about the reality of women with disability in Brazil. My place of speech is of a physically disabled, white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, college-educated woman in the capital city of São Paulo. I can say that I was and still am privileged in many ways. However, in several moments of my life, I was silenced by myself (by internalizing stigmas) and also by others through prejudice and discrimination.

I experienced ableism daily, at a time when it did not even exist in Brazil as an academic concept. It was direct or even veiled exclusion. In the 2000s, my co-worker simply tore out of my desk a list where I was checking the addresses of the units (to which I needed to call and pass on some information) and began to redo EVERYTHING! I had already finished the service and had checked three times to see if everything was right. Only the department manager had the right to correct something; not a co-worker who was in the same role as me. She simply doubted my ABILITY! A complete disrespect and ableism, after all, I already had a degree in Social Communication, and had been selected to occupy that vacancy, precisely because I had the technical and academic conditions to carry out those activities. And in fact, I would be competent and qualified to occupy other functions higher than answering the phone. But this is a subject for another text on professional devaluation allied to ableism.

Another ableist situation I went through was much stronger: when I was already working as a journalist in a small publishing house, I suffered moral harassment when returning from a great journalistic coverage of an important event. I was exhausted and started talking to a colleague about personal matters. When I commented on love relationships, another professional started laughing out loud, mocking me. She even put a pointed object in my face and implied that I wished to be “loved”. Unfortunately, I was totally paralyzed and couldn't react!

Today I am aware that my story is not so different from the stories of many women with disability, whether from birth or acquired. They all had to “kill a lion every day”, just to say that it should not be necessary to “kill a lion every day”. Because they weren't the ones in the wrong place. They were never in the wrong place, even if their families, friends and society in general always pointed the finger first at their differences, instead of noting their human equalities, respecting their limits and encouraging potentialities, without prejudging or oppressing their full social participation.
Like most Brazilian women with disability, it took me more than 30 years to understand that I was never out of the place I always wanted to be. Machismo and sexism ingrained in society, discrimination and prejudice open or veiled in relation to my condition of disability, have always been present in my life for a long time. The most terrible thing is that I could not see each of them as monsters to be fought. I was most of the time fooled and dominated by them without realizing it. The readings and studies on feminism that I have been doing freely as an autodidact, in addition to the therapy sessions, are freeing me and bringing me closer to a true inner empowerment. I hope to continue working as a journalist and writer to amplify the voices of women with disability who cannot be heard and experience violence daily!

How to break the cycles of violence against women with disability?

Breaking the cycles of violence against women with disability requires urgent, active and effective participation in feminist movements! Women with disability have specific needs and form their own collectives and social movements, such as the Helen Keller Collective (@coletivohelenkeller), but they cannot be separated from the agendas of other feminist movements, such as black women, among others. And for this union to happen, the media that addresses feminist content need to include the issues of women with disability in a transversal way; for example, when talking about racism do not forget that there are black women with disability.

I also warn that the participation of women with disability will only be effective if all feminist media respect the laws of digital and physical accessibility. After all, how can women with hearing and visual impairments participate in discussions about violence within feminist portals if they cannot access the content, due to lack of sign language interpreter, subtitles or audio descriptions? And how can women with physical disability be at meetings if the venues only have stairs?

This is why there is also a huge and urgent need for all feminist movements to listen to, access and include all women with disability now! We cannot wait another minute to be stronger TOGETHER in the fight against femicide, machismo, misogyny, discrimination and gender prejudice. After all, all women can acquire a disability at any time (due to violence, traffic accidents and other situations). And for you - people without disabilities - to be allies of the Feminisms of Women with Disability, the Helen Keller Collective gives some tips:

  1. Recognize your privileges as a woman who does not experience disability;
  2. Support protagonism! There are many women with disability protagonists in the struggle, but rarely they find space to bring their agendas;
  3. Reflect on your ableist attitudes;
  4. Remember accessibility in your events, meetings, social networks, in everything! Let's build a culture of access together;
  5. Talk about disability because it is not an "obligation" only for us (people with disability), but when you talk, remember to invite us. After all, as the motto of the Social and Political Movements of People with Disability in Brazil says: "Nothing about us, without us";
  6. Amplify the voice of women with disability and do not devalue what we say;
  7. Build alliances with the movement of women with disability, just as we need allies, we also want to become allies in your struggle;
  8. And remember that we, women with disability, are doing our part to achieve more visibility on our agendas. But we also need many allies. Can we count on you?

Column: "Being a woman with a disability is fighting to maintain rights":
Brazilian Network for the Inclusion of People with Disability:
Atlas of Violence, 2018:
Report of the Human Rights Watch:

Author of the article: Leandra Migotto Certeza is a Brazilian poet, writer, editor and journalist with a physical disability, born in 1977. Bachelor in Social Communication from Anhembi Morumbi University; and graduated in open courses of Literary Journalism-Biographical Narratives and Journeys Of The Hero and Heroine by the EPL School - Edvaldo Pereira Lima (São Paulo). She has worked as a human rights activist for people with disability since 1998. Columnist at the Portal Without Barriers and the International Observatory on Sexuality of People With Disability (Peru); Cultural Mediator at the Vozes Diversas Museum; and Professor in the "Diversity Course - Aspects of Disability in Practice" of the Institute of Psychology Sedes Sapientiae (SP). She conceived and coordinates the “Sunflower Collective – Protagonism of Women Writers with Disability” editing biographies of women with disability through the Janelas Collection. Leandra was awarded by the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society in Peru in 2007, for her project: "Kaleidoscopic Fantasies"; and awarded by the Non-Governmental Organization Society for All in Colombia in 2003, for her chronicle on Inclusive Education in the “Concurso de Periodismo y Comunicación”.

Contact: @leandracaleidoscopica. Portfolio:

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