The University of Iowa

2003: Disabilities in Global Perspective

October 10 - 11, 2003

Conference Coordinators

Dr. Douglas Baynton and Dr. Maureen McCue

The University of Iowa Co-Sponsors

International Programs
College of Medicine
College of Pharmacy
College of Nursing
Office of the Provost: Ida Beam Fellowship


Center for Asian and Pacific Studies
Speech Pathology

Conference Summary

Disabilities in Global Perspective occurred during the European Year of the Disabled, and addressed the definitions, understanding of, and social responses and responsibilities to people with disabilities. The conference featured experts and activists from around the world working and researching in the various fields of disability. Iowansjoined with them in searching for appropriate responses and solutions to the many challenges experienced by this diverse population.

During plenary sessions, panels, and breakout sessions, internationally and locally recognized experts shared their views and experiences on new and emerging concepts regarding disabilities. While addressing global disabilities from the broadest perspective, speakers paid attention to the particular concerns of minorities, women and children with disabilities, and persons with developmental and psychiatric disabilities who may be the most vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination. Practical applications of international norms and standards, and methods of policy formulation, planning, and evaluation from their respective international, national and local perspectives were presented. The conference provided opportunities for networking among interested students, faculty and guest speakers. Activists in the local disability community were present to provide educational materials and poster displays about their programs to interested participants.


According to the United Nations, more than half a billion persons around the globe are disabled as a result of one or more mental, physical or sensory impairments. Approximately 80 per cent of the world's disabled population lives in developing countries. While it can be asserted that any of us are only temporarily abled, the disabled population too often remains the most marginalized, discounted, invisible, and abused sector within any society throughout the world.

Despite efforts of the UN, of powerful international and national disability rights laws, and innumerable disability activists around the world, persons with disabilities frequently live in deplorable conditions, facing barriers that prevent their integration and meaningful participation in mainstream society. Their basic human rights to freedom of movement, to access to education and health care are often ignored. Because they suffer the additive difficulties of their disability, marginalization, and invisibility, their health, especially their mental health may deteriorate even further. Ignorance about the status of the disabled lends support to these gross injustices.

The injustices suffered by these heterogeneous populations are not the only cause for concern. To exclude such a diverse population from mainstream society means an impoverishment for all. Given their diverse challenges, disabled persons are often some of the more creative thinkers and problem solvers among us. Since they have had to learn to survive with significant challenges many disabled persons have developed skills and perceptions the majority population lacks. Awareness of, an acknowledgment of, and support for people with disabilities can only strengthen and enrich our social fabric.

Speaker Biosketches

JoEllen Brainin-Rodriguez
Psychiatrist with the UCSF School of Medicine, and San Francisco General Hospital. Dr. Brainin Rodriquez was born in New York, raised in Puerto Rico and has worked in California since 1970 as a professional and activist for health rights especially for the chronically mentally ill and Latina women. She contributed a chapter on Latinas to a book published last year by the American Psychiatric Association Press on the mental health treatment of Latinos.

Dr. Rebecca Brandt
A volunteer physician with the Holt International adoption service for over 16 years assessing and improving conditions in orphanages, especially those housing children with disabilities. Dr. Brandt, an Iowa native, has traveled and worked in Russia, India, Philippines, Korea, China, Ecuador and Guatemala among others. She is the mother of 8 children, 6 of them adopted internationally, 4 with disabilities.

James Charlton
Former Executive Vice President of Access Living in Chicago and author of Nothing About Us Without Us. Currently working at Access Living and editing their newsletter: The Bullhorn.

Vladimir Cuk
A student in mathematics at the University of Belgrade, is a leading disability rights activist in eastern Europe. He is the Coordinator of the Association of Disabled Students of Yugoslavia, Coordinator of the Yugoslav Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Youth Group, the youngest member of the Disability Council of the Republic of Serbia, and the Founder of the Southeast European Network of Youth with Disabilities.

Anne Finger
A writer of fiction--both short stories and a novel--as well as a writer of creative non-fiction. She has published three books--a collection of short stories Basic Skills (University of Missouri Press); Past Due: A Story of Disability, Pregnancy and Birth (Seal Press) and a novel, Bone Truth (Coffee House Press).

Henry Friedlander
Professor Emeritus of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York and one of the leading scholars of the Nazi Holocaust. Author of Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany 2000, Washington: Gallaudet University Press (256 pages).

Dr. Anita Ghai
Teaches and researches in the Department of Psychology at Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi, India. She contributed a chapter to Disability and the Life Course Global Perspectives, edited by Mark Priestley (Cambridge University Press, 2001) is the herself author of (Dis) Embodied Form : Issues of Disabled Women published in 2003 by Har-Anand Publishers in New Delhi.

Markku Jokinen
Project Coordinator for the Teacher Training Program for Finnish Sign Language Users in the Teacher Education Department at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. In addition to numerous publications in Finnish, he is author of “‘The Sign Language Person’ - A Term to Describe Us and Our Future More Clearly?” in Looking Forward: EUD in the Third Millennium - The Deaf Citizen in the 21st Century, edited by Lorraine Leeson, 2001, and “Linguistic Human Rights of Sign Language Users,” in Rights to Language: Equity, Power, and Education, 2000.

Prof. Robert Miller
Associate Professor with the Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Karen Nakamura
A cultural anthropologist specializing in deafness, civil society, and minority identity movements in contemporary Japan. She is co-editor of Many Ways to be Deaf: International Linguistic and Sociocultural Variation, forthcoming from Gallaudet University Press.

Mark Priestley
Lecturer in the Centre for Disability Studies, University of Leeds. He is author of Disability: A Life Course Approach (Polity 2003) and editor of Disability and the Life Course: Global Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 2001). His first book, Disability Politics and Community Care (Jessica Kingsley, 1999), was runner-up in the British Sociological Association's Philip Abrams Memorial Prize.

He has published papers in Disability & Society, Critical Social Policy, The British Journal of Sociology, Childhood, The British Journal of Social Work, Disability Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Social Policy, Policy and Politics, and the International Journal of Inclusive Education. He is a founding member of the European Network on Disability Studies and a member of the editorial boards of Disability & Society, the French language journal Handicap: Revue de Sciences Humaines et Socials, and the Scandinavian Journal on Disability Research.

Jean Stewart
Founder and Executive Director of the Disabled Prisoners’ Justice Fund, has lectured and published widely across the U.S. and Canada. Ms. Stewart is author of The Body's Memory (St. Martin's Press, 1989, now in its third printing) hailed by The Disability Rag as “the first real novel for a disability rights movement.”

Anne Waldschmidt
A professor of the sociology of disability, social policy, and social management at the University of Cologne, Germany. She is the author of two books: The Subject in Human Genetics: Expert Discourses on the Program and Conception of Human Genetic Counseling, 1945 to 1990 (Muenster 1996), and Self-Determination as a Construction: Subjective Theories of Women and Men with Disabilities, (Opladen 1999). Her main topics of research are the sociology of human genetics and reproductive technologies, bioethics and autonomy, normalcy and disability, self help organizations and social policy