Approximately 10%-15% of the world’s population is estimated to be disabled and this number is expected to rise in the next decades. How did disability become a global concern and how can the concept be understood in a multicultural world?

This European Research Council-funded project seeks to answer these questions by undertaking the first study of the far-reaching implications of the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP), a landmark event organized by the United Nations in 1981, which appears to have gone virtually unrecognized in scholarship. Its hypothesis is that the International Year, together with its counterpart, the International Decade of Disabled Persons (1982-1993) was the most significant watershed in the modern history of disability, which placed this issue into a global context. By focussing on four closely-related themes, the project examines the interaction and tension between the universal and particularistic aspects of disability.

There will be four closely-related objectives:

  1. To examine the IYDP’s impact on human rights discourses and to scrutinize their applicability within global settings.
  2. To document the IYDP’s contribution to emancipation and social change and to consider the different trajectories of emancipation in various parts of the world.
  3. To assess the ways in which the IYDP influenced everyday life experiences, galvanized identity formation and inspired the emergence of a distinct subculture.
  4. To analyze the transnational exchanges and knowledge transfer in conjunction with the IYDP and to examine how the Western oriented discourses penetrating the developing world interacted with the local environment. The project’s innovative contribution and primary impact lies in connecting the IYDP to broader political, social and cultural processes in the last quarter of the twentieth century and thereby bringing disability in a global context to the attention of mainstream historical scholarship.

Full project description (pdf).