Fieldnotes: August 2005 Archives

Anindya Bhattacharyya has a story in the New York Times about his travels as a deaf-blind man in the U.S.:

WHEN you are deaf-blind, technology is an ever-present companion. I travel with a laptop for e-mail, phone and Internet access. I use a G.P.S.-equipped Braille Note note-taker to get information about my surroundings. To communicate with others, I have a Screen Braille Communicator with two sides: one in Braille, which I can read; the other an L.C.D. screen with a keyboard, for someone who is sighted.

What is a disability? This is an extraordinarily complex question. The Americans with Disabilities Act was vague on this issue, stating that it was a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." In recent years, this definition has been severely narrowed by several Supreme Court decisions. In Japan, disability is defined medically through specific definitions of certain impairments -- degrees of motion in legs; decibels of hearing loss; etc.

What does the U.N. convention propose? This is an issue that is still under debate. From footnotes to Article 3 of the Working Group text:

12: Many members of the Working Group emphasised that a convention should protect the rights of all persons with disabilities (i.e. all different types of disabilities) and suggested that the term "disability" should be defined broadly. Some members were of the view that no definition of 'disability' should be included in the convention, given the complexity of disability and the risk of limiting the ambit of the convention. Other delegations pointed to existing definitions used in the international context including the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). There was general agreement that if a definition was included, it should be one that reflects the social model of disability, rather than the medical model.

This issue is coming up today as delegates discuss disabilities and secondary disabilities.

When doing archival research in Japan, I had a Canon flatbed USB scanner that could fit in my backpack and ran off USB power. I believe they call the series the LIDE scans. They're quite nice and very cheap, less than $60 or Y7,000. The problem though is that they are rather slow. They also do not have a lot of depth of field, so you really have to PUSH the book onto the bed of the scanner in order to read the text near the spine.

I found that if I was trying to copy a lot of pages, it was faster to set up my Canon 10D on a tripod (Velbon Carmagne) and photograph the pages instead. With the flatbed, I could maybe scan one page a minute, with my 10D, I could photograph over 10 pages a minute. At 6 megapixels, this is just about the same as scanning at 250 dpi. It was also easier to photograph fragile material like rare books, without breaking their spines by forcing them on the scanner.

I was curious about the absence of the United States from the process and asked NGOs about this. Apparently the United States indicated very early on in the process in the second session that they would not be signing the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities:

Day three of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations. We've been talking about draft article 17 of the convention. This has to do with the educational rights of people with disabilities. This is one of the most important articles of the convention and the committee spent much more time debating it than other sections.

P1020002WTMK.JPGI'm writing this right now from conference room #4 of the United Nations in New York, where we're in the 6th session of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. I'm observing the proceedings that are going on this week and next (August 1-12).

Why is there a need for an international convention on disability rights? Aren't people with disabilities covered by previous international conventions on human rights?

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This page is a archive of entries in the Fieldnotes category from August 2005.

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