Cultural Responses to Disabilities

Ozi Ojukwu / 4.9.2019

What comes to mind when you think of the term disability? Maybe you think of someone paralyzed in a wheelchair, or someone with a neurological disorder, such as cerebral palsy. Whatever comes to mind, people with disabilities should be treasured and respected as unique individuals, no matter their nationality. It can be helpful if we understand the cultures individuals are coming from because different cultures respond differently to disabilities. In this article, we’ll be looking at the cultural responses of East Asia, India, and Africa.

In East Asia, which includes such countries as Japan and China, many people see disabilities as something to be overcome or pitied. This is because the culture isn’t built to accommodate people with disabilities. According to an essay from aeon.co, Chinese people who have a disability are highly unlikely to find work: “Only a quarter of disabled people are able to find any form of employment.” In Japan, the response is much the same, but perceptions in both China and Japan are beginning to shift. Matthew Hernon, writing for the Tokyo Weekender, states, “In April 2016, a new law was enacted aimed at eliminating discrimination against individuals with either physical or cognitive disabilities” These shifts began with the amendment of the Act on Employment Promotion of Persons with Disabilities back in 2013, which raised the legal employment quota for people with disabilities from 1.8% to 2.0%. While many companies still fall below that number, the “employment rate of individuals with disabilities has continued to grow year by year over the past decade.”

In India, the majority of disabled people reside in areas where help and rehabilitation is not readily available, according to a study by Roy, Kumar, and Kar for the National Institutes of Health. But like East Asia, India is also making strides to make resources more readily available to those affected by disability.

The African response to disabilities plays out in the public sphere. In West African Nigeria, access to public facilities is limited for those with disabilities, according to Voice of America (VOA). Stanley Kwenda reports that in Zimbabwe, stigma also surrounds the disabled, who desire to work but are perceived as a “nuisance”. Their opportunities are hindered by the fact that the social structures aren’t built with the disabled in mind. However, Africa is also moving towards opening up more opportunities for the disability community.

As we have seen, for these situations to change, people have to switch their perceptions of disabled persons from useless to valued members of society. While it may be a slow process, it is a blessing to see that there have been advances in these countries to help their disabled citizens. In the second installment of this series, Makenzie Cochran will be exploring what different organizations are doing to assist the disability community around the globe.


Hernon, M. (2017, February 9) Why is Japan still biased against people with disabilities? Retrieved from https://www.tokyoweekender.com/2017/02/why-is-japan-still-biased-against-people-with-disabilities/

Human Resource Watch. (2018, April 3). India: Remove Hurdles to Justice for Women with Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/03/india-remove-hurdles-justice-women-disabilities

Kwenda, S. (2010, April). Africa’s disabled will not be forgotten. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2010/africa%E2%80%99s-disabled-will-not-be-forgotten

Kumar, S.G., Roy, G. & Kar, S. (2012) Disability and Rehabilitation Services in India. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. 1(1), 69–73. Palmer, J. (2014, February 17). Crippling injustice. Retrieved from https://aeon.co/essays/what-is-life-like-for-disabled-people-in-china


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