You can Learn a lot about SociaI Innovation by paying attention to the World of Disability

It is no surprise innovations abound in the world of disability. They comprise the largest minority group in the world, 1.2 Billion. When you factor in parents, siblings, other relatives as well as friends and caring professionals the minority tilts in favour of a small majority. Having spent the past 15 years in the field of social innovation I’m convinced it has a lot to learn from the world of disability.

Here are ten examples:

  1. Nothing About Us Without Us – A rallying cry for those without power to assert theirs. Not just in the face of the mighty who determine laws and control purse strings but also from those who benignly decide what is in other people’s best interests.
  2. Philosophy of Normalization – Make sure the cultural values associated with the means and methods you use are not undermining your objectives to achieve justice and impact.
  3. A Good Life – The goal, nothing short of a good, full and meaningful life for everyone. Professional services, targeted interventions, technologies and techniques should respect and supplement a good life not supplant it.
  4. Local Area Coordination – Communities and neighbourhoods are abundant with talented people and local resources. It is better to mobilize those assets before seeking help from outsiders (funders or professionals.) Otherwise community resilience is eroded.
  5. Individualized Funding/ Direct Payments – If programs and services are necessary then provide the dollars directly to the individual or family. Trust them to decide what to spend the money on. Otherwise you reinforce client-hood instead of nurturing citizenship.
  6. Label Jars Not People – Tossing around labels and categories like the poor, homeless, refugee, disabled, Indigenous, climate denier and uneducated negates the unique and complex makeup and background of every human being.
  7. Power in Vulnerability – Denying our vulnerability makes us more fragile. Accepting our limitations and interdependency is critical to our salvation personally and environmentally. Acceptance is not resignation but enhanced awareness and consciousness about the way the world is.  
  8. Diversity is lifeIf you take diversity out of the equation things die. Specialization reduces resilience. The quest for perfection of nature and humans is a Faustian bargain, (Ex’s genetic manipulation of seeds, gene editing of humans, transhumanism, singularity, fish farms, neuromorphic engineering.)
  9. The Yearning to Belong is Universal – Becoming human is about belonging, interdependence, reciprocity, caring and our obligations to each other. The cry of the heart is universal whether from exclusion, rejection, humiliation, being lost or searching for meaning and purpose.
  10. Movements Merge Over Time – Staring with families post world 2 uniting to challenge attitudes that led to segregation and exclusion; leading to the first UN Charter ever – Human Right of People with Intellectual Disabilities; diverging to birth the independent living movement; and accumulating in the movement for inclusion where “all means all.” Trickles become streams become tributaries become mighty rivers.

There are plenty more where these came from. The impact-ability within the disability world is a force powered by toughness, discipline, focus, wisdom and love. It’s a force worth paying attention to.


 “Disabled First, Everyone After,” motto of MIT’s Media Lab.

Musical selection this post is Scared, Too by Christa Couture who knows a thing or two about labels. Support her music.


Time for a Charter of Human Obligations

The Truth About Vulnerable

Caring is the Common Ground of Democracy

The Face of the Other

Systems Change Won’t Happen Without a Resurrection of the Ordinary

History’s Omission – Caregivers

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It


 Share with others

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>