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Researchers call for Brazilian government to take action to tackle discrimination against Black people with disabilities

Posted on 15 November 2022

Black people with disabilities are facing systematic racism and exclusion in Brazil, according to a report being presented to the United Nations.

Luciana Viegas, Director of Brazilian campaign group Vidas Negras com Deficiência Importam, gives her oral intevention to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva.

The report highlights how this group is overrepresented in homeless populations, prisons and segregated institutions and faces significant barriers to accessing work, education and good quality healthcare. It also found that Black people with disabilities are often excluded socially and are at a greater risk of violence, with Black women with disabilities the most likely group to experience violence.

The authors of the report are calling on the Brazilian government to improve national data collection on these issues and implement policies to redress human rights violations for Black and disabled people across the country. 

Researchers from the University of York, together with members of  Minority Rights Group International and the campaign group Vidas Negras com Deficiencia Importam (Disabled Black Lives Matter), will present the findings to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva on 16 and 17 November. 


Co-author Dr João Nunes from the Department of Politics at the University of York, said:  “A key problem in Brazil is the lack of centralised data on the experiences of black and other marginalised people with disabilities. We argue that addressing this is a crucial first step for the government as it will provide an evidence base for policies to tackle the discrimination, exclusion and violence highlighted in our report.

“We are calling on the Brazilian government to take urgent action to improve access to education and housing for this community and remove barriers to the labour market. Programmes are also needed to tackle violence against disabled people and support carers so that all disabled people and their families are given the right to a dignified life at home in their communities rather than being segregated in institutions.”


Luciana Viegas, Director of Brazilian campaign group Vidas Negras com Deficiência Importam, added: “Our report is a historical review of the situation of Black people with disabilities in Brazil, since we, the Black population with disabilities, have been marginalised throughout history. Understanding the importance of debating and understanding the situation of Black people with disabilities in Brazil is knowing where we are and have been socially located. 

“It is important so that we put an end to deaths or violence like that of Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, who was tortured to death by the Federal Road Police earlier this year. Stories like this have been constant in Brazil and makes us realise that the majority of the population that have been victims of institutional racism and structural ableism is the Black population with disabilities.”


The report compiles data from NGOs, government databases and national surveys to investigate the extent of the discrimination Brazil’s Black and disabled community faces.  

It highlights how the 2015 Zika epidemic overwhelmingly impacted black women in Brazil, with 77% of babies born with microcephaly to Black or mixed-race mothers.

Dr Nunes added: “The spread of Zika has been linked to poorer sanitation, malnutrition, poor access to contraception and poor living conditions, which are more prevalent amongst black communities in Brazil. 

“Our report highlights how Zika is a key example of how Black people are disproportionately impacted by disability discrimination in Brazil. The children of Zika are now six or seven and they face significant barriers to accessing good quality medical care and education.”


According to the authors of the report, systemic racism and ableism in Brazil have their roots in slavery. Slavery in Brazil lasted 350 years, finally being abolished in 1880. The illegal trafficking of people continued long after this date.  

Particularly concerning is the situation of traditional communities known as quilombolas, descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped captivity and established communities on the margins of the slavocrat society. Their specific needs have often been neglected, and they have been systematically excluded from policy discussions, the researchers say. 


Co-author of the report, Lauren Avery, who is a PhD student at the University of York and Disability Project Coordinator at Minority Rights Group International said: “Discrimination against people with disabilities from minority and indigenous groups is a problem in countries around the world and is by no means unique to Brazil. However our report seeks to encourage Brazilian policy makers to recognise how issues of racism, ableism and poverty intersect, with discrimination disproportionately affecting Black and other minority groups in the country.

“Brazil’s history of slavery and sociocultural conceptualisations of disability as misfortune or weakness have more often placed black people with disabilities in the most vulnerable and violent positions in Brazilian society. Our team’s research on census data also shows that Black people are significantly more likely to live in areas that are wheelchair inaccessible, and with no or inadequate pavements, sanitation, lighting and drainage.

“Our report seeks to increase awareness of these issues in Brazilian civil society and bring the urgent need for action to the attention of the International Human Rights Committee and Brazilian state.”


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