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  • Writer's pictureJuan Pablo Culasso

Beyond Symbolism: Confronting Disability Washing in the Fight for Real Inclusion

I was born blind, and ever since, I have navigated a world that often seems more interested in the appearance of inclusion than in its substance. Throughout my life, and especially in my work as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, I have witnessed and sometimes been an unwitting subject of what I have come to recognize as "disability washing." This phenomenon occurs when companies and organizations adorn themselves with the flag of inclusion, but their actions reveal a superficial understanding and commitment to what this truly entails.

Juan Pablo sonríe mientras lee el Braille instalado en un poste. Al fondo un jardín.
Instalaciones con Braille

In the context of disability washing, inclusion is often reduced to mere symbolic gestures: grandiose statements, marketing campaigns that present us as subjects of inspiration without offering us true protagonism, or "accessible" initiatives that fail at the first contact with reality. I have experienced the frustration of interacting with services and products promoted as accessible, only to find that their design and execution leave much to be desired, highlighting a disconnect between inclusive rhetoric and practice.

These experiences are not mere inconveniences; they represent real barriers that limit our full participation in society. Beyond practical exclusion, they perpetuate a vicious cycle of discrimination, where the public image of progress toward inclusion masks stagnation and even regression in the fight for real rights and opportunities.

The reaction of entities confronted with these criticisms is, unfortunately, predictable. Denial, justification, or superficial commitment are common responses, revealing an uncomfortable truth: they are often aware of the deficiencies in their approaches to disability, but real change demands more than they are willing to offer.

Faced with this reality, I advocate for a radical change in the way we conceive and practice inclusion. The participation of people with disabilities should not be symbolic, but fundamental, not just as occasional consultants, but as leaders and decision-makers in the spaces that affect our lives. Genuine inclusion requires sustained effort, a willingness to listen and learn, and above all, a commitment to action.

Juan Pablo toca una escultura a escala de arte rupestre. A la derecha se observa la placa con descripción en Braille y QR para audiodescripción.
Arte Rupestre en el Museo Tiflológico de Madrid.

This call for change goes beyond companies and organizations; it is a challenge for society as a whole. It must start by recognizing and valuing the voices of people with disabilities, understanding that true inclusion involves sharing leadership and space, respecting the diversity of our experiences and needs.

To my fellow individuals with visual impairments, I urge you to claim your place not just as subjects of rights, but as active shapers of a more inclusive society. Do not let others take the reins of your narrative or decide your path. While support is crucial, it must be just that: support that strengthens your autonomy and respects your leadership.

The fight for real inclusion is arduous and full of challenges, but together, armed with our resilience, knowledge, and lived experiences, we can overcome disability washing. We can build a future where inclusion is a tangible reality, rooted in respect, equity, and dignity for all.

For real inclusion.

Juan Pablo Culasso

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