I interviewed Kwame Varga who discussed Human Rights and Disabilities in the Supply Chain.







It’s great to speak with you again, Kwame. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. We’ve done interviews in the past. Today I’m looking forward to hearing your topic on human rights and disabilities in the supply chain. Can you start by providing a brief background of yourself?


Hello, Dustin, thank you very much. It’s great to speak to you again as well. I’ve done supply chain work throughout Russia and central eastern Europe, western Europe, South America, and a little bit in Asia. In the past few years, I’ve kind of evolved away from supply chain in terms of the supply chain processes for the supply chain and taken that understanding into a more sort of human rights focus.


Much of the concept of supply chain management, supply chain understanding, and process management are actually very applicable in the human rights field. Everything really needs a process around it and the understanding of how you sort of produce cause and effect and, thus, demonstrate the needs and the capabilities to meet the needs in the human rights field really kind of come out of supply chain understanding.


Thank you. There are some terms here I’d like to ask you about. Can you talk about inclusion, ADA, and the UN conventions on human rights and disabilities in the supply chain environment?


It’s a very a good question. Much of it starts from the ADA, which is the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s very important to know that the Americans with Disabilities Act came out of civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act of, I think, ’64. Based on that legislation, the concept was to create a foundation that would prevent discrimination toward people who, at that point in time, sort of disabilities were looked at as physical disabilities, whether it was motor, whether it was hearing, whether it was visual. Since then, the ADA has come to encompass autism, has come to encompass PTSD, has come to encompass ADHD, so any number of learning disabilities. Currently, actually, about 50 million Americans classify under ADHD.


One small point—actually, it’s a very large point—is that much ADHD sort of understanding and the spirit around it is, in many ways, most of us will get old, and when we get old, we will have some sort of disability that we will have to deal with. ADHD kind of creates that sort of understanding at an earlier point in our lives that says disability is serious and many of us will have a disability that we will need to deal with, so better to look at it now and better to address it now rather than wait until we are in our sixties or seventies and then have to, in essence, alter our environment and ourselves to meet an environment that’s not suited for the disability when we can start much earlier. Inclusion, in essence, springs from this concept of what you need to do, create, build, design, and it’s inclusive design or universal design that offers the best space, understanding, and utilization for people with any range of disabilities that classifies them with the ADA. Much of ADA legislation and ADA thinking has then gone into human rights conventions because it’s, in many ways, America is somewhat at the forefront, and in some ways other countries are very much at the forefront, but it’s around the same spirit of basically saying one should not and cannot, societies cannot discriminate based on disability and/or race. That’s what inclusion is.


Why is this so important?


It’s important because it’s part of what…it’s interesting. If we take, in essence, one of the most effective presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone with polio and someone who spent much of his last two terms in a wheelchair, whether it was a new idea or whether it was shepherding us into World War II and out, there are significant people in history who have had disabilities. Arguably the smartest man in the world right now, Stephen Hawking, would classify under ADA. The concept of not limiting people based on a physical or mental misunderstanding is paramount to this work.


Again, basically, what the ADA says and what human convention’s saying are if we equip early enough, if we design early enough, if we include early enough, it will allow people to reach a potential that we can’t necessarily understand because of our limited understanding of it. I go back to when the ADA was originally written; it was based off of a civil rights legislation, based on a finite group. As our ideas of, as our technology grows, as our ideas of who we are grow with our environment and with our spaces around us, our concept of actually what is disability also grows, but then again, the concept of what is the ability that is inside of a disability is also demonstrated pretty much all the time. That’s why it’s important; we can’t prejudge someone based on an idea that we’re not really fully capable of understanding. If you include people in the understanding at the beginning, you remove barriers and you remove the ability to, in essence, discriminate. That’s why it’s important.


How is this carried out in practice?


Basically, in terms of supply chain—this is where it sort of comes into play—much of the concepts of universal design and inclusive design is about, for example, urban planning, interior design. It starts very much with architecture and engineering. In terms of building the capacity that people who are—and this is the critical mass of architects and designers and urban planners that think about ADA and think about universal design when they start a design project, when they start, in essence, planning.


It allows for a greater level of accessibility everywhere. One of the things that we understand is that getting students early in to the cause, early in to the understanding of how to design for, how to implement universal design and how to understand universal designs creates living space to the city spaces that are much more permanent and have much more staying power. It’s reverse just in time, meaning, okay, I’m going to have everything there right at the period of time that I need it; here, you have to get on the upstream. You have to get people in on the upstream that are able to carry this forward to reach a critical mass to where we look at the world in a different way. That’s why it’s very important.


Thanks for sharing today on the topic of human rights and disabilities in the supply chain.


My pleasure, really. Thank you for giving me the opportunity. It’s something that’s very important.




About Kwame Varga



Kwame Varga


Project Coordinator

Insititute for Human Centered Design


LinkedIn Profile