'In democracy, consensus among political parties is necessary'

Under the historic Banyan Tree planted by his father US Senator Edward M Kennedy in 1972, Edward ‘Ted’ M Kennedy Jr shared his thoughts on democracy and disability rights in an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune Associate Editor Abu Sayeed Asiful Islam.

Unspeakable injustice is often planned and perpetrated in plain view – war, genocide, mass incarceration, mob violence, political repression – yet little is done to stop it in real time. What do you feel needs to happen to be able to respond quicker and more effectively to emerging humanitarian crises?

The United States, despite being the oldest democracy in the world, has great divisions between the political parties. We too have a lot of social unrest, inequity, massive income inequality, racial issues as well as homelessness. I think it's important for people to recognize the fact that all countries deal with the growing pains of being a democracy. 

However, I think the important thing, what my father stood for, is making sure that the political power is not concentrated in a single political party or what we call in the United States the tyranny of the majority. 

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It's also important to make sure that even the parties that are not in power can have their say in the things they care about. Otherwise, there will be social unrest when people feel their voices are not being heard. My father believed very strongly that in democracy, consensus building among political parties is necessary.

Your work with disability rights has been an inspiration to us all. How might developed economies and developing economies work together to share best practices and bring down cost-barriers for therapies so that more people in the developing world are better served?

I think despite having access to healthcare, therapies as well as assistance of technologies, one thing the people with disabilities still face is attitudinal barriers. I'm talking about how people feel sorry for people with disabilities -- the low expectations for them to achieve academic and professional successes, having a family, or living in their own apartment -- that often emerge from a lack of understanding. 

Edward M Kennedy Jr along with his wife Dr Katherine ‘Kiki' Kennedy, daughter Dr Kiley Kennedy, son Teddy Kennedy, niece Grace Kennedy Allen and nephew Max Allen stand underneath the banyan tree planted by his father on the Dhaka University campus in 1972, on October 31 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

The wealthier countries might have the means to afford things like architectural accommodations for people with disabilities … However, I think a country doesn't have to be wealthy to begin to think about how we accommodate people with any sort of mental or physical condition as well as to understand that everyone -- no matter our physical or mental condition -- we are all equal. The state must ensure that we all have the equal opportunity to participate. I think some of it is based on economics, but a lot of it is based on how we think about other people and differences. I believe there's a lot the ‘first world' can learn about how we accommodate people with disabilities from the developing world.