Progress in Global Disability Rights
The disability rights movement has been going on for decades and has constantly faced the reality that legislation related to people with disabilities has been passed without their involvement or inclusion. Similar to the famous Boston Tea Party slogan, “No taxation without representation,” the disability rights movement has gotten to the point where it’s adopted a variation on that mantra: “Nothing about us without us.”
Since the civil rights movement in the 1960s, people with disabilities have begun to adopt tactics in their own fight for rights—marches, protests, sit-ins, and other demonstrations have been staged to raise awareness of disability rights issues. Such protests eventually led to the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
In 2006, this was followed up with the international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which took a mere three years for the United Nations to negotiate, and boasted one-third of the seats reserved for people with a wide variety of disabilities; delegates with sight and hearing impairments, intellectual and cognitive disabilities, psycho-social disabilities, physical disabilities and others were in attendance.
This treaty was a milestone in creating a cohesive international movement out of what was previously a disjointed and scattered effort. Each smaller group had been advocating for rights for those who shared similar disabilities. Now, thanks to the treaty, the movement is for all people with disabilities with a common goal.
In addition, the treaty has created a large number of human rights innovations, such as the demand that all states who sign on create legal protections for the rights of people with disabilities. The Convention establishes both national and international monitoring mechanisms which allow people with disabilities to go to human rights institutions in their own country to learn about the stipulations of the treaty; they don’t need to go to Geneva.
Not only is the Convention a means to develop and gain access to human rights policies, it has become a platform for people with disabilities to demand inclusion, to come together under one umbrella and work together for monitoring the abuse of rights, and to create reports that can be delivered to the United Nations.
“Disability,” the Convention clarifies, is actually defined as the interaction between social, environmental and attitude-related barriers and the person with an impairment who is affected by those barriers. If, according to this definition, all buildings, services, schools, and places of employment everywhere were designed for wheelchair accessibility, then people in wheelchairs would not have a disability.
However, this particular movement is still relatively new as far as civil rights movements go, and while this Convention represents a huge step forward, there’s still a long way to go. Up until recently, people with disabilities haven’t been included in human rights issues. Though this is likely an oversight more than a deliberate exclusion, people need to start making a greater effort to raise awareness and alter their thought patterns regarding this issue. It starts with each one of us.
U.S. senator Sherrod Brown spoke to encourage ratification of the treaty. We thought you’d like to hear his powerful argument for the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. Why do you think the United States is withholding ratification?