Today is international day of disabled people. Although there is still much to be done to ensure disabled people, like myself, have true equality and full inclusion in our countries, I must admit that a lot of positive progress has taken place. In this post, I wish to share a few thoughts on one such important development - the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People by the United Nations.
The Convention is a significant step forward because it redefines the old idea of ‘disability’ that predominated action in the field of disability which was mainly medically based favouring treatment and rehabilitation, to one that acknowledges that a large part of disability is created by an society that takes little or no account of those members having sensory, physical or intellectual impairment, mental health issues or other hidden conditions. In short, the Convention introduces the idea that disability exists in relation to factors that are, for the most part, external to the person. This relational model shares many features to the social model (despite the fact there are differences).
That is why when the Convention was formally adopted by the UN on December 13th 2006, one can say that we made a breakthrough insofar as having our rights finally acknowledged and the fact that our disability is mainly due to the failure of society and the environment to cater for our physical or mental differences. In short, finally we had a tool by which we can direct our governments to ways in which they can truly provide us with our human rights. It’s true that there are countries which haven’t yet signed it, and even less which ratified it but, I think, it’s up to all of us within the disability community and our allies who must make our voices heard. It can be frustrating, I know, but we must own the struggle to ensure that disabled people don’t remain simply objects of pity and charity but they are involved in society on an equal level to that of non-disabled people.
A final point I wish to make that I think is important is that the UN Convention is not creating new rights that are specific to disabled people. Rather, it is providing states with clear practical guidelines on how to ensure our rights are safeguarded and necessary action to achieve equality is taken. In truth, if you consider that impairment can affect all of us at some point in our lives, especially in old age, the Convention is also there to ensure that the quality of life of the future you will not regress just because you have acquired an impairment. Inasmuch as this day is one dedicated to disabled people, it is also a day that reminds me of the fact that we should celebrate difference and our ability to strive on in spite of the obstacles we still face in our society and our environment.
To read or download the UN Convention, please visit the UN Enable website where you’ll also find a lot of other useful resources related to the Convention.