The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
By Dr. Penny Hartin — Read full transcript
In this webcast Dr. Penny Hartin, CEO of the World Blind Union (WBU), talks about United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At the WBU, Dr. Hartin has been working on behalf of blind and visually impaired persons in over 180 countries around the world and has over 27 years of senior management experience in planning and implementing rehabilitation and support services for blind persons in Canada. This webcast presents an overview of the work of the convention and the challenges faced in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities.
Chapters: 1 – Introduction, 2 – Hurdles in Implementation and Progressive Realization, 3 – Addressing Issues Specific to the Deafblind/Visually Impaired Community, 4 – Recognizing the Voice of the Parent and Their Child.
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CHAPTER 1: Introduction
DR. HARTIN: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — we’ll shorten it to CRPD because it’s easier — was a convention developed through the United Nations system to protect and enhance the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide. It has now been ratified by 130 countries, so over two-thirds of the countries that are members of the United Nations have now signed on and are committed to improving the situation for people who have disabilities around the world.
NARRATOR: In a photo, we see a mother in China supporting her son as he stands at a small, low table. The boy has just been fitted with a pair of eyeglasses with thick lenses, and he stares intently at a set of shiny keys on the table.
Next, we see a mother and her child in a classroom in India. The child, who is multiply disabled, sits supported in her mother’s lap. The young girl, who wears glasses, laughs and smiles as her mother guides the child’s hands and arms as they play with a pile of brightly colored plastic balls.
DR. HARTIN: I would say the impetus started probably about 25 years ago when there was a desire to have some type of international instrument to protect the rights of people who had disabilities. The United Nations developed what was called a U.N. Plan of Action to help promote the rights of persons with disabilities, and some progress was made.
Then in the 1990s, they put in place what was called the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, which is a huge, long name, but it had very voluntary guidelines to improve the situation worldwide, but because they were voluntary, there wasn’t… the implementation didn’t really happen and there wasn’t much progress made.
So those who were involved in monitoring those standard rules got quite involved through the U.N. system to promote a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as there are conventions for other types of disabilities. So it was believed then that by still including the rights of persons with disabilities in all other U.N. conventions because if a person’s a disabled person, they’re also a person — that comes first, obviously — but by having a special attention paid to persons with disabilities, then it was felt that more progress could be made and more focus could be put to the unique needs of people who have disabilities.
CHAPTER 2: Hurdles in Implementation and Progressive Realization
DR. HARTIN: Disability is both a cause and effect of poverty, unfortunately, so what you’ll find is that in the poorer countries of the world, there aren’t enough resources to provide the proper supports and programs for the general population.
So then in that case, there simply aren’t the resources to provide the extra assistance that’s needed for people who have disabilities.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, we see two young boys who are blind sitting at a table in a classroom in Cuba. On the table are a few large Lego pieces that the boys can stack and play with.
DR. HARTIN: A good example would be the situation of education. Here in the United States, it would be expected that every child who has a disability, including those who are blind, will go to school whether it’s in the regular school system, whether it’s in a specialized school program, such as here at Perkins School for the Blind.
In many parts of the world, in developing countries, less than ten percent of children who are blind would have the opportunity to go to school at all. So if they come from a rural village, they’re probably not going to get any opportunity to go to school to learn the literacy skills and so on. That’s the situation for education. It would be similar for health care, it would be similar for access to rehabilitation and also certainly for employment.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, we see a young Brazilian boy who is multiply disabled sitting supported in his wheelchair at a table while eating lunch with his schoolmates. We also see him with several classmates gathered around his wheelchair desktop as they work together on an assignment. They boy’s inclusion into the regular classroom was aided by teacher training provided by the government.
DR. HARTIN: This is the first convention passed by the United Nations that includes the concept of progressive realization, and what that means is that for certain elements of the convention, it’s recognized that it’s going to take longer for some countries to fully implement all the provisions that are included in the convention. It’s expected that political and social rights are there at the outset — for example, that people with disabilities would have the same political rights or the right to vote and the same right to livelihood and so on.
But it is also recognized that to have a fully inclusive education system, for example, to provide full access to health care, rehabilitation, to deal with all of the issues that are included in the convention including such things as, for example, accessibility, accessible environments, accessible information and so on, that’s going to take longer and it’s definitely going to take longer in some developing countries that simply lack a lot of resources. So the concept of progressive realization, then, is that as the implementation process takes place and as the country is reporting on it, then they show progress and they show what their plans are to help them move towards the end goal and that they demonstrate progress at each of the reporting cycles.
CHAPTER 3: Addressing Issues Specific to the Deafblind/Visually Impaired Community
DR. HARTIN: An element that we fought really hard for was the protection of specialized schools. We believe very strongly that it’s important for children to be educated within their community in an inclusive environment.
However, we also understand that it’s very important for children to get the best possible education in the least restrictive environment, and sometimes specialized schools can provide that very important specialized education in the Braille and in the techniques of blindness that just might not be available at the village level.
So we wanted to protect that. We had to fight very hard for that, we had to fight very hard for that. The blindness community, the deaf community and the deafblind community fought very hard for that.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, we see four students in a classroom at a school in China for students who are blind. All of the students are creating pages of Braille on Perkins Braillers.
Next, we see a photo of six young students in a classroom at a school in Bangladesh for students who are deaf. Three of the students in the photo wear bilateral hearing aids.
DR. HARTIN: There were other disability groups that really believe only in inclusive education in the classroom and not for specialized schools for a whole variety of reasons, so we were very careful in crafting the articles for the convention and crafting what the needs were to ensure that we weren’t agreeing to things that might compromise the education for children later on and that would give us the ability or give the governments and educators the ability to provide the best possible education.
So the article tries to deal with those issues. It tries to deal with the importance of Braille in the specialized skills, it tries to deal with the shortage of qualified instructors and the importance of having qualified instruction and resources, learning materials that are going to be in accessible formats for what the child will need, for free education up to at least a certain age, up to at least the end of elementary school —I mean, it would be wonderful if there was free education throughout the age ranges, but we have to start somewhere — and that it be compulsory for children with disabilities as well.
CHAPTER 4: Recognizing the Voice of the Parent and Their Child
DR. HARTIN: There is an article that deals with the rights of the child, just to draw attention to the particular needs of children who have disabilities but also to listen to the voices of children and listen to the voices of parents, and I think the parents play such a key role in the education of their children in helping their children develop to their potential and understand what their abilities might be that I think that for them to become familiar with what the UNCRPD has to offer them and the opportunities that are there, then I think that can be encouraging to families, and also to perhaps provide a bit of a road map for them in terms of what they can expect in the future for the children.
NARRATOR: In a classroom in Guatemala, we see a group of mothers sitting in chairs across from their children, who are disabled. The mothers are holding musical instruments such as shakers and tambourines and they are smiling as they watch their children’s reaction.
DR. HARTIN:Now in the U.N. system and in individual governmental systems, when they’re looking at any policy direction and they’re looking at the implementation of any of their other treaties, they’re now always including, “What is the impact for persons with disabilities?” So having a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has heightened the awareness.
It’s raised the bar, if you will, for other programs and services at the international level that will then be carried forth to the regions and then at the country level and so on. So that’s one thing which is important, I think.
Another factor is that yes, we do see progress in a number of countries. Many countries around the world do take the convention very, very seriously. They have put in place implementation committees that include persons with disabilities, that include disabled persons organizations in looking at what their implementation plans can be, how do they start making progress, and that we are seeing people with disabilities who are being elected to senior positions within their governments.
We know of many blind senators around the world, for example, and in Barbados, a young blind woman is the president of the senate.
NARRATOR: In a photograph, we see the president of the Barbadian senate, KerryAnn Ifill, hugging a young teenage girl at an awards ceremony.
DR. HARTIN: I can’t say that all of this attention is specifically because of the UNCRPD, but I would say that it’s been a factor and it will continue to be a factor because attention is being paid to it.
NARRATOR: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted on the 13th of December, 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and was open for signature on the 30th of March, 2007.
There are currently 158 signatories to the Convention, 139 ratifications of the Convention, 92 signatories to the Optional Protocol and 79 ratifications of the Optional Protocol.
It is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century and it is the first human rights convention to be open for signature by the regional integration organizations.
The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.
As of the recording of this webcast, the United States has not ratified the Convention. It is expected to come up for a vote shortly. Perkins has been tracking and supporting the U.S. effort towards ratification.
More information can be found on the Perkins website at perkins.org/ international-programs.