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The Story of the First Two Nations to Pass Landmark Disability Rights Law

  • When
  • December 2, 2019 12:30–1:30 p.m.
  • Where
  • Open Society Foundations–New York
    224 West 57th Street
    New York, NY 10019
    United States of America
  • Speakers
  • Karin Liza Gutierrez, Pamela Smith, and Claudia Zapata
  • Programs
  • Human Rights Initiative

A Watershed for the Rights of People with Disabilities


In 2019, Peru and Colombia became the first countries to pass legislation that dramatically increases the ability of people with disabilities to take control of their lives.

In recognition of the International Day of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Open Society Foundations hosted a conversation with disability rights advocates directly involved with, and affected by, the passage of this landmark legislation.

The new laws safeguard the right of every person to make their own decisions and to exercise their legal capacity—rights to which most of us don’t give a second thought. The laws guarantee people control over the most basic choices in their lives, control that is often wielded by guardians, courts, family members, and others who believe they know what’s best for people with disabilities. People are routinely denied the ability to vote, open a bank account, sign a contract, get married, and decide where and with whom they want to live. They may be forcibly institutionalized or medicated against their will.

Passage of legislation to defend the right to legal capacity has been a key goal of disability rights advocates since the 2006 adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

At the end of 2018, disability rights advocates celebrated when Peru became the first country in the world to fully recognize the right to legal capacity for persons with disabilities. In August 2019, Colombia became the second country to fully recognize this right. Both victories were led by people with disabilities who had built successful movements, many of whom themselves had been declared “incompetent” before the law.


  • Karin Liza Gutierrez


    Karin Liza Gutierrez advocates with peers and families to enable people with disabilities the liberty to make their own decisions, through the Peruvian Down Syndrome Society.

  • Pamela Smith


    Pamela Smith is executive director of Sociedad y Discapacidad, an organization that played an instrumental role in passing the law ending guardianship for people with disabilities in Peru.

  • Claudia Zapata


    Claudia Zapata manages community-based psycho-education processes at Social Agency for Mental Welfare in Medellin, Colombia.

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