Disability Rights Are Human Rights

When I was young, German law prohibited children with disabilities from attending regular schools. However my father, who was the only doctor in the village, petitioned the headmaster and told him that he would not treat the headmaster’s children if I was unable to attend the regular school.

The headmaster said this was illegal and that he would call the police. My father unflinchingly told him to call them. I was impressed that my father was willing to go to jail so that I could attend a regular school.  It was this moment that made me realize that I wanted to repeal the discriminatory laws that prohibited me from attending school.

As an adult, in 1981, I organized a protest against the German government. That year the government was celebrating its “achievements” in disability rights through its International Year of Persons with Disabilities. We set up a “cripple tribunal” to publicly accuse the government of violating the rights of persons with disabilities. We called ourselves “crippled” because that is how we felt the government had treated us.

When I first began working in the disability rights movement, I didn’t believe in human rights. As a lawyer, I believed that the human rights field consisted of weak laws that couldn’t be enforced.  

It was not until I began working with the Human Rights Commission and advocates from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that I began to believe in the power of human rights. It took me a while to understand that these rights are important because they go beyond nationality, cultural limits, or religion to find common ground in the international arena. The right to be recognized as a person before the law is one of the basic and fundamental human rights. Prior to the 2006 adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), persons with disabilities were denied this right.

The Convention is not about inventing new human rights. It is important that disability rights are mainstreamed in the general human rights movement and that the catalog of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Rights is tailored to include the context of disability.

Usually during human rights treaties negotiations, you have conflicts between different states or between governments and NGOs. But during the negotiations of the CRPD, you had disagreements among different disability organizations.

One big issue was the question of whether there should be a human right to segregated education. The deaf organizations demanded the right to separate schools for the deaf and hard of hearing so that they could succeed in an environment supportive of their needs and identity.

However, segregated education cannot be a human right since it is inherently unequal. The various disability organizations were able to resolve this tension in Article 24 of the CRPD, which states that every child has a right to inclusive education and includes specific paragraphs with regard to deaf and blind children.

The CRPD is one of the most modern, innovative human rights treaties. Yet its implementation is a larger struggle. The understanding of disability remains complicated even among states that have ratified the Convention.

Disability is a social construct, not a medical condition. A medical model of disability says that it is a problem that needs to be taken care of by doctors or rehabilitation experts. A human rights model says that we need to change policies and laws to be inclusive of persons with disabilities. For example, under the human rights model, laws which allow for legal incapacitation of disabled persons on the ground of mental cognitive impairment are a violation of rights because they deny these individuals the right to be recognized as a person before the law.

The implementation of human rights treaties has to be seen as a process, and this process should include many people and groups across society. It is not sufficient for only governments to affirm their commitment to disability rights.

We also need persons with disabilities and their organizations to understand why human rights are important for them and why they need to fight for their rights. Unless we are empowered to uphold our rights, human rights for persons with disabilities will not become a reality. 

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I am an advocate of disability rights in Kenya and working with National Commission on Human Rights has been of great experience. I appreciate the initiatives of Open Society Foundation towards promotion and protection of rights of Persons with Disabilities world wide and particularly on Legal Capacity (Article 12 of the CRPD). I totally agree that legal capacity is the "mother" of all rights. If one is able to make their own decisions, then they have right to choose which school to go to, whom to live with, when to marry, when to have children , which sport to play, make financial decisions and many other things. Unfortunately status and functional approach are still prevalent in our society and used as justification to strip off persons with disability their capacity to make decisions. lets continue with the campaign: Persons with disabilities are subjects with rights not objects of pity: and Disability Rights are Human Rights.

Bravo, well done. Thanks for quality cc (which some still ignore). While "empowering" and "entitled" are mocked words by some, we know, mega-millions of us, we have rights that are "right" and we will not be called "unreasonable" any longer. Together, we can make a better world. LS/CCACaptioning.org

This is a beautiful video. I hope that many many people will watch and understand, that the goal is to treat all people equally, to meet needs and empower everyone.

Thank you for the very high quality captions, which make the video accessible.

http://ccacaptioning.org – CCAC, the place for captioning education and advocacy, local, national, international (official non-profit membership organization).
http://captionmatch.com – CaptionMatch, the place to find captioning providers, and extra captioning jobs - an exchange (clearinghouse). Supports CCAC, all volunteers.

"Don't Leave Me Out!" short film with subtitles in many languages - if you care about inclusion, please share - http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=w91A_nB4rx0

I am confused. Some of us deal with a multitude of inequalities on a daily basis, for example, legal Aid in Ulster Co N.Y is unable to help anyone now as they are overwhelmed and backlogged. We are in a Lyme Epidemic, and most LLMDs don't accept insurance. I have chronic duel diagnoses and my medications have "disappeared" at least 10 times w/o notice, putting me in a dangerous and debilitated state. The shock & Awes to my system have damaged my sense of trust and stability. I have complex ptsd and the secrecy and intentional withholding of information that has to do with me and others on disability is unequal as Verizon, and organizations who are supposed to be a support are told by the government not to help us, as to make us become more "resilient". Why the secrecy ? We are not all cookie-cutter clones, a one size fits all minority. I need both Western & Holistic medicine. It's dehumanizing, degrading, and almost unbelievable that we have equal-access, or empowering outside resources. I have spent 6 years advocating for my sister; every non-prof door I entered told me they couldn't help. The long and exhausting denial of lyme disease; the witnessing of my sister being treated like a drug seeking individual, even though her extensive medical records are public knowledge, as she went to our congressman half dead. Had it not been for a $3,000 gift to gain access to the right Dr. she would have died. Many have severe neurological disorders as a result of suppressed information by the CDC. Many are damaged but will never be diagnosed. When the 1st deinstitutionalization occurred in the 70s, supports were not in place and many died and became homeless. My personal feelings about disability being chosen as a budget-cutting option instead of using technology for healing instead of world war control, are that it is impossible. Exposure "treatment" on a world society will only create more damaged nervous systems. And speaking of "systems philosophy", it does not work. Oppression does not work, especially in a capitalistic society. Sensitive people know when something is wrong. Why has there been such extreme secrecy regarding "disability" ??? This one question is loaded in and of itself. Thank You, Joy

Thank you for a great article, I however believe in an intergrated aproach towards disability mainstreaming.... many children with disabilities like spina bifida and hydrocephalus among other disabilities need medical care for them to survive and slowly as they grow intergration into their communities becomes fundamental and the social model comes in..... i therefore, think despite the defination on of the medical model towards disability the medical bit is essential for the well being of persons with disabilities..... i really think we need an integrated approach or a holistic approach that is realistic!

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