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Equal rights for people with disabilities


The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is celebrating its ten-year anniversary. Priscille Geiser, Head of the Support for Civil Society unit at Handicap International, looks back at the history of the Convention, why it came into being, and the progress it has instigated for people with disabilities.

Priscille Geiser, responsable du pôle Appui à la société civile à Handicap International.

Priscille Geiser, responsable du pôle Appui à la société civile à Handicap International. | © Laurence Pozet / Handicap International

On 13 December, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will celebrate its ten-year anniversary, what exactly does this Convention consist of?

Priscille Geiser: The Convention is a human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations on 13 December 2016. It reiterates that people with disabilities have the same rights as any other person. This Convention does not create any new rights, but rather states that human rights are universal and therefore also apply to people with disabilities.

Why was there a need for this Convention?

This Convention was needed due to the high levels of discrimination and inequality that people with disabilities have always been, and still are, subjected to. This discrimination is widespread and includes access to public services, transport, or information. How can I take a bus with my wheelchair? How can I vote in an election if I am deaf or blind and have no accessible information? People with disabilities find themselves in situations of exclusion which prevent them from participating in a range of activities which make up people's social lives.

What does this Convention offer in practical terms?

This is the first text on people with disabilities that is legally binding for the State signatories. The Convention requires States Parties to take measures to fight discrimination. It also presents a different vision of disability by acknowledging that it is society which creates barriers to people with disabilities' full participation - it is not the person with a disability who has a problem. The Convention invites us to celebrate diversity and encourages societies to change how they are organised to ensure that every single person can fully participate and realise their fundamental rights and freedoms. This Convention was a major breakthrough in terms of the defence of the rights of people with disabilities.

What about the Convention today?

The Convention has been ratified by 168 States, representing three-quarters of States in the world. It has been a success, which is indicative of the importance of this fight. The next step is to put into action the measures contained in the Convention. Handicap International receives a lot of requests like these: "Help us to train the police and justice system to take statements from people with disabilities"; "How can we implement an inclusive education system in contexts where resources are very limited?" etc. This testifies to the fact that attitudes to disability have changed considerably in ten years. Now, this needs to be seen in people with disabilities' daily lives. This is what we are working to achieve with numerous local disability rights organisations.

Do some people with disabilities encounter more discrimination than others?

Yes. People with psycho-social disabilities, for example, often suffer more from exclusion as they are deprived of their right to make decisions for themselves within the justice or health systems etc. They do not often turn to the justice system to fight against the discrimination they experience as they are not considered to be citizens in their own right. Their voices are simply not heard.

The cumulative effect of discrimination is often under-estimated. For example, women with disabilities accumulate different forms of discrimination: pregnant women with disabilities are often refused maternity care, young deaf women may be sexually abused because it is known that due to their disability as the police will not take their statements.

One of the main obstacles to the inclusion of people with disabilities remains the adaptability of public services? Are there other barriers today?

Yes, people with disabilities are all too often excluded from decision-making bodies, included neighbourhood or village meetings etc. and cannot take part in making the decisions that affect them directly.  People with disabilities' ability to take part in elections is another major issue…

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