“People with disabilities have the right to be fully-fledged members of
[07/08/06] A new human
rights treaty may be agreed later this month. A committee within the United
Nations is meeting to finalise a Convention on the Protection and Promotion
of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Such a document is
Of course, all agreed human rights norms already apply to people with
disabilities, including the provisions against all forms of discrimination.
Several treaties such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and
the Revised European Social Charter go further and specifically mention the
need for positive measures to facilitate an active participation of disabled
persons in the community.
The new UN convention will serve the purpose of bringing together all these
standards in one comprehensive document. This will also support the 10-year
action plan that the Council of Europe recently adopted to promote the
rights and full participation of people with disabilities in society.
There is an urgent need to stop discrimination against the disabled. The
simple principle that society must adjust to the needs of all people is just
not respected in reality and Europe is no exception. City planners have
still not taken into account the interests of persons in wheelchairs in many
places. People have even been prevented from voting because there was no
ramp to the polling booths!
Deaf and blind people are often excluded because the state does not provide
support to simple aid technology. Schools in several European countries are
not ready to meaningfully accommodate children with disabilities. Efforts
for inclusive education have been half-hearted, if not totally absent.
So-called special schools are sometimes of a lower quality and do not
provide the necessary skills for the open labour market. Job opportunities
are also limited due to discriminatory practices and physical barriers in
the workplace, on public transport or at home.
The treatment of mentally disabled persons is, sadly, scandalous in some
countries. Many of them are kept in institutions that are no better than bad
prisons. Staff in these places have low status, are badly paid and have no
resources to support genuine rehabilitation.
I have received reports from credible non-governmental organisations –
including the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre in Budapest – that so-called
cage beds still are used in psychiatric hospitals in some European
countries. Such forms of malpractice must stop.
Charity is not enough. What is needed is a solid recognition that persons
with disabilities have human rights. This requires a combined approach: both
support for the individual and changes within society as a whole.
• We need to provide for healthcare, rehabilitation and the necessary aids
and equipment to support the individual to live as independently as possible
in his or her society.
• At the same time we must work towards a society which is accessible for
all. This is a society where persons with disabilities have equal access to
education, employment, legal and social protection and where everyone has
equal opportunities to participate in the life of the community.
The way forward will require political will and systematic work. The
existing situation should be evaluated, areas of progress identified, and
determined measures taken to address the problems. Follow-up and evaluation
are crucial if the work is to be effective and is to meet the new
Of great importance is the involvement of the persons themselves, both at
the individual level and through their organisations. Respect for
differences, individual autonomy, freedom of choice, participation and
inclusion should be the guiding principles of these efforts.
European governments which believe that all persons are equal in dignity and
rights ought to give priority to this issue and prepare effective measures.
This would also make them prepared for the new International Convention and
the Council of Europe action plan.
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