Human rights of persons with disabilities
Disability and persons with disabilities (Advocacy)
Persons with disabilities are entitled to exercise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights on an equal basis with others. Disability “summarizes a great number of different functional limitations occurring in any population in any country of the world. People may be disabled by physical, intellectual or sensory impairment, medical conditions or mental illness. Such impairments, conditions or illnesses may be permanent or transitory in nature.” (Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities). Different expressions are used when referring to persons with disabilities. For example, the term “differently-abled persons” indicates that disability is not perceived as a deviation from the norm. The term “disabled persons” might be misinterpreted to imply that the ability of the individual to function as a person has been disabled. This guide uses the term “persons with disabilities”, which is consistent with the language used by the United Nations (UN).
The UN estimates that there are 500 million persons with disabilities in the world today. This number is increasing every year due to factors such as war and destruction, unhealthy living conditions, or the absence of knowledge about disability, its causes, prevention and treatment.
The majority of persons with disabilities live in less developed countries where people lack access to essential services such as health care. Moreover, there exists a clear relationship between poverty and disability. The risk of impairment is greater for a family that lives in poverty, while and at the same time, a disabled family member places higher demands on the family’s resources.
Among persons with disabilities, the following form particularly vulnerable groups that face discrimination based on two grounds: women, children, elders, victims of torture, refugees and displaced persons, and migrant workers. For instance, women with a disability are discriminated against because of their gender and also because of their disability.
Development of disability policy
The work of the UN constitutes the most important actions taken by an international organization in the area of disability. Based on the International Bill of Rights, the UN formulated the first specific document regarding disabilities in 1971 in the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons. Important other documents followed but none of them are legally binding. The 1980s mark the main phase of activity regarding establishing international norms pertaining to persons with disabilities. In 1981, the General Assembly declared the first International Year of Disabled Persons. It was followed by the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons in 1982 and the Decade of Disabled Persons 1983-1992. Throughout the 1990s all UN conferences dealt with disability rights and addressed the need for protective instruments (World Conference on Human Rights 1993, Fourth World Conference on Women 1995, Habitat II 1996). At present, the Ad Hoc Committee on Disabilities is involved in a process to create a convention that protects disabled persons on an international level. A high level of awareness is also demonstrated by the European Union, the year 2003 was declared as the European Year of People with Disabilities. Other important regional observances include the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002), the African Decade of Disabled People (2000-2009), and the Arab Decade of Disabled Persons (2003-2012).
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