Published in the O&M Division newsletter Winter, 2007


United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Kicki Nordstrom -- Sweden


Introduction by Dona Sauerburger, COMS:

     The extraordinary milestone explained in this article has the potential to change the world as profoundly as (if not more than) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacted the United States.  Here in the U.S., every advocacy effort of which I’m aware has been facilitated to some degree by the existence of a law that requires accessibility and equal rights for people with disabilities -- ADA.  Sometimes the ADA’s facilitation involves nothing more than having made people more aware of the rights and capabilities of people with disabilities, and sometimes it goes as far as providing tools and leverage to require accessibility and equality.

     This monumental milestone is the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This Convention is more powerful than a UN resolution -- a convention is a treaty, and once it is ratified by 20 member countries, then countries which want to become a member or a State Party of the United Nations Convention will be obligated to follow it and comply with its provisions, and there will be a monitoring system to assure compliance.

     Extending beyond our ADA, this U.N. Convention requires not only equality of rights and accessibility for people with disabilities, but also requires rehabilitation training (O&M is specifically mentioned) and education for people with disabilities, as well as training for professionals who provide the rehabilitation.

     Our grateful thanks go to the author of this article, Kicki Nordstrom, and the many others who have worked so hard to make this a reality -- you rock our world!  Let us pledge to heed her call to action and help make this dream come true.



On December 13 2006, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the 8th Human Rights instrument under the name: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The convention will be open for signature and ratification on 30 March 2007, and will come into force once it has been ratified by 20 countries.  The negotiations took five years and thereby made it the most rapidly-negotiated international law in the U.N. history.


The convention provides that States (countries) which ratify it shall enact laws and other measures to improve disability rights. States shall also abolish any legislation, custom, or practice that discriminates against persons with disabilities.

The convention deals with a set of the rights of people with disabilities (PWD) and the obligations of States Parties. It strongly and firmly formulates equality, non-discrimination, and protection of people’s integrity and their right to live independently.  Other obligations of States Parties are the rights to rehabilitation, health service, support service, an accessible environment, and culture and information provided in appropriate accessible formats.  Other important rights of PWD are equal recognition as a person before the law; freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse; and liberty of movement.  
Call to action:
The resolution which laid the ground for the adoption of the convention at the UN General Assembly urged States to take immediate measures to ratify the convention as a matter of priority.  All authorities, professionals, organisations of and for blind persons must now study the convention, get to know its contents and prepare to discuss it with relevant partners on a national basis! 

The target group of this convention is the 650 million people living with disabilities in the world, among them more than 160 million people who are blind or visually impaired. It is a well-established fact that there is a strong link between blindness and poverty. Blind people tend to be amongst the poorest in all societies – in developing and industrial countries alike. Blind people generally face exclusion and isolation. This is sometimes the result of express policies to keep us blind people hidden as a disturbing and unwanted kind of humanity. But it can also be the result of architectural, physical, social, legal and attitudinal barriers and discrimination, which make it impossible for us blind people to participate as equal citizens in society.  In some countries, for instance, this attitude and exclusion result in denial for blind persons to attend schools. Without any education and social inclusion, people are doomed to poverty and exclusion.


To rectify this disturbing situation, we need to start a campaign for good education of governments, the general public and decision makers. Until the attitudes are changed, it will be difficult to bring all people who are blind and partially sighted to school and provide professional rehabilitation and vocational training, etc, despite any international law.


Specifics of the U.N. Convention:

In the new convention there are in particular two articles that encompass most of what the convention is about -- namely: Article 3 on General principles and Article 4 on General obligations.


Article 3: General principles

The principles of the present Convention shall be:

(a) Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons;

(b) Non-discrimination;

(c) Full and effective participation and inclusion in society;

(d) Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity;

(e) Equality of opportunity;

(f) Accessibility;

(g) Equality between men and women;

(h) Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.


Authors’ note:  The free choice and independence of each individual is basic for the whole convention. That means that any measures taken must be after the full consent and free will of persons with disabilities. That puts a great responsibility on service providers, professionals and authorities.


Article 4: General obligations


1. States Parties undertake to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind on the basis of disability. To this end, States Parties undertake:


(e)  To take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organization or private enterprise;

(g)  To undertake or promote research and development of, and to promote the availability and use of new technologies, including information and communications technologies, mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, suitable for persons with disabilities, giving priority to technologies at an affordable cost;

(h) To provide accessible information to persons with disabilities about mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, including new technologies, as well as other forms of assistance, support services and facilities;

(i)    To promote the training of professionals and staff working with persons with disabilities in the rights recognized in this Convention so as to better provide the assistance and services guaranteed by those rights.

3. In the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the present Convention, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities, States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.


Authors’ note:  The Convention specifies the need for universal design and that the cost for adaptations should not lie with the individual. We can only hope that legislators, the industry, and developers and manufacturers of information and communication technology see this article as a challenge!


In addition to these general articles, there are three articles that may be of particular interest to O&M specialists, as they support their efforts and make it clear to authorities that they must respect these rights of people with disabilities.  The pertinent sections are excerpted below:


Article 9: Accessibility

1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

(a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;
(b) Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:

(b) Ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;

(e) Provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;


Article 20: Personal mobility

States Parties shall take effective measures to ensure personal mobility with the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities, including by:

(a) Facilitating the personal mobility of persons with disabilities in the manner and at the time of their choice, and at affordable cost;

(b) Facilitating access by persons with disabilities to quality mobility aids, devices, assistive technologies and forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including by making them available at affordable cost;

(c) Providing training in mobility skills to persons with disabilities and to specialist staff working with persons with disabilities;

(d) Encouraging entities that produce mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies to take into account all aspects of mobility for persons with disabilities.


Article 24: Education

Author’s note:  The basis for the new convention is to further stress what is already formulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948, Article 26:1: ”Everyone has the right to education.”


1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and life long learning directed to:

(c) Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.

2. In realizing this right, States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

(c) Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

(d) Persons with disabilities receive the support required, within the general education system, to facilitate their effective education;

(e) Effective individualized support measures are provided in environments that maximize academic and social development, consistent with the goal of full inclusion.

3. States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

(a)  Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;


(c). Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf and deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development.


4.         In order to help ensure the realization of this right, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to employ teachers, including those with disabilities, who are fluent in sign language and Braille, and to train professionals and staff who work at all levels of education. Such training shall incorporate disability awareness and the use of appropriate augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication, educational techniques and materials to support persons with disabilities. 


5. States Parties shall ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, States Parties shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.


Author’s note:  Finally it would not be fair if we leave out one of the articles we fought hard for, namely an Article on rehabilitation.  The following article speaks for itself and it is clear that not only is further training of professionals recognized, but also the right to rehabilitation for the individual’s needs.  For a person with visual impairment or blindness from birth, tactile and hands-on information has a special meaning, which makes the education of such skills as the literacy, daily life, and orientation and mobility effective and meaningful, and this Article is drafted to specify that these skills should be provided appropriately.  It also places strong emphasis on the teacher, whether it is a professional teacher, a parent or a rehabilitation officer.


Article 26 Habilitation and rehabilitation

1. States Parties shall take effective and appropriate measures, including through peer support, to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, full physical, mental, social and vocational ability, and full inclusion and participation in all aspects of life. To that end, States Parties shall organize, strengthen and extend comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes, particularly in the areas of health, employment, education and social services, in such a way that these services and programmes:

(a) Begin at the earliest possible stage, and are based on the multidisciplinary assessment of individual needs and strengths;

(b) Support participation and inclusion in the community and all aspects of society, are voluntary, and are available to persons with disabilities as close as possible to their own communities, including in rural areas.

2. States Parties shall promote the development of initial and continuing training for professionals and staff working in habilitation and rehabilitation services.

3. States Parties shall promote the availability, knowledge and use of assistive devices and technologies, designed for persons with disabilities, as they relate to habilitation and rehabilitation.


All these rights must now be incorporated in national laws and legislation, and an international Committee will monitor that the rights set forth in this convention will apply in all countries which ratify it. We all have high hopes for this new international treaty on Human Rights, and we all hope it will be a well-known convention among civil society – as well-known as the United Nations’ Convention on the Right of the Child!  More information is on the web site of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


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