Brief Introduction To Disability Rights

The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities provide that disability “summarises 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.”
The following documents are relevant to the rights of persons with disabilities (listed in chronological order):
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948:
Article 25(1): Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 and The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966 make no specific reference to disability and the rights of disabled people. However, disability can be included under “other status” in the following articles:

ICCPR Article 2(1): Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 26: All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

ICESCR Article 2: 2. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons (1975):
The Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons was the first declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly and is the first international document that attempted defining the term “disability.”
Declaration on the Rights of Deaf-Blind Persons (1979):
Article 1 of the Declaration states that “…every deaf-blind person is entitled to enjoy the universal rights that are guaranteed to all people by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights provided for all disabled persons by the Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons.”

Convention (No. 159) concerning Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
(Disabled Persons) (1983):
Article 2: For the purposes of this Convention, each Member shall consider the purpose of vocational rehabilitation as being to enable a disabled person to secure, retain and advance in suitable employment and thereby to further such person’s integration or reintegration into society.

Article 4: The said policy shall be based on the principle of equal opportunity between disabled workers and workers generally. Equality of opportunity and treatment for disabled men and women workers shall be respected. Special positive measures aimed at effective equality of opportunity and treatment between disabled workers and other workers shall not be regarded as discriminating against other workers.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989):
Article 2(1): States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

  1. Article 23 (1): States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.
  2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.
  3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development
  4. States Parties shall promote, in the spirit of international cooperation, the exchange of appropriate information in the field of preventive health care and of medical, psychological and functional treatment of disabled children, including dissemination of and access to information concerning methods of rehabilitation, education and vocational services, with the aim of enabling States Parties to improve their capabilities and skills and to widen their experience in these areas. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illnesses and the Improvement of Mental Health Care (1991):
This document adopted by the UN General Assembly sets detailed standards for the protection of persons with mental disabilities and aims at maximising the protection offered to persons with mental illness and ensuring that they are treated with humanity and dignity. It also refers to the elimination of all forms of exploitation of persons with mental illness.

General Recommendation 18 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1991):
recommended that “States parties provide information on disabled women in their periodic reports, and on measures taken to deal with their particular situation, including special measures to ensure that they have equal access to education and employment, health services and social security, and to ensure that they can participate in all areas of social and cultural life.”

Beijing Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities (2000):
This declaration was adopted at the World NGO Summit on Disability and calls for a higher standard of living, equal participation and the elimination of discriminatory attitudes and practices.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2007):
This Convention, which entered into force in May 2008 emphasises that all persons with disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.