The people with disabilities who went to New York were committed to breaking up stereotypes and prejudices, and putting an end to charity. The ratification has had very positive impact on their situation. States were no longer in a position to have a patronizing approach, saying that they were addressing the needs of persons with disabilities, as if this was some kind of favor. Thanks to the Convention, people with disabilities now have the right to receive support, the right to access education and the right to access health care, and the state has to be aware of its prerogatives. Before the Convention, a few qualified people with disabilities were recruited on exceptional occasions, as part of political efforts to show good will. After the Convention, the recruitment of people with disabilities had to result from legislation defining quotas or setting up affirmative action.
Djikiné Hatouma Gakou
As far as people with disabilities are concerned, there is a certain pride to say that the United Nations, which is the aggregation of all countries in the world has committed to guarantee their rights. Of course, it gave a boost to people with disabilities to brandish this Convention and tell to States: "you have committed!"; and often, our States tend to think, even if they do not publicly say it: “we are States party to the Convention, we must be careful, because people with disabilities can use it”. There is a great movement of people with disabilities that exert pressure on States and I think this is really one of the great achievements of this Convention for all of us.
When I found out about the CRPD and what it actually means, it was really empowering. For the first time, I felt recognition from the powers that be that it was not fair to be locked up. This gave me a great push, and I found it mostly supportive. It is hard for people with psychosocial disabilities to be heard. Since the CRPD, there are more places where we can be heard. This is so precious and empowering. It feels like we don’t have to beg for our rights, but we can just claim them. It makes a big difference, it feels like recognition.
I think the Convention significantly changed the way issues relating to disability are addressed. There are more strategies, government programs, more services inspired by a rights-based approach. Before that, the model was clearly inspired by a medical or charity approach. I am not saying that these kinds of programs have disappeared completely, but there are more laws focusing on rights than when the Ad Hoc Committee began its work, 15 years ago. Then, there is a kind of universalization of the concepts, maybe not of the material situation, but at least of the concepts. The concept of reasonable adjustment [reasonable accommodation] wasn’t even known in developing countries. Even though it is still not put into practice, this concept is now part of the rights claimed by people with disabilities. There have been advances in the conceptualization of the approach taken to target the rights of persons with disabilities. Services to encourage independent living also emerged in such a context. Disabled People’s Organizations are getting more and more empowered, they are more aware of this focus on rights, and there are more claims emerging. This change may be more visible in the developing countries. I would say that these are the most significant and visible changes.
The reality is that the Convention changes the way institutions like UNICEF, and in particular the UN agencies, look at people with disabilities. With the Convention, and UNICEF’s ‘equity agenda’, children with disabilities became a central part of the organization. This is why the director decided to create a position for a Senior Advisor, and included the situation of persons with disabilities in its strategic development plan. Things continue to develop and improve. The organization has 111 country offices working on disability, maybe more. All the Member States are implementing the Convention, and are asking the UN and civil society for help at all different levels: policy, legislation, programs and services. This whole scenario began because of the Convention.
Rosângela Berman Bieler
Before the Convention, the case was made for persons with disabilities when there was “good will”. Now, it has become a matter of law, and this is a fundamental difference. There has been a significant impact in terms of dignity, empowerment, accessibility, non-discrimination and self-determination. The Convention significantly changed both the rules of dialogue between States and civil society, and the advocacy dynamics for Disabled People’s Organizations, setting up accountability mechanisms, which operate like contracts. Of course, this does not lead immediately to concrete results, but it has changed the way individuals perceive themselves with regard to their environment and community. The UN’s endorsement, the fact that there is a Commission in Geneva examining State reports, have contributed to this change. For a group of people who had experienced exclusion for such a long period of time, it was no longer needed to beg, to be kind and nice, and this was a significant shift. These are changes that we - as professionals - can hardly comprehend, because we do not experience exclusion on a daily basis.
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