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The role of civil society in bringing about change


The text of the Convention sets a complete conceptual framework to understand how to find ways and enable the access to human rights for people with disabilities. This is not a dogmatic text, it points out a direction. It doesn’t provide ready-made solutions, at the contrary it stimulates the ability to be force of proposal and to take initiatives to reach the goals that the Convention sets out. Besides its function as a legal instrument, the Convention can also be used at different levels. In that sense, it can be used to look at operational actions of an organization, of a service, of certain measures and judge them in the light of the Convention’s general principles and specific articles. It is therefore a guide that needs to be shared by all civil society stakeholders, and it is important to make it live as a tool that can guide actions, and not only as a legal instrument aimed at making corrections.

Philippe Chervin

One of the Convention’s most important outcomes is to have established these standards that all countries agreed upon, defining a level of human rights that government should pursue. Nevertheless, changes do not happen automatically, we need an active civil society to push them through. During the 10 years that have elapsed since its adoption, the Convention has been useful for making noise about disability, bringing visibility to disability as a theme. Therefore, to that extent, having an international convention as a tool has been extraordinarily powerful. However, working at an international level is the starting point, and we must remain aware that the final goal is improving people with disabilities’ daily quality of life. Understanding the issue on a day-to-day basis is the level where we have to work. Then comes the issue of how to deal with the authorities. The disability movement must be both motivated and able to convince local authorities to make the necessary changes, thus exercising good influence from the grassroots level up.

Sanna Laitamo

During the Convention negotiation process, it was apparent that the disability movement at a global scale (represented for example by the International Disability Alliance) and the reality at country level are two very different levels that can sometimes be disconnected. Off course, the outcomes of the meetings happening in New York and Geneva can have strong impacts. Nevertheless, there is a clear need for civil society to mobilize and impulse change at the local level (I include NGOs, even if they can most likely be considered as service providers). This reality has been a constant throughout my 40 years in the disability movement. If we do not invest in really building up the capacity of people with disabilities at a local level, this process will not go far enough.

Rosângela Berman Bieler

One of the great challenges is to carry on working from the point of view of Disabled People’s Organizations (DPO), paying continuous attention to social issues and a focus upon human rights, exerting pressure and coming forth with proposals. I insist on the following: DPOs cannot narrow down their actions to complaints or wailings. We need to improve our capacity to make proposals and analyses. Many of us can become experts on how to come up with solutions for the effective inclusion of people with disabilities, how to make sustainable proposals – within both the development framework and within available funding limits. It is in this way that we must take advantage of any space available.

Luis Fernando Astorga

The CRPD language is a little abstract. I don’t know if that is good, but I think it is also very important to go to the grassroots level, and make it a language that people understand. Human rights are so relevant, it is about the individual. However, the collective experience is a key issue to me. I like to approach things on this level. The legal level is for me like an additional tool to use. But, I prefer to bring it to the level of human perception. For example, nurses do not speak the legal language, yet they are the ones holding the keys. They have to change. The law is not necessarily a solution. My real goal is to change what happens in practice, to support developing alternatives.

Joleijn Santegoeds

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