Are things getting better for people with disabilities? In many ways, yes, but there’s still a long way to go.
There still exists a widespread lack of understanding and policy awareness in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that most people with disabilities are fully capable of engaging effectively at work, school, and with society, if given the required support.
A legacy from the socialist system has made society more aware of the needs – and abilities – of people with disabilities. The socialist medical model of disability supports the view that limitations arising from disability can either be prevented or managed by medical treatment.
This ideology, along with the socialist belief in charity, has therefore shaped these countries’ motivation for special legislation, social and legal policies, corresponding programmes, and social protection for persons with disabilities.
However, this ideology and corresponding model haven’t solved the entire problem.
- Globally, the overwhelming majority of buildings, including public institutions, are not accessible to people with disabilities, which restricts their opportunities to exercise their basic human rights in many areas.
- Of equal, or even greater, concern is that aside from physical limitations, multiple barriers still exist with regard to access to education, employment, housing, health care, political participation, the judicial system, legal aid, cultural expression, and leisure activities.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities provides a unique normative framework and an effective legal tool for Europe and the CIS to end the discrimination and human rights violations experienced by many people with disabilities – if implemented effectively and supported by policies and programmes to promote the active inclusion of this population.
Easier said than done.
Including people with disabilities in development efforts is a question of human rights, and the human-rights based approach is central in achieving an inclusive society.
It is not a matter of moral obligation anymore; it is our legal and developmental obligation.
Therefore, it is important for all of us – individuals and institutions – to take effective steps to support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
National human rights systems (national human rights institutions, civil society organizations [CSOs], national agencies, judicial and quasi-judicial agencies, and legislative bodies) in our respective countries have a duty to follow the Convention by including disability issues and developing solutions through strategic planning, annual work plans, and resource allocation.
Effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is critical for achieving inclusivity, internationally agreed-upon development goals, such as the Post-2015 Development agenda, and, most importantly, ensuring human dignity, human rights, social protection, and justice for all people with disabilities.
To address these needs and assess existing knowledge and capacity gaps, UNDP recently published Promoting the Human Rights of the Persons with Disabilities in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, a comprehensive guide for both programming and advocacy initiatives.
This guide reflects current research, international and regional experiences, best practices, and lessons learned in ratifying and implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We need to go beyond the narrow and prohibitive concept of disability to harness the true potential of people with disabilities.
The time has come to ask ourselves are we doing enough? Can we not see the special abilities instead?