Austerity cuts must not destabilise progress made on Disability Rights

As International Disability Rights Day for 2011 fast approaches, there is no doubt that since its establishment in 1980’s, there has been significant progress made on disability rights. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention) most notably, creates a paradigm shift from viewing people with disabilities from a charitable perspective to one of rights and inclusion. Along with the legal developments, other examples of progress include the recognition that disability is integral to international poverty initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals.

However, this progress now faces the most serious of challenges as austerity measures are implemented across a number of countries, particularly in Europe.  This blog takes a look at the challenges ahead in the implementation of the Convention particularly in the face of declining public expenditure by governments. For these governments and the Convention in general, there are a number of questions that now must be asked.

Firstly, as austerity measures continue to be implemented – are countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons now in danger of falling short in implementing even its most basic provisions? Indeed, to go one step further, could they be accused of taking retrogressive actions with regard to the commitments that they agreed to.  Secondly, is the media and political commentary surrounding the austerity cuts undermining the important sentiments of the Convention, which calls for the recognition of the capabilities and contributions that disabled citizens can make?  Finally, could the austerity measures have the potential to destabilise partnerships that have been built up since the adoption of the CRPD between international disability community and their respective governments?

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Making Aid More Effective: Base it on People Power!

Human Rights in Ireland is delighted to welcome this guest post from Hans Zomer, Director of Dochas on the forthcoming Busan Meeting on Aid Effectiveness. Dochas  along with a number of other Irish NGOs will be attending the Busan meeting, if you would like to keep up todate with developments as they happen, you can follow Dochas on Twitter @dochasnetwork and also their blog

At the end of November, leaders of rich and poor countries from around the world will gather in Busan, South Korea, to discuss how they can make aid more effective. For further background on Busan and its importance, particularly as it tries to set a course for Governments on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, please see Dochas blog for  our earlier blog posts. The meeting in Busan follows up on early summits on this issue, in particular the 2005 Paris Declaration and the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, which were organised as aid donors realised that the current donor landscape is not conducive to delivering on the MDGs.

The 2005 summit started from a very technocratic point of view, and formulated a set of principles and mechanisms for greater donor coordination: the idea was to make “overseas aid” more effective. The 2008 summit, rightly, broadened the discussion, and looked at how to get better at bringing about “Development” (not just do aid better), and how to get “civil society” involved. At the Accra summit, Governments realised that to “make poverty history”, the international community must do more to address the root causes of poverty.

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Disability Groups sue the City of New York for Neglect during Disasters

Two leading US civil rights groups, Disability Rights Advocates and the Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled have filed a lawsuit claiming that the City of New York and Mayor Michael Bloomberg placed disabled people in life-threatening situations by failing to take their “unique needs” into consideration when planning for emergencies and disasters. The organisations taking the action claim that major disasters in New York City such as September 11th and Hurricane Irene have highlighted how the city is not prepared to meet the needs of its 900,000 citizens with disabilities during times of emergencies.

During the recent response to Hurricane Irene, there were reports that 75% of the designated emergency shelters in New York were not fully accessible to wheelchair users, the televised emergency announcements did not include American Sign Language and the evacuation maps from the city were not useable by persons with no or low vision. Additionally the modes of transport used for evacuation included school buses, which did not have lifts for wheelchair users.

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United Nations to host a series of meetings on the Disability Convention

Over the coming weeks, the United Nations will host a series of meetings focusing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The fourth session of the Conference of State Parties (COSP) will be held at the United Nations Head Quarters in New York this week from September 7 – 9. The COSP is an annual meeting at which the countries participate to discuss the implementation of the CRPD.

Since the CRPD entered into international law, there have been three COSP meetings. In 2008 at the first meeting the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was elected. In 2009 and 2010, COSP meetings focused on Accessibility and Reasonable Accommodation, and Inclusion. The theme for the fourth session is “Enabling Development, Realizing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. At the upcoming session a number of roundtable discussions will be held focusing on the role of International Cooperation in realizing the Convention, Political and Civil Participation, and Work and Employment.

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Disability Rights and International Cooperation

On October 20th 2011, the Centre for Disability Law and Policy (NUI Galway) and CBM Ireland in conjunction with Dochas and partners from the disability sector will host a one-day conference. Ms Judith Heumann, Special Adviser to the US government on International Disability Rights, will deliver the keynote speech. Other distinguished speakers include former Australian MP Bob McMullan. The conference is aimed at civil society, disability organisations, activists, development organization, students, policymakers and decision-makers, elected representatives and media.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the United Nations in 2006 has signaled the dawn of a new era in disability rights. To realize its vision, it must be understood in terms of the practical initiatives that are needed at a local, regional and global level to bring about inclusion for people with disabilities. These initiatives carried out in partnership with people with disabilities must be targeted at dismantling structural barriers that prevent the achievement of their full potential as citizens of Ireland and of the globe.

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The First World Report on Disability: A Summary of the Main Issues

The first World Report on Disability was released this summer. The report was produced through a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank. A summary of the 300-page report is provided in this blog, highlighting the main issues and recommendations. The WHO/World Bank report presents a number of interesting findings on the prevalence of disability. The WHO’s original estimate for disability within a population was 10 percent, this report now estimates that there are over one billion people with disabilities in the world, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the world’s population. Evidence-based data was used to reach this figure, using a combination of data sets from the World Health Survey and the Global Burden of Disease. This new higher figure is due in part to the incidence of disability among aging populations and the global increase in chronic health conditions which frequently lead to disability.

The report also notes the fact that disability disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, for example it is more common among women, the elderly, and less affluent individuals. Additionally, the report notes that there is a higher prevalence of disability in lower income countries and reaffirms much of what is known from anecdotal evidence about the lived experience of individuals with disabilities. For example, individuals’ with disabilities susceptibility to poverty as a result of having a disability is explored, as are the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities in accessing basic services and the reduced health and socioeconomic outcomes of individuals with disabilities compared to those without.

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Limited Resources must not become an obstacle for ratifying the Disability Convention

This week, the Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities meets for its fifth session in Geneva, see here for further details. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities plays a key role in developing commentary on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). See here for the members of the Committee. The State reports and the subsequent comments and conclusions by the Committee creates a space where dialogue can take place to highlight models of good practice and also gaps in the implementation of the CRPD. The Committee now comprising of its full complement of 18 independent experts on disability has to-date received 11 reports from States on their implementation of the Convention. See here for list of States reports submitted to-date. Along with its core work of considering State reports, the Committee has also made a number of statements on pertinent issues to the international disability community including poverty reduction, natural disasters and humanitarian responses (in light of Haiti, Japan and Chinese earthquake), see here for further details.
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It is Time for an Inclusive Approach to Campaigning

The announcement of the election date February 25th 2011, brings a welcome opportunity for Irish citizens to have our say about the future of our country. Set against a backdrop of continuous economic and political instability, many hope this election will bring a new era in Irish politics. Today, signals the launch of the political parties campaigns, with current and potential candidates refining complex policy issues, such as the IMF/EU bailout, into doorstep language. As the campaigning intensifies over the next few weeks, this short post offers some ideas for ensuring that election campaigns are accessible and inclusive to all Irish voters. Three main points are considered, they are keep political jargon to a minimum and use plain English, produce campaign material in accessible formats and make sure venues for public forums and debates are easy to access.

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EU ratification of Disability Treaty sends strong signal to member states

A number of recent actions at European regional level will contribute significantly to the promotion and protection of the rights of Europe’s 80 million disabled citizens. In late December 2010, the European Union ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). By doing so, the EU has become the first intergovernmental organization to sign on to any human rights treaty and take on its binding obligations. The CRPD’s ratification by the EU has received a warm welcome by disability and human rights groups. Shantha Rua Barriga, Disability rights researcher with Human Rights Watch describes is as “a clear message that disability rights are a priority in the region  and worldwide”, see here. The European Disability Forum, a European platform on disability hailed it as an historic landmark and “a major policy shift in putting disability on top of the human rights agenda”, see here.

Ratifying the Convention obliges the various institutions of the European Union to protect the rights of people with disabilities. While, it obliges its institutions such as the Parliament and the court of Justice, individual member states of the EU still must ratify the Convention domestically. To-date, 16 EU member states have ratified and there are 11 EU member states who have not ratified but have signed. For an up to-date list of countries who have signed/ratified the Convention, see here.
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Why Disabled People and Their Families Fear The December Budget?

The financial crisis on a global and domestic scale is impacting on people with disabilities in many areas of life, most notably through reduced governments budgets translating into reduction of essential services. Posts featured earlier this year on Human Rights in Ireland, see here highlighted the impact of these government cuts thus far and the fears of disability organisations and people with disabilities and their families as to what lies ahead.

Ireland for the past 10 years has been hailed as a success story particularly in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship. While we watch wistfully as our economic independence is removed from us, one cannot help think where was its innovation and entrepreneurship in creating a better Ireland for its disabled citizens? For the most part, people with disabilities in Ireland did not enjoy the success of the of our “Celtic tiger era” and continued to face persistent high unemployment rates and be at risk of poverty.[1] For example employment rates for people with disabilities published in the CSO Equality in Ireland report 2006[2] found that 26.8% of disabled males were in employment while 16% of disabled females were in employment. Further research carried by the Conference of Religious of Ireland, see here found that over 34.5% of those who are disabled or long term ill are at a risk of poverty. The figure 34.5% was actually an increase on the figure 29.5% which was reported in  1994. While the increase might be only 5%, it is important to highlight it happened against the backdrop of Ireland’s growth years when employment opportunities were plentiful and poverty rates were dropping.
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