Delegates and speakers from around the world gathered at the UN Building in New York City for the 11th session of the Conference of the States Party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on 13-16 June. Disability organizations and representatives of governments highlighted subjects as diverse as the abuse of First Nation prisoners in Australian jails to the caging of people with disability in African states.

Human rights and the statement of the UN on the rights of people with disabilities underpinned the presentations. The Convention followed decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It emphasized the shift from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection, to viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent, as well as being active members of society.

The Convention is intended as a human rights instrument with an explicit social development dimension. It adopts a broad categorization of persons with disabilities and reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. It clarifies and qualifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities and identifies areas where adaptations have to be made for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights, as well as areas where their rights have been violated, and where protection of rights must be reinforced.

The overall theme of the conference was based on the premise of ‘Leaving no-one behind’, and many of the sessions we attended demonstrated NGOs’ attempts to include all people with disability in the debate. The sessions reflected the overall goal, and a particular theme began to emerge in the sessions we attended: that of the still excluded voice of the adolescent with disability. Projects to offer young people a chance to add their voice to the debate highlighted the need to develop strong legislation to enable this. The presentations from young people who had been forced into institutions because of their disability, away from their families, were both powerful and moving. The call for support to lobby for legislation was heartfelt and met the objectives of one of the subthemes of the conference: political participation and equal recognition.

The need for organizations to be there for women and girls with disabilities who had reached their lowest ebb was presented in factual and graphic terms by a young woman who had been used and abused from an early age. The story of her descent into drugs to be finally turned around after a beating to where she is now, an advocate and example to other young people, was truly inspiring.

As always, there was an identified need for hard data and for ways of mining the data collected to provide evidence and statistics to guide and determine next steps. The theme of ‘Promoting high-quality disability statistics and disaggregation of data by disability status for the full realization of the rights of persons with disabilities’ produced sessions that demonstrated the dedication of both NGOs and governments to collecting and mining the data on numbers of people, categories of disability and performance of nations in complying with the CRPD.

The informal meetings taking place in every corner of the vast UN building were further evidence of the passion and commitment of delegates. This yearly gathering of NGOs and representatives of governments offered a unique opportunity to talk informally to Commissioners, Ministers, CEOs and NGO members from all over the world. Issues were as much discussed outside the sessions as within, connections were made and initiatives shared.

In the 11 years of the Convention, there has been progress, however something we will remember is that the rights of people with disability can be abused as much in developed nations of the Global North as in developing nations, and that there is no place for complacency.

Ai-Media was proud to have been captioning many of the sessions at the UN Enable Conference.

Eileen Hopkins wearing a striped shirt

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