31 January 2006

Disability Convention Committee Nears Consensus on Health, Labour Rights, Participation in Society

NEW YORK, 30 January -- The General Assembly Committee drafting the first-ever treaty on disability rights last week came closer to an agreement on the issues of respect for the home and the family, education, health, habilitation and rehabilitation, work and employment, adequate standard of living and social protection, statistics and data collection, and participation in political and public life, cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport.

"We had a very good discussion [on 27 January], with a very rich debate, and I would like to thank our colleagues for this", said Ambassador Don MacKay (New Zealand), the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, which is holding its seventh session at the United Nations.

Delegates and disability organizations expressed general support for article 23, which would require States Parties to seek to eliminate discrimination in matters relating to marriage, family and personal relations.  Persons with disabilities should not be denied the opportunity to have sexual and intimate relationships and experience parenthood.  They should have the right on an equal basis with others to marry and found a family, to decide on the number and spacing of their children, and to be able to adopt children.  Children should not be separated from their parents on the basis of a disability of the child or one or both parents.

Brazil, the European Union, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, the United States and the International Disability Caucus proposed an additional paragraph affirming that, where the immediate family is unable to care for a child with disabilities, States should seek to provide alternative care within the extended family, and failing that within the community.

Participants generally supported article 24, under which States are to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education and ensure their access to schooling, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning.  Children with disabilities should access inclusive and free primary and secondary education, as well as reasonable accommodation of their requirements.  Inclusive education and lifelong learning should foster the development of the abilities, talents and creativity of persons with disabilities, as well as a sense of dignity and self-worth.  Education should be provided in the appropriate communication means and modes, educational techniques and materials.

Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and the International Disability Caucus argued for a stronger provision on training, and several delegations called for a provision on individualized support measures.

Differences remained on article 25, particularly on the reference to sexual and reproductive health services.  This article would require States to recognize that persons with disabilities have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination.  States would seek to ensure access to health services and rehabilitation; provide persons with disabilities with the same health services as provided other persons, as well as those health services needed because of their disabilities; require health professionals to provide quality care on the basis of free and informed consent; and prohibit discrimination in the provision of health insurance.

Participants expressed widespread support for article 26, which would require States to enable persons with disabilities to attain their maximum independence, physical, mental, social and vocational ability and full inclusion in all aspects of life.  States would provide comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services, particularly in the areas of health, employment, education and social services.  Such services and programmes should begin at the earliest possible stage and be based on the assessment of individual needs.

There was general support for article 27, under which States would recognize the equal right of persons with disabilities to work and to gain a living by work freely chosen. States should set an example by employing persons with disabilities in the public sector, and seek to protect them in the areas of recruitment, hiring, career advancement, working conditions, equal opportunities, equal remuneration, safe and healthy working conditions, and the redressing of grievances.  Persons with disabilities should exercise their labour and trade union rights and have access to guidance programmes, placement services and vocational training.  States should promote self-employment, entrepreneurship and starting one's own business, and encourage employers to hire persons with disabilities through affirmative action and incentives.

Several delegations proposed adding provisions on protection for persons unable to work in the open market, protection from harassment in the workplace, disabilities acquired in the workplace and forced and compulsory labour.  Participants agreed on the need for further consultation on adding a specific reference to the private sector.

Participants expressed support to article 28, which would require States to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living -- including adequate food, clothing and housing -- and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. States would recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and seek to ensure their access to affordable services, public housing, devices and assistance for disability-related needs, and public assistance for persons with disabilities living in poverty, including covering disability-related expenses.

Participants generally supported article 29, under which States would guarantee to persons with disabilities their political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them.  They would seek to ensure their equal participation in political and public life, directly or through representatives; their right to stand for elections, hold office and perform public functions at all levels of government; and their participation in public affairs, in political parties and in non-governmental organizations.

There was widespread support for article 30, which would require States to recognize the equal right of persons with disabilities to take part in cultural life and seek to ensure that they enjoy access to cultural materials, television programmes, films and theatre in accessible formats; have access to theatres, museums, cinemas, libraries and tourism services; have the opportunity to develop and utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential for the enrichment of society; and be equally entitled to recognition and support of their cultural and linguistic identity.  Laws protecting intellectual property rights should not constitute a barrier to access to cultural materials, while respecting the provisions of international law.

Under that article, persons with disabilities should also participate equally in recreational, leisure and sporting activities.  States would encourage their participation in mainstream sporting activities; ensure their opportunities to organize and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities; ensure their access to sporting, recreational and tourism venues; and ensure that children with disabilities can equally participate in play, recreation, leisure and sporting activities, including at school.

There was widespread support for article 31, which would require States to collect information, statistics and statistical data to enable them to enact policies giving effect to the Convention.  Information-gathering should ensure confidentiality and privacy, and would also be used to help assess the implementation of the Convention by States.  Disability organizations asked to be consulted on information and data collecting.

More than 400 representatives from governments and non-governmental organizations are attending the session.  They are expected to conclude the second full reading of the Convention by 3 February, the last day of the current session.

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