Before we dive into why it’s important to uphold the rights of persons with disabilities, let’s first define what “disability” is. According to 42 U.S. Code § 12102, an individual’s disability is:
- A mental or physical impairment that greatly impedes an individual from participating in or fulfilling significant life activities, such as:
- General activities like walking, communicating with others, and caring for themselves;
- Bodily functions, such as defecating, defending against invasive microbes, and breathing, among others
With this definition in mind, being disabled therefore means having an impairment as defined above. Below are a few more things to keep in mind:
- A disability may be transitory (i.e., something that goes away after a certain amount of time), episodic (i.e., something that greatly impedes an individual when the impairment is active) or for life
- Someone is deemed disabled regardless of whether that individual can:
- Take medicines that ameliorate their impairment
- Use assistive tools to accomplish life activities
- Receive special aid and accommodations that helps them perform life activities
- Use adaptive neurological modifications or learned behaviors to overcome psychological impairments
Persons with disabilities (PWDs) are human and therefore have the same human rights as persons without disabilities. However, PWDs are often discriminated against and are restricted from participating in society on an equal footing with others. For example, they are commonly denied their rights to:
- Receive an education
- Live on their own within the community
- Engage in productive employment
- Take part in cultural activities and sports
- Refuse or consent to medical treatment
- Freely enter into legally binding agreements, such as buying properties
The majority of persons with disabilities reside in developing nations, where they are impoverished and frequently neglected. PWDs are regularly overlooked during humanitarian catastrophes and are often not allowed to have a say in the restoration of their lives and the communities they live in.
All people are entitled to the protections offered in human rights treaties, which originate from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, persons with disabilities have largely remained ‘invisible’. This means they often get excluded from debates about their rights and denied the opportunity to enjoy and exercise the full gamut of human rights.
Prior to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, government agencies and non-government organizations addressed the needs of PWDs by using either medical-based or charity-oriented approaches. These methods saw PWDs as either medical problems to be solved or helpless individuals who are tragically dependent on their non-disabled counterparts. The Convention began to change all of this by centering methodologies on upholding the human rights of PWDs, which essentially meant upholding their dignity as human beings — people who have their own dreams, sense of self, and sense of purpose in life.
Thusly, across agendas for social development, human rights, and humanitarian efforts, the Convention pushes for the inclusion and active participation of persons with disabilities. It also emphasizes the need to empower and uphold the rights of children with disabilities and women with disabilities since these groups suffer multiple types of discrimination in addition to the type they face as PWDs.
By being rights-based, efforts to include and encourage the participation of PWDs in every aspect of human life benefits everyone because these quash the notions of segregation and exclusion of other people by mere virtue of being different from the majority of the human population. This is why you can count on disability lawyers to fight discrimination against PWDs and ensure that their dignity as human persons is upheld.