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Disability Convention: A Step Forward

In December 2006, the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a treaty on the rights of disabled people. Signatories to the convention will have to enact laws and other measures to improve disability rights and also agree to get rid of legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against disabled people. Behind the convention lies the thinking that the erstwhile welfare and charity-based approach must be replaced by new rights and freedoms. The world’s disabled population is estimated to be 650 million, making it in several ways, the world’s largest minority. Despite this, that the disabled have different abilities and rights as well, has been a very recent and halting recognition. Recognition of the needs of the disabled began only in the last century and a half, when increased wars among nations and communities took a toll of human lives and incapacitated large numbers. Today, every country has enacted laws and has some measures to guarantee equal living conditions for the disabled.

The UN convention constitutes a radical departure in several ways for it draws also on the Independent Living Movement that had its origins in the US following the Civil Rights and the Disabled Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The UN convention thus recognises that a change of attitude is vital if disabled people are to achieve equal status in society. Besides, stressing that access to public spaces, transport, information and communications must be improved, the convention asks for signatory nations to guarantee that disabled people have a right to life on an equal basis with others, e g, rights such as to own and inherit property, to control financial affairs and have equal access to financial services, the right not to be deprived of liberty “unlawfully or arbitrarily”, a right to privacy and access to medical records, a right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, and also an end to discrimination relating to marriage, family and personal relationships

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