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date: 16 August 2017

Nothing About Us Without Us: The UN Convention on The Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Summary and Keywords

Persons with disabilities, the world’s largest minority group, have experienced oppression and have been excluded from participating in public affairs for most of human history. The United Nations Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities arguably represents a turning point in the voice persons with disabilities have in the formation and implementation of international and domestic laws and policies. The Ad Hoc Committee realized the clarion call “nothing about us without us” both during the debates and in the formation of a convention that continues the voice of persons with disabilities and their representative bodies in the early 21st century.

Keywords: Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, Ad Hoc Committee, disability politics, United Nations

Introduction

The formation and activities of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities represent a turning point in the voice persons with disabilities have in international and domestic laws and policies. Along with the Ad Hoc Committee itself, the involvement of disability person organizations and the extent of their continued involvement in the monitoring and enforcement of the human rights paradigm reflected in the CRPD will also be analyzed. The CRPD is a sweeping human rights convention which clarifies how existing rights apply to persons with disabilities, creates incidental rights to enable those existing rights to be realized by persons with disabilities and transforms how ability difference is constructed by international law (Harpur, 2017).

Every country has persons with disabilities, and every country has a long history of disempowering, imprisoning, and even attempting to exterminate people because they have different abilities. During the 20th century persons with disabilities often endured forced sterilizations, nonconsensual medical experimentation, and even death by targeted eugenics-inspired euthanasia (Bryan, 2010; Lemke, 2013, pp. 71–72; Turda, 2010, pp. 84–85). Nazi Germany evinced some of the most hostile policies towards persons with disabilities. Lawmakers and the medical industry combined to systematically diagnose and exterminate people who had abilities outside a determined range (Braun, 2015). Programs inspired by eugenic thinking continue in the early 21st century and influence various medical procedures (McKinney, 2016; Shaffer, 2009). Many countries fail to protect persons with disabilities against hate crimes and discount the voices of survivors of violence (Douglas & Harpur, 2014; Douglas & Harpur, 2016; Sherry, 2010).

Prejudice has impacted the capacity of persons with disabilities to exercise their social and political rights. Under the so called “Ugly Laws” in several American cities, persons with certain disabilities were prohibited from being seen in public at all (Schweik, 2009). Into the 21st century, laws and institutions continue to discount persons with disabilities and reinforce a social apartheid (Goggin & Newell, 2003; Harpur, 2012b). One feature of this social apartheid has been the denial of the right to participate in political processes or the formation of laws and policies. People with certain disabilities have historically been excluded from exercising their right to vote. Section 290(4) of the Australian Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 (Cth), for example, denied voting rights to people deemed as having an “unsound mind.” A person can now vote even if they have an “unsound mind,” providing that they are capable of understanding the nature and significance of enrollment and voting (Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) S 93(8[a])). Despite the more generous position, access to voting equality and participation in political processes remains closed to many persons with disabilities (Carling-Jenkins, 2014).

In 2001, when the United Nations was forming an Ad Hoc Committee to explore the possibility of forming a convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, the history of the state, and society more widely, had long been one of disempowering persons with disabilities. This makes the achievements of those disability rights advocates in the lead-up to the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee, and its activities and successes, remarkable indeed. In just over a decade, disability rights movements have been able to transform United Nations public policy discourse from one that promotes inequality and disempowerment to one that promotes real ability equality and empowerment. From the eight sessions of the Ad Hoc Committee, a number of draft conventions emerged, and ultimately a draft convention which became the CRPD was adopted (Waterstone, 2010). The process which led to the adoption of the CRPD is significant in that it was the fastest ever to bring a convention from the formation of a committee to adoption by the United Nations; moreover, the convention had the most signatories ever on its opening day. While the Ad Hoc Committee was not tasked with creating new rights, the CRPD arguably contains new disability-specific interpretations of existing rights, amounting in effect to new rights (Kanter, 2015, pp. 5–6). Primary rights, such as rights to life, health, and work, already existed prior to the CRPD. The significance of the CRPD is that it is the first human rights convention to posit these rights in a way that is specifically relevant to persons with disabilities (Harpur & Bales, 2010).

Constructing Disability Through Medical and Welfare Lenses

The adoption of the human rights paradigm in the CRPD is extraordinary when the history and operation of medical and welfare public policy models are considered. One of the most enduring approaches to disabilities is through the medical model. As the name suggests, the model focuses on the medical aspects of disability (Rees, Rice, & Allen, 2014). Under this approach, medical professionals create criteria to guide their treatment. Part of this process involves labeling people as either able-bodied or disabled (Goodley, 2014, p. 4). While this categorization process is essential for identifying where treatment may be provided, this approach results in negative outcomes if it is applied to broader public policies. When applied to public policy, the medicalization of different abilities as imperfect or lesser marks persons with disabilities out for special supervision, interference, and oppression. The paternalistic approach of the medical model results in persons with disabilities being outside the social contract which regulates how the state interacts with the wider population (Fineman, 2012; Fineman & Grear, 2013, p. 13). Due to the disabling impact of the medical model, persons with disabilities are unable to fully participate in the social and economic life of the community, and thus need to rely on welfare support.

Prior to the CRPD, international human rights law arguably did little to combat the economic and social disenfranchisement of persons with disabilities. The so-called international bills of rights, being the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), are largely silent on the rights of persons with disabilities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) remains the only one of these instruments to specifically mention disability, and it does so in a way that clearly states that persons with disabilities need support. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) provides that

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

While Article 25 provides persons with disabilities an entitlement to welfare support, it does not specifically entitle persons with disabilities to be free from the discrimination, prejudice, and impoverishment which contribute to the need for welfare support in the first place.

The United Nations attribute-specific human rights conventions also provide persons with disabilities limited protection. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) are both silent on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. People with intersecting attributes can be especially vulnerable to disadvantage (Best, Krieger, Edelman, & Eliason, 2011; Solanke, 2011), which makes the decision not to include protections for persons with disabilities problematic. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) recognizes the inequalities created by intersecting attributes and provides children with disabilities protection. Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) provides that “a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.” Despite this protection, children with disabilities have historically received inferior educational experiences than the wider student cohort (Harpur, 2010). Perhaps one cause for this continued inequality is the fact that Article 23 requires the state to provide special education to help students with disabilities gain an education in a society which is not inclusive. Essentially, the Convention on the Rights of the Child does not require the state to embrace universal design and remove the environmental factors which are disabling to their educational experience. Even if students with disabilities were able to succeed in their education, once those students left the educational system and sought to gain a living they would encounter discrimination at work, in public transport, and in many other walks of life. While antidiscrimination and equality laws have arguably helped reduce the extent of this discrimination (Bagenstos, 2004), the fact remains that prior to the CRPD there was no clear statement on what equality meant for persons with disabilities. This weakened the capacity of persons with disabilities to have their voices appropriately heard in public policy debates (Harpur, 2011).

Disability Struggles and the Birth of “Nothing About Us Without Us”

During the 1980s a new disability model emerged that focused on promoting equality and the concept of different abilities rather than focusing on medicalized understandings of impairment (Bagenstos, 2009, pp. 7–13). This model is known as the social model. Professor Michael Oliver, one of the leading social model scholars, states that once impairments are constructed as the cause of disablement, then this arguably reduces the social consciousness about the role society plays in disabling people who fall outside the “normal” range of abilities (Oliver, 1996, p. 37). Social model scholars rejected the notion that disability was caused by impairment and focused on the external sources of disablement (Oliver, 1990, p. 11). Instead of focusing on ability issues, social model scholars deconstructed disability discrimination to identify the actual causes of disablement (Harpur, 2013, p. 535). A social model critique highlighted that ability diversity was not the same thing as disability. A person in a wheelchair is only disabled when buildings fail to have lifts or wheelchair-accessible restrooms.

Similar to other oppressed groups in society, persons with disabilities realized that they would need to engage in activism if their voices were to be heard. Mobilizing people with mobility impairments presented substantial barriers to the disability rights movement. Despite the challenges, in the 1970s disability rights activists in the United States engaged in watershed civil disobedience protests.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first civil rights instrument for persons with disabilities in the United States. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides that “no otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall solely on the basis of his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Even though the federal government had promised the adoption of Section 504 draft regulations, the regulations were delayed and then watered down (Shapiro, 1994). To take the initiative prior to the release of weakened Section 504 regulations, disability rights activists commenced a number of sit-ins. The most famous of these sit-ins was the 1977 San Francisco federal building sit-in, which lasted 28 days. This sit-in made headlines across the United States and was heralded as opening the door to enabling persons with disabilities to start having a voice in their own lives (Longmore, 2003). This led to the catch cry: “nothing about us without us” (Charlton, 2000).

Persons with Disabilities and the Formation of the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities to report on the possibility of the United Nations adopting a disability-specific human rights convention (Comprehensive & Integral International Convention, 2001; Stein, 2007a, p. 83). The Ad Hoc Committee engaged in five years of transparent negotiations, including eight sessions, several revised drafts, and substantial public discussion. This process involved states and nongovernmental actors from the Global North and South, but most importantly it involved persons with disabilities. Decades of struggle positioned persons with disabilities in a place where they could be engaged when the United Nations formed an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the CRPD (Kayess & French, 2008). The clarion call “nothing about us without us” became central to how the committee was formed and helped move the public policy focus from welfare to rights (Stein, 2007b, 2011).

At the time the Ad Hoc Committee was formed, the governing public policy models discounted the voices of persons with disabilities, so that persons without disabilities spoke for persons with disabilities. The Ad Hoc Committee rejected this approach and adopted an approach that provided persons with disabilities and their representative organizations a voice in the United Nations debates (Perlin, 2013, p. 51–62). Disability person organizations are organizations which are controlled by persons with disabilities to represent the interests of persons with disabilities. From the first session, the Ad Hoc Committee enabled disability person organizations to have a central role in the discussions. In the eighth meeting of the first session, the Ad Hoc Committee (2002) decided upon the following rules: representatives from nongovernmental organizations accredited to the Ad Hoc Committee may participate in the work of the Ad Hoc Committee by

  1. (i) Attending any public meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee;

  2. (ii) Making statements, given the availability of time, in accordance with current United Nations practice;

  3. (iii) When time is limited, selecting from among themselves spokespersons, on a balanced and transparent basis, taking into account equitable geographical representation and the diversity of nongovernmental organizations;

  4. (iv) Receiving copies of the official documents, as well as making written or other presentations. Written presentations shall not be issued as official documents except in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996. Furthermore, nongovernmental organizations may make their material available to delegations in accessible areas designated by the Secretariat . . .

During this first session, only nine nongovernmental organizations were involved, including the Centre for International Rehabilitation, the European Disability Forum, the Inter-American Institute on Disability, the Landmine Survivors Network, Venture House, and Mental Disability Rights International, Asociación Civil contra la Discriminación (Civil Association against Discrimination), Communications Coordination Committee for the United Nations and IUS Gentium Conimbrigae Institute-Human Rights Centre. In subsequent sessions, the numbers of disability person organizations increased substantially.

The number and diversity of disability person organizations increased as the work of the Ad Hoc Committee continued through the sessions. For example, during the second session, 24 disability person organizations participated, representing persons with disabilities from across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America (Ad Hoc Committee, 2003). Some of the impairment-specific groups that participated included the European League of Stuttering Associations (ELSA), the Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, and the World Federation of the Deafblind. During the third session, disability person organizations from the Middle East, Africa, and South America participated for the first time. The list of participants included the Canadian Association for Community Living, Colombia Disabled Person’s Federation, the Palestine Disability Union, and the Yemen National Union for Disabled Persons (Ad Hoc Committee, 2004a). During the fourth session, the number of participants increased to include greater diversity by both impairment and region. The list of disability person organizations included the China Disabled Person’s Federation, the New Zealand Disabled Persons Assembly, the Norwegian Federation of Organizations of Disabled People, the Swedish Organizations of Disabled Persons International, and the Thailand Association of the Blind (Ad Hoc Committee, 2004b). Following the trend, during the fifth session more disability person organizations participated, including India’s Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre, the Japan Disability Forum, and Hungary’s Mental Disability Advocacy Centre (Ad Hoc Committee, 2005a). During the seventh session, participants included the Afghan Disabled Union, the British Council of Disabled People, the Gambia Future Hands on Disabled People, the International Stuttering Association, the Iraqi Handicapped and Survivors Society, the Lebanese Physical Handicapped Union, Persons with Pain International, and the Sudan Association for Combating Landmines (Ad Hoc Committee, 2005b). Again in the eighth session, there were numerous participants, including Amicale Marocaine des Handicapes, the Arab Organization of Disabled People, the Deaf Citizenship of Chile Association, the Disabled People’s Rehabilitation and Employment Union of Georgia, the European Disability Forum, Handicap International, Mental Disability Rights International, the World Blind Union, and the World Federation of the Deaf (United Nations, 2006a). In the final session of the Ad Hoc Committee, there were over 80 disability person organizations, with hundreds of individuals associated with these organizations representing tens of millions of persons with disabilities across the globe.

While every disability person organization had the right to operate independently of other organizations, from the very first session, an International Disability Caucus was formed. The International Disability Caucus was a grouping of disability person organizations which performed a coordination role between the different organizations (Kanter, 2007). The International Disability Caucus made submissions in its own name and was influential in the debates and drafting of the CRPD (Stein, 2010). One example of where the International Disability Caucus was influential was the debate over whether disability should be defined in the Convention, and if it should, what this definition would look like.

How Should Disability Be Defined? Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities

The Ad Hoc Committee was tasked with drafting a convention to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities. Could a convention operate without defining the group it is seeking to protect? Some state parties to the Ad Hoc Committee argued that the CRPD should not define disability. Prior to the main debate on the definition of disability on January 31, 2006, there were five proposed approaches to defining disability (United Nations, 2006b). The European Union (2006) argued that the convention could operate without defining disability and that a definition of disability was not needed. Costa Rica, on behalf of itself, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and El Salvador, proposed a definition that focused on the interaction between a person with an impairment and the environment without defining what constitutes an impairment (United Nations, 2006c). Kenya proposed a definition that defined impairments broadly, to include “physical, sensory, mental, psychological or other impairment, condition, or illness” and then determined there to be a disability when those impairments have a “substantial or long-term effect on an individual’s ability to carry out ordinary day-to-day activities” (United Nations, 2006b). Australia proposed a comprehensive definition which explored all impairments, potential impairments, and imputed impairments (United Nations, 2006d).

The International Disability Caucus was heavily involved in this debate and provided the fifth proposed approach to defining disability: “A person with a disability is an individual, whose potential to lead an inclusive life in the community of his/her own choice, is limited by the separate or concomitant impact of physical, economic, social and cultural environments and/or personal factors that interact with a condition. Such conditions include physical, sensory, psychosocial, neurological, neuro-diverse, medical, intellectual or other conditions that may be permanent, temporary, intermittent or imputed” (United Nations, 2006e). There was significant discussion on January 31, 2006 about which definition should be embraced.

The debates in the Ad Hoc Committee were led by state parties; however the International Disability Caucus had an active and influential role in the debates. The International Disability Caucus made submissions to support their proposed definition and gained the express support of Kenya and Brazil (United Nations, 2006b). Arguably, the advocacy of the International Disability Caucus contributed to the final definition of disability in Article 1 of the CRPD, which closely aligns with the definition it proposed: “Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” The value of this definition of disability for guiding public policies cannot be overemphasized. This definition, combined with the rights contained in the CRPD itself, creates a new disability human rights paradigm which recognizes the disabling impact of barriers in society and creates a platform to reduce and remove such barriers, while ensuring that the structure is provided to enable persons with disabilities to manage impairment-specific issues (Harpur, 2012a, 2017).

Persons with Disabilities’ Involvement in Monitoring and Enforcing the CRPD: A Transformational Approach

The roles of disability person organizations in monitoring and enforcing the CRPD internationally and domestically are empowering features of the CRPD. Similar to other United Nations human rights conventions, the CRPD has a monitoring body: the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Keller & Ulfstein, 2012). This committee structure has a number of unique features. One of the most interesting features of this committee is the role for persons with disabilities (Stein & Lord, 2010).

Article 34(4) requires state parties to try to involve the “participation of experts with disabilities” on the committee. While involvement of persons with disabilities is not required, in practice this has occurred. For example, the second chair of the committee is one of Australia’s most accomplished industrial relations law professors, who also happens to be totally blind: Professor Ron McCallum.

In addition to involving persons with disabilities in the international monitoring of the convention, the CRPD provides mechanisms for persons with disabilities to have a role in domestic monitoring. Article 33(1) requires state parties to “designate one or more focal points within government” for matters relating to the implementation of the CRPD. The creation of contact points is critical, considering the large number of public and private activities that are impacted upon by the CRPD. It is likely that most persons with disabilities will require several entities to comply with legal obligations so that these individuals can exercise all their rights on an equal basis as others. For example, a university student with a disability can have their rights impacted by educators, public transport operators, employers, health services, retail stores, and accommodation, to name a few. The central focal point enhances the probability of a whole-government and whole-society approach to disability inclusion.

To ensure that persons with disabilities have a voice in how the state implements and monitors the CRPD, the CRPD provides guidance on how this focal point should operate (Bielefeldt, 2007). CRPD Article 33(3) requires states to involve civil society in this focal point and, in particular, to involve “persons with disabilities and their representative organizations” fully in the monitoring process (Raley, 2016). This involvement goes further than merely having persons with disabilities engaged with the national disability focal point. CRPD Article 4(3) requires states to have persons with disabilities actively involved in the development and implementation of legislation and policies to implement the Convention: “States Parties shall closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations.” The active involvement of persons with disabilities throughout the formation, implementation, and monitoring of laws and policies means that the CRPD can do so much more than simply critiquing bad laws and policies. The operation of the CRPD framework means that bad laws and policies are less likely to be created in the first place, and if they are created, at least there has been a disability voice in their process. The policy cycle involves the following:

  1. 1. Setting the agenda by phrasing the problem;

  2. 2. Considering and crafting various policy options;

  3. 3. Deciding on a policy option;

  4. 4. Monitoring and evaluating the adopted policy option (Althaus, Bridgman, & Glyn, 2012; Fischer & Miller, 2006).

The CRPD has introduced a democratic framework in which persons with disabilities and their issues are considered at each stage of the policy cycle.

The Roadmap for Disability Equality

The human rights and empowerment agenda of the CRPD substantially transforms how international and domestic human rights laws approach persons with disabilities (Bielefeldt, 2007; Munro, 2012; Parker & Clements, 2008; Waterstone, 2010). It provides a roadmap to guide rights-based reforms (Arstein-Kerslake & Flynn, 2015). Professors Janet Lord and Michael Stein (2009) explain that

the CRPD advances social rights in a way that may profoundly affect the development of emergent social rights jurisprudence and advance human rights advocacy. Its comprehensive rights catalogue allows direct invocation of social rights claims, eliminating the need to fit such claims within the framework of more established civil or political rights.

(p. 251)

Professor Gerard Quinn (2005, pp. 519, 541) heralds the CRPD as the Declaration of Independence for persons with disabilities. For the first time in history, persons with disabilities are regarded by international law as full and equal citizens (Waterstone, 2010). As an international convention, states which are bound are required to comply with the provisions of the CRPD, thus meaning the sweeping human rights agenda should drive domestic law and policy reforms. Article 8 of the CRPD requires states to take immediate, effective, and appropriate measures to

  1. (a) raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;

  2. (b) combat stereotypes, prejudices, and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;

  3. (c) promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Paul Harpur (2011) has argued that the CRPD has “ushered in a new era of disability rights” politics and policies. Effectively, the CRPD requires states to take positive conduct to promote a sweeping disability rights–based agenda (Flynn, 2009; Gooding, 2015; Johnson, 2013; Lord, Raja, & Blanck, 2013).

The Impact of the CRPD and the New Disability Politics

The CRPD has arguably had a significant impact on international and domestic disability politics and has resulted in a range of positive reforms where disability person organizations are very active. It is beyond the scope of this article to analyze all the substantial reforms in which persons with disabilities have had a heavy involvement. One illustrative example of these reforms is how persons with print disabilities and their representatives have helped transform international law in an effort to combat the book famine impacting the world’s print disabled.

Following the adoption of the CRPD, disability rights advocates have been successful in lobbying for a substantial shift in how international copyright approaches persons with print disabilities. The Harpur and others have argued that the adoption of the Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (2013) represents a significant shift in how WIPO and international copyright law approach persons with print disabilities (Brown, Harmon, & Waelde, 2012; Harpur & Suzor, 2013; Koklu, 2014; Li, 2014). It could be argued that international copyright law strikes a balance that favors the right to exploit creative works over the rights of people to exercise their human rights (Harpur, 2017). The Marrakesh Treaty is significant as it shifts the balance slightly in favor of persons with disabilities who seek to exercise their human rights. While this shift falls far short of ensuring equality, disability rights advocates were able to secure the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty in the face of sustained and well-organized opposition by extremely powerful groups in society. It is arguable that the Marrakesh Treaty represents a significant step in moving international copyright laws from exceptionalism towards inclusion. The extent of this shift is not able to be analyzed within this article; however, it can be observed that disability organizations, in particular the World Blind Union, had a central role in drafting and lobbying for this substantial reform (Zemer & Gaon, 2015).

In addition to impact in law reforms, the CRPD has stimulated a substantial body of scholarship that is contributing to a disability perspective on laws and policies. Examples of subjects considered by this emerging body of scholarship include the following:

  • National-level strategies;

  • Accessibility, communication, and mobility;

  • Equal recognition before the law and access to justice;

  • Liberty of movement and nationality;

  • Living independently and being included in the community;

  • Respect for home and family;

  • Education;

  • Health;

  • Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure, and sport.

Conclusion

There are pivotal points in history, and the Ad Hoc Committee on a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities was such an occasion. When the Ad Hoc Committee was being formed in 2001, persons with disabilities had experienced centuries of oppression and abuse. Members of the world’s largest minority group had been silenced from public debate and were seen as passive targets of welfare (Harris, 2014; Weber, 2011). Through civil disobedience and strong activism, persons with disabilities were in a position that they were able to obtained a seat at the table when the CRPD was being discussed. Persons with disabilities and their representative organizations seized the opportunity and, led by the International Disability Caucus, contributed to the formation of a paradigm-shifting convention.

The formation and achievements of the Ad Hoc Committee have ushered in a new disability politics where persons with disabilities have a right under international human rights laws to be actively involved with the formulation and implementation of laws and policies impacting them in society. The Ad Hoc Committee was formed on the principle of “nothing about us without us” and followed this approach throughout its deliberations. The outcome of the Ad Hoc Committee, the CRPD, establishes a framework which enables persons with disabilities and their representative organizations to continue to have a voice on international and domestic laws and policies that impact them. The CRPD has already had notable successes in contributing to changes in laws and policies. It has stimulated a substantial body of scholarship and has created a new disability politics which is likely to positively impact persons with disabilities far into the future.

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