UN Signs Treaty to Benefit People with Disabilities Worldwide by John Williams
New York, NY - Opportunities for people with disabilities and for assistive technology manufacturers were recently provided an impetus to improve worldwide.
Last month at the United Nations' headquarters during a Convention on the Rights of Personas with Disabilities, 86 member states and the European Community signed a treaty to improve the lives of the world's estimated 650 million people with disabilities.
The Convention outlaws discrimination against persona with disabilities in all areas of life, including employment, education, health services, transportation and access to justice.
Forty-five countries signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention, which will give individuals recourse to an expert committee on the rights of persons with disabilities when all national options have been exhausted.
For assistive technology manufacturers hungering to expand their markets, the treaty calls for member to provide accessible information to persona with disabilities about mobility aids, devices and assistive technologies, including new technologies, as well as other forms of assistance, support services and facilities.
The treaty defines "reasonable accommodations" as necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments, not imposing a significant undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure persona with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It also defines "universal design" as the design of products, environments and services to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. It further states that "universal design" shall not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persona with disabilities where this is needed.
The treaty requires that public spaces and buildings be accessible to persona with disabilities, and calls for improvements to information and communications infrastructure. World Opinion UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told a press briefing in New York that the drive and commitment of the disability community was the greatest impetus behind the treaty's content and relatively rapid adoption.
Yannis Vardakastanis of the International Disability Caucus called the Convention "a very drastic paradigm shift in the way the international community looks at disability."
He said the pact should bring real changes in the daily lives of people living with disabilities, helping to take away the discrimination, exclusion and obstacles they routinely face.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro told a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York that "in three short years, the Convention went from dream to reality" to become the first human rights treaty of the century.
She added that fewer than 50 nations currently have specific legislation protecting people with disabilities. "I know we can do better," she said.
Addressing the same gathering, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa described the adoption of the Convention as "a historic event not only for person with disabilities, but also for the promotion of the human rights agenda at the Untied Nations."
UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said when he delivered his remarks opening the signature portion of the convention.
"Of course, ratification has to be followed by vigorous implementation and oversight at the national and local levels. Only then will the real benefits of this legislation be felt by millions of persons with disabilities through the world. Only then will our own high expectations prove truly justified."
The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly last December. The treaty marks a sea of change in t the perception of persona with disabilities, with an emphasis on empowering people to play a greater role in decisions that affect them.
The Convention dies not call on budget-strapped governments to pay for things they cannot afford. But it sets out minimum measures to respect basic human dignity, as well as longer-term goals to achieve full integration.
Twenty countries must ratify the Convention before it enters into force, and United Nations officials believe that number can be reached during 2007.