Delegates at UN meeting on disability rights see it as major step forward

31 January 2006 –

Persons with disabilities who have gathered at United Nations Headquarters from all over the world to negotiate the first-ever convention on their rights expressed confidence today that the session will pave the way for a full agreement guaranteeing protections and preventing discrimination, but they said it was just the beginning of their battle for equality.

More than 400 representatives from governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are attending the current session, which is slated to wrap up on Friday. Many said that while the process of examining each article requires time, it is critical to get an agreement in place.

“Let’s continue to work for this convention because I think we deserve to have one. It’s not going to create miracles but definitely it’s going to create better lives for all of us,” Venus Ilagan, Chairperson of the Philippines branch of the worldwide Disabled Peoples’ International Network, told the UN News Service.

“Personally as a woman with a disability, just like other women with disabilities from developing countries, we suffer triple discrimination on account of our disability, our gender and our poverty so this convention is going to be very helpful in making sure we enjoy our rights the same way other people enjoy their rights,” said Ms. Ilagan.

The second full reading of the convention is expected to conclude on Friday and although the General Assembly committee drafting the treaty has made progress on various issues – including those relating to education, work and health – delegates acknowledge much work still needs to be done before the treaty becomes law.

“This is the seventh session but I don’t think we’ll be able to finish it this year. Negotiations are still going on,” added Ms. Ilagan, echoing the views of other delegates who said the extensive number of subjects the articles covered meant it was difficult to say when the text would be agreed upon.

Like other delegates at the meeting, Wayne Cockfield, from the National Right to Life NGO, said it was important for society at large, both the developed and developing worlds, to involve people with disabilities in the community. He added that this is also economically viable.

“A lot of people think it costs a lot of money to make society accessible to disabled people when in reality it doesn’t cost that much more. If you’re building a sidewalk and you put a curb-cut so a wheelchair can get over that sidewalk, that really costs nothing because you’re already spending money to make the sidewalk,” added Mr. Cockfield.

Many of the delegates, including Mr. Cockfield and Ms. Ilagan, were in wheelchairs and particularly for Ms. Ilagan simply getting to the conference was a stark reminder of the problems of accessibility.

“It’s been difficult but you know it’s something very important and I think it’s worth the time and effort,” she said of her 19-hour trip from the Philippines.

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