3 September 2010 A United Nations-backed conference aimed at advancing the rights of persons with disabilities concluded today with countries underscoring the need to continue building on recent momentum to ensure that the rights of the world’s estimated 650 million people with disabilities are protected and strengthened.
Hundreds of delegates and civil society representatives took part in the three-day conference at UN Headquarters in New York to see how to better implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which came into force in 2008.
The convention, among other elements, asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities.
The number of countries that have ratified it has jumped from 66 to 90 in the past year and the number that has signed has risen from 142 to 146.
Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, the President of the conference, told the closing session today that he hoped that “the number of signatures and ratifications continues to increase” and that ongoing efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities bear fruit.
He welcomed the enthusiastic participation of national delegations, experts and civil society representatives in the conference, which included interactive dialogues, round-table discussions and formal presentations.
Many of the discussions focused on the right to education for persons with disabilities, the need for measures for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities in society, and care provided during disasters and emergency situations.
Shuaib Chalklen, the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability, told the UN News Centre that the conference had an important “consciousness-raising” value for governments and policymakers to take action to ensure that the convention is implemented on the ground.
While the rising number of ratifications means more countries will have to report on what measures they are taking to meet their obligations, Mr. Chalklen said all too often this is failing to translate at the local level, both in rich and poor countries.
He cited education as an example, with administrators, principals and teachers at many schools often unaware of the barriers that can exist to prevent a child with disabilities from attending and fully participating in classes.
A pupil using a wheelchair or crutches may face stairs to get to class, a lack of appropriate bathrooms and a viewpoint that it is the child with the problem rather than the school.
“It’s an attitudinal problem and there needs to be a commitment to make it work… But unfortunately there is a lack of awareness,” Mr. Chalklen said.
The next conference of States Parties to the convention will be held in early September 2011.
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