Development and human rights for all

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is disability and who are persons with disabilities?

The term persons with disabilities is used to apply to all persons with disabilities including those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various attitudinal and environmental barriers, hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others. However, this minimum list of persons who may claim protection under the Convention does not exhaust the categories of the disabilities which fall within the it nor intend to undermine or stand in the way of wider definition of disabilities under national law (such as persons with short-term disabilities). It is also important to note that a person with disabilities may be regarded as a person with a disability in one society or setting, but not in another, depending on the role that the person is assumed to take in his or her community. The perception and reality of disability also depend on the technologies, assistance and services available, as well as on cultural considerations.

In most parts of the world there are deep and persistent negative stereotypes and prejudices against persons with certain conditions and differences. These attitudes themselves also shape who is considered to be a person with a disability in each society as well as have contributed to a negative image of persons with disabilities. The language used to refer to persons with disabilities has played a significant role in the persistence of negative stereotypes. Clearly, terms such as “crippled” or “mentally retarded” are derogative. Other terms such as “wheelchair-bound” or “disabled persons” emphasize the disability before the person.

The drafters of this Convention were clear that disability should be seen as the result of the interaction between a person and his or her environment. Disability is not something that resides in the individual as the result of some impairment. This convention recognizes that disability is an evolving concept and that legislation may adapt to reflect positive changes within society.

For more information:
Disability Statistics
International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF)
World Programme of Action: Objectives, Background and Concepts

What is the mandate for the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

The mandate of the Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities adopted in 2006, the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities adopted in 1993, and the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons adopted in 1982.

For more information:
The Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Back to top

What has the UN done for persons with disabilities?

During its first three decades, the United Nations moved from a welfare perspective on disability to a development and human rights perspective. This approach was promoted during the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and embodied in the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons adopted in 1982. This approach was further development during the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons (1983-1992) and led the adoption of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1994. It is widely agreed that, since its adoption, the application of the principles expressed in the Standard Rules has greatly contributed to the diffusion of best practices on equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

In 1992, the United Nations proclaimed 3 December of each year as International Day of Disabled Persons with the aim of promoting a better understanding about disability issues and increasing awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social economic and cultural life.

On 13 December 2006, the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first major human rights instrument of the 21st century.

For more information:
History of Disability and the United Nations
United Nations System and Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol

Does the UN monitor the situation of disabled persons in different countries?

Among the major outcomes of the Decade of Disabled Persons was the adoption, by the General Assembly, of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities in 1994. The Standard Rules consists of 22 rules summarizing the message of the World Programme of Action, and serves as an instrument for policy-making and as a basis for technical and economic cooperation. The Rules also provides for a monitoring mechanism: the Special Rapporteur on Disability, who reports on the implementation of the Standard Rules to the Commission for Social Development of the Economic and Social Council. The Special Rapporteur establishes a direct dialogue with Member States and also with local non-governmental organizations and experts, seeking their views and comments on any information intended to be included in the reports.

Once the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities enters into force, monitoring will be achieved via the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Conference of States Parties.

For more information:
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol
Monitoring of the Convention
Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
Standard Rules: Monitoring Mechanism

What does the Special Rapporteur on disability do?

The United Nations Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities of Persons with Disabilities provides for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to monitor the implementation of the Rules. The Special Rapporteur reports yearly to the Commission for Social Development. The reports present findings on the promotion and monitoring of the implementation of the Standard Rules and present recommendations, as requested by the Commission, on their further development. In carrying out his/her functions, the Special Rapporteur establishes a direct dialogue with Member States and with local non-governmental organizations and experts, seeking their views and comments on any information intended to be included in the reports.

For more information:
Activities of the Special Rapporteur

Back to top

Does the UN provide funding to organizations for persons with disabilities in their activities?

The United Nations provides support to organizations for persons with disabilities in their activities through the UN Voluntary Fund on Disability. Funding priority is targeted to building the capacity of non-governmental organizations to take part in the making of the Convention and its future implementation. The Fund also provide small grants to support catalytic and innovative action, which will promote greater awareness of disability issues and exchanges of knowledge and experience and promote wide dissemination of appropriate disability technologies.

For more information:
United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability
Guidelines for Preparing and Submitting Project Proposals

Where can I find UN documents related to disability?

Official UN documents which include the reports of the Secretary-General, the Ad Hoc Committee, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission for Social Development, World Health Assembly and General Assembly resolutions and decisions, can be found on this website at the following link: Disability and the United Nations

Back to top