Regional seminar workshop to build capacities and strengthen institutional development on leadership and the Standard Rules on the Equalizations of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, Cartagena, Colombia, 3-5 December 2001
Seminario-Taller Regional de Fortalecimiento de Capacidad de Desarrollo Institucional para la Equipación de Oportunidades para Personas con Discapacidad
SUMMARY OF THE REPORT1
The main focus of the workshop was presenting the array of international norms and standards related to disability, and to discuss its possibilities of employment in the domestic sphere. Particular attention was given to the United Nations Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, and to the Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, a recent regional convention ratified or under the process of ratification by most of the participants´ countries of origin. Participants were encouraged to use international norms as standards to review their domestic legislation and policies regarding disability. The workshop took place in four 3-hour sessions, and its conclusions were presented by designated participants in the general GLARP meeting closing panel.
The relevant international instruments were previously distributed to the participants. The GLARP organization provided photocopies, the required computer facilities and interpreters for participants with hearing impairments. The adopted format consisted in a interactive round table, following inputs by the facilitator. The participants discussed the influence of the international norms in the formulation of domestic disability policies and legislation in the different countries, and the situation of each country regarding the different “Preconditions for Equal Participation” and “Target Areas for Equal Participation” established by the UN Standard Rules.
The first session was devoted to an explanation of the background of international norms related to disabilities. It included the discussion of the status of non-binding international instruments such as the Standard Rules, the disability-related clauses of international human rights treaties, the reports and opinions issued by charter-based and treaty-based UN bodies and their appointed rapporteurs, the present legal situation and perspectives of the Inter-American Convention, and the perspectives and developments towards a universal convention related to disability. Some of the points that were made in this regard are: the differences between human rights and social development international instruments, and the efforts towards a comprehensive “holistic” approach, the existing implementation and monitoring mechanisms, the comparison between the content of the Standard Rules and the Inter-American Convention, the position of the participants´ respective countries regarding the Inter-American Convention and the future steps to be taken towards the conclusion of a universal convention. Issues regarding domestic implementation and international norms, and of the employment of international treaties and standards by domestic courts were also covered.
The first session was also dedicated to discuss definitional issues. Inputs about the paradigm shift —from a “medical” to a “social” conception of disability— and its influence on international classifications and legal definitions were followed by a discussion about the impact of this shift on domestic constitutional law and legislation.
The second session was dedicated to overview the Preconditions for Equal Participation according to the United Nations Standard Rules. These standards were compared with the Inter-American Convention and other relevant instruments. Issues regarding awareness-raising, medical care, rehabilitation and support services were raised, taking into consideration the situation of the participants´ respective countries and examples from other regions of the world.
The third and fourth sessions focused on Target Areas for Equal Participation. On Wednesday afternoon, the group discussed employment and education issues. Particular attention was paid to the roles of public and private actors in the development of non- discriminatory employment policies regarding persons with disabilities. The discussion was situated in the context of the high unemployment rates and large informal sectors that characterize the economies of several Latin American countries. Access to education was also seen as a major challenge, as it provides better tools for persons with disabilities to obtain jobs in the competitive market. Significant attention was also dedicated to discuss the difficulties of integrated education.
The last session was dedicated to the remaining areas for equal participation —accessibility, income maintenance and social security, family life and personal integrity, culture, recreation and sports, and religion—. National account of efforts towards making accessible the physical environment were provided by participants —although noteworthy disparities between capital cities and regions, and between urban and rural areas, were particularly stressed—. There was general consensus about the only modest achievements in the fields of access to information and communication, and accessibility of public transportation. Regarding income maintenance and social security, one of the main concerns of the participants was the fact the some of the national social security systems continue linking the right to social benefits to the previous employment in the formal sector. Given the high unemployment rate —even higher for persons with disabilities— and the fact that the informal sector is rather large in many of the countries of the region, a very small section of the people with disability qualify for social security. When benefits are available, sometimes they are tailored in such a way that they discourage persons with disabilities to seek employment, because the benefits are automatically cancelled when the person gets any kind of formal job —even if insufficient to make a living—.
Finally, the participants approached issues regarding institutional design, implementation and participation of organizations of persons with disabilities. Some of the problems pointed out were the lack of coordination of different state agencies regarding disability policies, the lack of up-to-date information about disability, the lack of judicial tradition regarding implementation of existing legislation through courts, the centralization of the existing services —causing great disparities among different areas of the countries—, and the lack of participation of organizations of persons with disabilities in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of public policies regarding disabilities.
On the closing panel, two of the participants presented the conclusions of the workshop. On the one hand, the group acknowledged a growing legal and political consciousness about disability as a human rights issue in Latin America. In the 90s, this consciousness led to the constitutional recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities, and the passage of legislation and regulations regarding disabilities. Shifts from a purely medical conception of disability and a public policy approach based on charity to a social conception and a right-based public policy approach took place in many countries of the region, following active participation and organization of disability rights groups.
On the other hand, there is still much more to do to achieve full equalization of opportunities and participation of persons with disabilities in Latin American societies. Economic crisis and anachronistic public policies strengthen a vicious circle: persons with disabilities do not access regular education, thereby they do not access formal employment, thereby they do not access social security benefits, rehabilitation and medical services. There is still a long way to go to make the urban space, public and private buildings and public transportation accessible. Communication and information barriers continue to be widespread. Even if the idea of integrated education has gained acceptance, implementation is far from successful. A common problem pointed out by various participants is the lack of implementation of pieces of legislation that are already enacted, as well as the absence of monitoring mechanisms to control that implementation. Lack of coordination, overcentralization of services in the main cities, lack of dialogue between governmental authorities and organizations of persons with disabilities for the design, implementation and monitoring of public policies regarding disabilities, inadequate training of the officials in charge of implementation, were also raised as relevant problems.
Finally, marginalization of persons with disabilities is aggravated by the confluence of other social factors of vulnerability: poverty, gender, membership to ethnic or linguistic minorities. The lack of specific policies regarding vulnerable groups may also have the effect of benefiting only those persons with disabilities of middle or upper class social layers, the male gender or dominant cultural groups, and aggravating the disparities between different social groups.
1: This text has not been formally edited.