The rate and risk of disability among indigenous people are higher because of dangerous working conditions, lower standards of living, and the poor quality of the preventive medical services available to them. Above all, disabled persons belonging to such groups do not usually have access to suitable rehabilitation services.
The first instrument concerning indigenous populations was the 1957 ILO Convention on the Protection and Integration of Indigenous and other Tribal and Semi-Tribal populations in Independent Countries. However, it was ratified by less than thirty countries. The first International Conference of NGOs on Indigenous Issues was held in Geneva in 1977 and a second conference took place in 1981. The decisive step was the establishment of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1988, under the auspices of the Sub-commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UNHCR. The Working Group drafted a (Draft) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1994, which will be considered by the General Assembly.
The International Decade of Indigenous People (1995-2004) has led to the creation of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and in 2001, a Special Rapporteur was appointed to receive information and communications on the situation of the human rights of indigenous people.
The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action as the final document of the World Conference on Human Rights focuses on the rights of indigenous populations, including persons with disabilities. Section II, paragraph 20 obliges States to ensure the full and free participation of indigenous people in all aspects of society. Additionally, States should ensure respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. It also requires legislative reform to "…assure access to these and others rights of disabled persons."
The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action gives special emphasis on disadvantaged groups, such as disabled persons and indigenous peoples. Commitment 4 provides that in order to promote social integration, States should respect the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and develop their identity, culture and interests. Furthermore, States must ensure that indigenous peoples are able to participate in the social, economic, and political life of their country. Commitment 6 requires States to recognise the right of indigenous people to education that is responsive to their specific needs, aspirations and cultures. States must also ensure that indigenous peoples have full access to health care.