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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

Paradigm Shift

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities marks a “paradigm shift” in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities in several ways.

Persons with disabilities as subjects of rights, not objects of charity
The Convention takes to a new height the movement from the treatment of persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society. The Convention gives universal recognition to the dignity of persons with disabilities.

Accessibility is addressed on its own in Article 9, and is also a guiding principle of the Convention. This Convention marks the first time that the concept of accessibility is mentioned in an international human rights instrument. The extremely comprehensive way it is conceived in the Convention represents a large step forward in the evolution of thinking in development and disability.

Accessibility is a much more comprehensive issue than the often cited example of the provision of wheelchair ramps to buildings. Society must ensure access to such things as roads, public transportation systems, pedestrian signs, public facilities (schools, hospitals & clinics, housing, workplaces), information and communication (websites, telephone systems). This accessibility must be provided for persons with all disabilities including visual, hearing, mobility, and intellectual disabilities. Much of society in most countries remains inaccessible to significant portions of its members.
The Convention highlights that it is not sufficient to bestow rights to persons; it is also necessary to ensure that persons can feasibly access and enjoy what is bestowed by these rights. Without access, rights are only theoretical.

Development cannot be sustainable unless it is inclusive
The Convention marks an important step in the evolution of the understanding of what constitutes sustainable development. It is now accepted practice that in order for development to be sustainable, it must take gender into account and it must be people centered. The Convention further completes the understanding of truly sustainable development by adding that it must be inclusive of all members of society, including persons with disability.



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United Nations, 2007
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development