Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the
Final report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development on monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities
A. Human rights and disability
In November 1994 a first letter from the Special Rapporteur to Governments was distributed to Member States. The letter contained four general questions concerning the reception of the Rules by Governments and other interested entities in the countries.
A country-by-country summary of all the replies was made and attached to the first report to the Commission. The following highlights might be noted:
(a) Most Governments indicated either that they had already acted in the spirit of the Rules or that they were drafting new policies in accordance with them;
(b) Many countries had translated the Rules into their native language, even in countries with more than one language;
(c) Many countries already had national coordination committees. In others, such bodies were being created. Throughout the replies, there was strong emphasis on the active participation by organizations of disabled persons in developing policies and programmes in the disability field;
(d) Many countries expressed the wish to receive more information, especially about the activities in the disability field in other countries;
(e) Some countries had already adopted, or were drafting, legislation or other documents using the principles of the Rules;
(f) In some countries the Rules were used in awareness-raising campaigns;
(g) One country was planning to develop an e-mail forum for the Rules;
(h) Several new bodies or institutions were created with various functions but with the common purpose of supporting the implementation of the Rules, for example, a High Commissioner on Disability (Morocco), a Disability Ombudsman (Sweden), an Equal Opportunities Centre (Denmark), a Special Committee of State Secretaries (Norway) and a Foundation to promote development in the disability field, with income from taxation on gambling (Estonia).
The first letter was distributed through regular United Nations channels. Member States were asked to reply before 15 February 1995. A reminder to Governments was sent out by the Secretariat shortly before the deadline for submissions. In addition, the international non-governmental organizations constituting the panel of experts were asked by the Special Rapporteur to distribute the letter to their national members. A total of 38 replies was received from Governments. Only four replies were transmitted by non-governmental organizations.
Thirty-eight submissions only is, of course, a very disappointing result. The questions were of such a nature that it would not have taken much time to formulate a reply. Such a low response rate seems, however, to correspond well with earlier experience within the Secretariat concerning questionnaires sent to Member States on disability matters. Bearing that experience in mind, it was decided to extend the efforts to encourage Governments and non-governmental organizations to reply by sending reminders to all concerned and by using the contacts already made. As it can be seen from the response rate in connection with the second survey, the efforts were successful.
In order to make a more accurate assessment of the worldwide implementation of the Standard Rules, the Special Rapporteur decided, in consultation with the panel of experts, to carry out a second survey among the Member States and national non-governmental organizations in the disability field. The purpose of the survey was threefold: (a) to assess the level of implementation; (b) to identify main changes and accomplishments in the field of disability; (c) to identify major problems and obstacles encountered during the implementation process.
The preparations began in August 1995, and the report on the survey was completed in December 1996. A questionnaire was elaborated, which requested information on five areas: general policy, legislation (rule 15); accessibility (rule 5); organizations of persons with disabilities (rule 18); and coordination of work (rule 17). Given the variations in economic, political and cultural conditions that exist among Member States, it was a rather complicated task to draft the questionnaire, and it is hardly surprising that certain questions required a broad interpretation.
The questionnaire was transmitted in December 1995 to all Governments and to the approximately 600 national member organizations of the six international organizations constituting the panel of experts. Information was enclosed stating that the objective was to identify the official policy of the country. It was pointed out that the questionnaire focused specifically on the nature and scope of the implementation of the Rules undertaken principally through legislative action, administrative rules or regulatory measures.
By August 1996 the survey had generated 83 responses from Governments, which might be considered as a considerable number of replies.
|Number||Response rate (percentage)|
|NGOs - Organizations||163||27|
|NGOs - Countries||96||..|
It may be noted that replies were received from the Governments of 30 countries from which there was no response from non-governmental organizations. Conversely, replies from non-governmental organizations were received from 43 countries whose Governments did not reply. In total, 126 countries were covered by the survey.
It is encouraging to note that the survey has resulted in extensive and essential disability data, which will be of great importance in understanding the progress achieved in the area of disability policy. In the following paragraphs some selected findings are presented from the analysis of Government replies. Because of a constant flow of incoming replies, analyses of the data could not be started until late August 1996. Therefore, time has not made it possible to analyse the material in its entirety. It is intended to continue the work and to publish a report including both Government replies and replies from non-governmental organizations, as well as comparative studies of the replies.
An officially recognized disability policy is essential for the attainment of equality of opportunity. One aim of the questionnaire was to identify the existence of such a policy and the effect given it. The existence of a disability policy can be measured, inter alia, by the extent to which relevant legislation has been enacted and information campaigns have been undertaken.
In question 1 the respondents were asked to indicate whether there is an officially recognized disability policy. In the majority of countries, that is, 70 of the 82 countries providing information on that issue, there is such an officially recognized policy. Only 11 Governments, ten of which are of developing countries, reported that they do not have such a policy.
62. In 10 countries the officially recognized disability policy is not expressed in law, but in guidelines and/or in different policy documents.
In question 2 the respondents were asked to indicate where the emphasis in the national disability policy lies. The aim was to find out whether disability policy focuses on a welfare approach, on accessibility or on anti-discrimination measures. When individual support is given more emphasis, the Special Rapporteur's interpretation is that the disability policy is of a more traditional welfare-oriented type. When accessibility or anti-discrimination law gets the main emphasis, the Special Rapporteur considers the disability policy to be more human-rights oriented. As the survey indicates, countries place the highest importance on rehabilitation and prevention (that is, a welfare approach), while less emphasis is given to accessibility measures and anti-discrimination law. This could be considered an indication that many countries have not yet implemented the Standard Rules. It could also be explained by greater difficulty to organize and finance this kind of measure. Unquestionably, the more traditional welfare approach to disability is still very widespread.
In question 3, on general policy, respondents were asked to indicate whether, since the adoption of the Rules, the Government has done anything to initiate and support information campaigns, conveying the message of full participation for persons with disabilities. Sixty-four of the 79 Governments providing information reported that they had conveyed that message through various methods.
Of course, the actions taken by the Governments vary. The most frequent measures mentioned are translation of the Rules, translation and publication into a large print version, development of educational materials in order to raise the awareness of the public, television and radio programmes conveying the message of full participation, support to research projects, support to non-governmental organizations advocating the message of full participation, advertisements in newspapers and donations to support the work of the Special Rapporteur. As many as 15 Governments reported that they have not done anything in this area since the adoption of the Rules, a fact that is rather astonishing, as three years have passed since they were adopted. To make the Rules known is after all the easiest and the least costly measure of all.
In order to present a broad picture of national legislation concerning the rights of persons with disabilities, the second survey reviewed general aspects of legislation. Question 4 aimed at finding out whether the Government had enacted rights legislation to protect individuals and groups from discrimination on the basis of disability. Such action can be carried out by general legislation, special legislation or a combination of the two. The provisions in general legislation are intended to apply equally to all persons, regardless of disability. Special legislation draws attention to the particular needs of persons with disabilities and creates specific protections. Special legislation is often advocated when general legislation fails to provide sufficient protection. It can be maintained that special legislation is stronger, since it specifically refers to the needs and rights of persons with disabilities.
As the results indicate, the most common procedure is to use both special and general legislation or a combination of the two. Fifty-six Governments replied that there are specific amendments referring to disabled persons' rights within general legislation. Ten Governments reported that the rights of persons with disabilities are protected only by special legislation, and 17 Governments reported that those rights are protected only by general legislation. The great diversity among these countries indicates that the level of social and economic development or legal tradition cannot play an essential role in the choice of legislation.
In question 5 the aim was to determine whether there are mechanisms to protect the citizenship rights of disabled persons. Judicial mechanisms, as well as administrative and other non-judicial bodies, are the institutional arrangements through which citizenship is protected. The protection of the rights of disabled persons depends to a large extent on the enforcement mechanism built into the legislation. Unless objections can be raised through judicial mechanisms or non-judicial bodies, laws remain ineffective. As the results showed, the status of persons with disabilities in relation to the enforcement mechanisms is not always clear.
In the majority of the 81 countries providing information, mechanisms have been adopted to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The most common judicial mechanism is legal remedy through the courts, while the most common non-judicial mechanism is a governmental body (administrative). Sixteen Governments reported that they do not have any judicial mechanism. In two countries there are neither judicial nor non-judicial mechanisms/arrangements to protect the rights of disabled persons, which is a serious infringement of their human rights (see the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 2, paragraph 3, and articles 16 and 26).
In question 6 the aim was to ascertain whether general legislation applies to persons with disabilities and their right to equal protection under the law, or whether disability is a cause for differential treatment. The results showed that in 27 of the 80 countries providing information, persons with disabilities are not considered to be full-fledged citizens in a number of areas within the general legislation, including the right to vote, the right to property, the right to privacy. In 55 countries disability is not used as a basis for differential treatment.
The results indicated that disabled persons in 10 of the 80 countries providing information are not guaranteed by law the right to education and the right to employment. In 17 countries the right to marriage is not guaranteed by law; in 16 countries the rights to parenthood/family, access to court of law, privacy and property are not guaranteed by law, and in 14 countries persons with disabilities have no political rights. As regards exclusion from the right to marriage, parenthood/family, access to court of law, property and political rights, they are all examples of the discrimination that occurs through legislation and regulations. Legislation may actually prevent disabled persons, in particular, those with mental disabilities, from exercising those rights. For instance, in some countries the laws governing property exclude disabled persons from owning property. There may also be legal provisions that prevent disabled persons from entering into contracts in their own names. This seems to be legally sanctioned discrimination, which those Governments have established in their legislation (see the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, articles 17, 23 and 25 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, article 12).
In question 7 the aim was to study the existence of legislation concerning a number of benefits, such as health services, social security, rehabilitation and employment. In 4 of the 82 countries providing information, no benefits at all are guaranteed by law to persons with disabilities. In 33 countries all of the aforementioned benefits are guaranteed by law, while in the remaining 49 countries one or more of those benefits are not guaranteed by law. In 10 countries the right to health/medical care is not guaranteed. In 14 countries the right to training, rehabilitation and counselling is not guaranteed by law. In 24 countries the right to financial security, in 27 countries the right to employment and in 34 countries the right to independent living and the right to participation in decision-making are not guaranteed by law. Thus, in most countries one or more of those social security and welfare services are not within the legal framework guaranteed to all citizens.
When comparing the information in questions 6 and 7, it can be noted that Governments are more advanced in establishing laws that guarantee civil and political rights than they are in establishing laws that guarantee the social and economic rights. Persons with disabilities are significantly disadvantaged in many societies. Many of the social and economic conditions they experience reflect a basic lack of equality that can be traced back to a weak legal basis.
When comparing questions 6 and 7 with question 4, it can be concluded that a correlation exists between general legislation and a weaker protection of citizenship rights for persons with disabilities. When the rights of persons with disabilities are protected only by general legislation, there are several citizenship rights (political rights, the right to marriage, the right to parenthood/family), as well as several social and economic rights (financial security, employment, independent living) that are not guaranteed by law. This trend could be found in 13 of 17 countries reporting only general legislation. Only in four countries could exceptions be noticed to the trend that general legislation is sufficient to protect the citizenship rights of persons with disabilities.
In question 8 the aim was to ascertain whether new legislation concerning disability has been enacted since the adoption of the Rules. In the majority of the countries (44 of 83 countries providing information) no new legislation concerning disability has been enacted since the adoption of the Rules. However, several Governments (47 per cent) have recently adopted legislation that protects persons with disabilities against discrimination and other forms of unjust treatment.
In the area of accessibility, two major aspects must be considered - access to the physical environment and access to information and communication. Accessibility is taken for granted by the general population in such areas as housing, transportation, education, work and culture. Without an accessible physical environment and access to information, it becomes difficult to exercise both political and social rights. Accessibility is therefore a prerequisite for achieving the goal of full participation for persons with disabilities.
Questions 9 and 10 aimed at finding out whether there are laws and/or regulations concerning the built environment. Twenty-three of the 83 Governments providing information reported that there are no standards which require accessibility to the built environment.
In most countries there are standards that ensure accessibility to public places. But in 42 per cent of the countries only are there public means of transportation accessible to persons with disabilities. Thus, accessibility to public places is in practice much lower, since without transportation it is difficult to have access to buildings.
In question 12 the aim was to determine what measures have been promoted by Governments in order to facilitate accessibility in the built environment. As the study shows, providing special parking lots and installing automatic doors, lifts and accessible toilets for persons with physical disabilities are the most frequently promoted measures. The least frequent measures are the use of special lighting and contrasting colours for the visually impaired. Eighteen of the 81 Governments providing information reported no measures at all to facilitate accessibility to the built environment.
In question 13 the aim was to determine whether any special transport arrangements exist for persons with disabilities and for what purposes special transport is available. In 26 of the 82 countries providing information there are no special transport arrangements, not even reduced prices on public transport in urban areas. Special transport arrangements vary to a great extent. The survey indicated that special transport, when available, is most often provided for the purpose of education and less frequently for recreational purposes.
Question 14 aimed at determining impediments when planning to build accessible environments. A number of obstacles were listed and Governments were asked to rate the most difficult ones. The results indicated that the three main obstacles to adaptation of the built environment to the needs of disabled persons are economic/budgetary factors, attitudinal factors and the lack of enforcement mechanisms. Surprisingly, attitudinal factors are considered by many as a major obstacle to accessibility measures.
Question 15 aimed at determining whether there is a disability awareness component incorporated into the training of planners, architects and/or construction engineers. The findings indicated that in the majority of the countries (42 of the 78 countries providing information) there is no such awareness component in training programmes.
The information and communication rights of persons with disabilities were addressed specifically in questions 16, 17 and 19. Of particular importance is to create measures that make information and communication accessible to deaf, deaf-blind and visually impaired persons.
In question 16 the aim was to ascertain the status of sign language in Member States. Our survey indicated that in 26 of the 80 countries providing information, sign language is not used in the education of the deaf and is not the main means of communication between deaf persons and others. In 15 countries it is used as the first language in the education of the deaf, and in 15 countries it is used as the main means of communication between deaf persons and others, but not as the first language in the education of the deaf.
Questions 17 and 18 concerned measures taken by Governments to encourage media and other public information providers to make their services accessible to persons with disabilities. Such services include text on television, news in sign language, interpretation in sign language of other programmes, large-print editions of newspapers, text telephones for the deaf and interpretation of theatre plays in sign language. The findings indicated that about 50 per cent of the countries providing information had not taken any measures to encourage the media to make their services accessible. Likewise about 50 per cent of the countries reported that no measures had been taken to encourage other public information providers to make their services accessible.
In question 19, the aim was to determine which services are provided in order to facilitate information and communication between persons with disabilities and others. The results showed that 71 of the 81 countries providing information provide literature in Braille or tape and 45 countries provide news magazines on tape or Braille. Thirty-four countries provide sign language interpretation for any purpose and 25 countries provide large-print readers. It is apparent that services to different groups of persons with disabilities vary considerably. Services to blind and visually impaired persons receive the most attention, while services to the deaf and to persons with mental disabilities are more limited.
According to rule 18, the activities concerning the implementation of the Standard Rules should be carried out in cooperation between national authorities and organizations of persons with disabilities. It is an important principle of democracy that individuals should be involved in decision-making concerning themselves. In this context, organizations of persons with disabilities represent the experiences and aspirations of their members. Such organizations can provide decision-makers with insight into, and knowledge of, the problems, needs and requirements of persons with disabilities.
Question 20 concerned the existence of an umbrella organization, that is, a joint organization of different organizations of persons with disabilities. Sixty-three of the 81 countries providing information reported that a national umbrella organization existed. Eighteen countries reported that there is no umbrella organization. In the countries where the umbrella exists, most organizations of persons with disabilities are represented.
Regarding the existence of legal provisions that mandate the representatives of these organizations to participate in policy-making and to work with governmental institutions (question 21), the results were as follows: In 31 of the 80 countries providing information (39 per cent), there are no legal provisions. In 49 countries (61 per cent) there are such legal provisions.
Question 22 aimed to determine if and how often the views of organizations of persons with disabilities are taken into account. In 37 of the 80 countries providing information, organizations are always consulted when preparing laws, regulations and/or guidelines with a disability aspect. In 24 countries their views are often taken into account. In 18 countries their views are sometimes taken into account, and in one country the views of the organizations are never taken into account.
As the results of question 23 showed, consultations take place most often at the national level, less often at the local level and least often at the regional level.
Question 24 aimed to ascertain whether the Government gives any support and what kind of support is given. In 65 of the 80 countries providing information, organizations of persons with disabilities receive financial support from their Governments. In nine countries organizations receive only organizational/ logistic support, while in five countries organizations do not receive any support at all.
Question 25 tried to measure the extent to which persons with disabilities participate in political and public life. Respondents were asked to evaluate on a scale of one to five the extent to which persons with disabilities participate in five different areas of public life: Government; legislatures; judicial authorities; political parties; and non-governmental organizations. The level of participation could be evaluated on a scale ranging from very limited to considerable.
The results showed that persons with disabilities participate to a very limited extent in Government, legislatures and judicial authorities, but to a great extent in non-governmental organizations. It is interesting to note that participation in political parties scored next after non-governmental organizations.
Question 26 aimed at pointing out the role played by organizations of persons with disabilities. The organizations most often help to raise public awareness, to mobilize persons with disabilities and to advocate for rights and improved services. Least often their role is to promote/organize income-generating activities.
Disability is a multidisciplinary and multidimensional issue that concerns all spheres of society. There is therefore a constant need for coordination between all parties concerned in developing disability policy and programmes.
In questions 27 and 28 the aim was to find out whether there is a national coordinating committee or similar body and to whom it reports. Sixty-two of the 84 countries providing information reported that a coordinating committee or similar body had been established, while 22 countries (26 per cent) reported that they did not have a national coordinating committee or a similar body.
Regarding the authority to which the coordinating committee reports, in 39 of the 57 countries providing information, the coordinating committee reports to the Ministry of Social Affairs or some other Ministry. In 12 countries the coordinating committee reports to the Prime Minister's Office, while in six countries the coordinating committee reports to other authorities.
In question 29 the aim was to determine what organizations and/or authorities are represented in coordinating committees. Organizations of persons with disabilities are represented in the coordinating committees in a majority of the countries. It is less common for representatives of the private sector to be included in the coordinating committees.
With questions 30 and 31 the aim was to ascertain whether the coordinating committee is expected by the Government to participate in policy development and to perform other tasks, for instance, evaluation and provision of services. In 51 of the 55 countries providing information, the coordinating committee is expected to participate in policy development. In 42 of the 53 countries providing information, the coordinating committee is expected to perform other tasks. In only 11 of the 53 countries providing information is the coordinating committee not expected to perform other tasks.
Question 32 concerned the effects of the establishment of the coordinating committee. It has been very effective in improving coordination of measures/programmes and in improving dialogue. The establishment of a coordinating committee has not, according to the results, led to more accurate planning or more effective use of resources. Eight of the 59 countries providing information on this issue reported that it is too early for assessment.
The last question asked for the effects of the Rules on the approach to disability policy. Fifty of the 59 Governments providing information (that is, 85 per cent) reported that the adoption of the Rules has lead to rethinking in disability policy. Nine Governments reported that the adoption of the Rules had not led to any rethinking. Twenty-three Governments did not answer the question and three countries reported that it was too early for an assessment of the effects of the Standard Rules.
When a Government answers that the adoption of the Rules has not led to rethinking, it does not necessarily mean that the approach to disability is in conflict with the philosophy expressed in the Rules. It can also mean that the guidelines in the Standard Rules are very similar to the guidelines in the country's disability policy.