The United Nations and Persons with Disabilities Chronology: 1980’s – present

1980s – Numerous efforts, both substantive and promotional, were taken nationally and internationally to improve the situation of persons with disabilities with the goal of increased integration in society and improvements in physical and psychological adjustment of persons with disabilities within their communities. Programmes were launched focusing on rehabilitation and disability prevention. National committees representing 141 countries and territories were established to improve the following areas: social and economic condition of persons with disabilities, development and implementation of programmes, research, policy and decision-making, legislation, decentralization from the national to local levels, and assistance to developing countries.

1981 – Experts in the field of disability meet at several symposiums and conferences:

  • International Symposium on Disabled Persons, 27 September – 4 October in Tripoli, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
  • World Symposium of Experts on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries and Technical Assistance in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons, 12 – 23 October in Vienna, Austria.
  • World Conference on Actions and Strategies on Education, Disability Prevention, and Integration of Disabled Persons, Toremolinos, Spain (held in cooperation with UNESCO).

1981 – Efforts are made to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities at the United Nations Headquarters in New York and the United Nations Offices in Geneva and Vienna. The United Nations Public Information units prepare photo display material, film, television and radio productions on the subject. UNICEF expands immunization to over 5 million children to decrease the potential for disability-causing disease.

1981 – In May, the Commission on Human Settlements endorsed a policy encouraging the United Nations and Member States to eliminate barriers in human settlement areas that would hinder or impede “full participation”.

1981 – From 30 November to 6 December international non-governmental organizations participated in the International Year by attending the First Founding Congress of Disabled Peoples International (DPI), in Singapore.

1982 – The General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. Disability policy was now structured in three main areas: prevention, rehabilitation, and equalization of opportunities.

1982 – On 3 December the General Assembly makes recommendations on the implementation of the World Programme, incorporating the recommendations of the Advisory Committee for the International Year. In the same resolution it also proclaims 1983-1992 the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

1983 – 1992 – With the proclamation of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, 1983-1992, the General Assembly encouraged Member States to use the Decade to implement the World Programme of Action.

1983 – The Secretary-General announced publication of a report on activities concerning disability prevention. It indicated that many disabilities could be prevented by identifying measures to combat malnutrition, environmental pollution, poor hygiene, inadequate prenatal and post-natal care, water-borne diseases and accidents. UNDP, UNICEF and WHO established an international programme with the goal of applying proven techniques to prevent and treat disabilities within general health programmes in New Delhi.

1984 – The Secretary-General reported that an average of 20 – 25 % of the population of developing countries was affected by disability and approximately 350 – 500 million persons with disabilities lived in areas with insufficient services. The report cited a growing tendency to replace institutional care with programmes that help families and communities.

29 August 1984 – – Mr. Leandro Despouy from Argentina was appointed Special Rapporteur by the Sub-Commission on Human Rights, tasked with studying the causal connection between human rights violations, violations of fundamental freedoms, and disability.

1985 – An international initiative was established to promote disability prevention and effective rehabilitation at the national and regional levels. The United Nations Trust Fund for the International Year of Disabled Persons was renamed the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

1987 – The Secretary-General issued a report stating that much progress had been made in increasing awareness on the significance of disability and its human consequences, though much more needed to be done.

1987 – In August the Secretary-General convened a global meeting of experts to review implementation of the World Programme of Action. Recommendations included developing an international convention on the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, launching a public information campaign, and providing United Nations materials in formats accessible to persons with disabilities.

1988 – The General Assembly called upon Member States to place special emphasis on the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

1989 – The Secretary-General was requested by the General Assembly to bring to the attention of Member States the Tallinn Guidelines for Action on Human Resources Development in the Field of Disability. The Guidelines recognized persons with disabilities as agents of their own destiny rather than as dependent objects of governments and sought to realize the full potential and capabilities of each individual. Employment was seen as a means for persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their full rights as citizens. The Guidelines stated that persons with disabilities should be trained and employed in the work force on an equal basis with other members of society.

1990s – Five United Nations world conferences were held during the 1990s which emphasized the need for a “society for all”, advocating the participation of all citizens, including persons with disabilities, in every sphere of society.

1991 – The Rapporteur reported to the Sub-Commission biannually on the human rights situation of persons with disabilities, submitting his last report in 1991. He recommended the establishment of an international ombudsman.

1991 – The General Assembly adopted the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care. Twenty-five principles defined the fundamental freedoms and basic rights of persons with intellectual disabilities.

1992 – The end of the Decade of Disabled Persons was marked by the General Assembly with the establishment of the International Day of Disabled Persons on 3 December. The General Assembly also summarized the United Nations’ goals in the field of disability, again emphasizing the importance of the full integration of persons with disabilities into society and encouraging future United Nations conferences to include discussion of disability issues. The Economic and Social Council welcomed the proclamation by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific of the ‘Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002’.

1992 – The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development mentioned the interdependence of sustainable social and environmental development, emphasizing the integration of all groups of society including persons with disabilities, in an overall development scheme.

1993 – The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities were adopted by the General Assembly. The Rules summarized the message of the World Programme of Action and state preconditions for equal opportunity. They also targeted areas of equal participation and promote implementation measures and monitoring mechanisms.

1993 – The World Conference on Human Rights reconsidered universally recognized human rights instruments in light of contemporary issues and adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The Conference recognized that all human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal, and thus should unreservedly include persons with disabilities.

1994 – The International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo. It recognized the importance of equalizing opportunities for persons with disabilities.

1995 – The World Summit for Social Development was held in Copenhagen in March. It adopted the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development.

1995 – From 4 – 15 September, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, focused on gender-related issues in the overall development scheme. Concerns relating to disability were raised in the Beijing Declaration and The Platform for Action, which recognized that women face barriers to full equality and advancement due to factors such as their disability. As part of the programme for the International Day of Disabled Persons, a United Nations inter-agency meeting was held on 7 December 1995. during which various agencies working with persons with disabilities presented their current projects. The meeting was held by the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development in collaboration with the Department for Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat.

1996 – The Preparatory Committee for the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, held in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 1996, issued a draft statement of principles and commitments and a global plan of action, which paid particular attention to persons with disabilities who might benefit from affirmative governmental action.

The first Millennium decade – The negotiation and adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

2001 – In December, Mexico proposes in the General Assembly to establish an Ad Hoc Committee to consider proposals for a comprehensive and integral international convention to protect and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

August 2002 – December 2006 – the Ad Hoc Committee meets eight times to draft the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

2006 – On 13 December the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is adopted by the General Assembly.

2007 – On 30 March the Convention and Optional Protocol opened for signature at UN Headquarters in New York. States or regional integration organizations may now sign the Convention and Optional Protocol at any time at UN Headquarters in New York.

2008: The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol entered into force on 3 May 2008, one month after the required 20th country ratified the treaty. The first Conference of States Parties to the Convention is held at UNHQ in New York from 31 October to 3 November.

2009:  The second session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held from 2-4 September at UNHQ in New York. Singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder is designated UN Messenger of Peace on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, 3 December.

2010: The third session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held from 22-26 February.The third Conference of States Parties to the Convention was held from 1- 3 September 2010 at UN Headquarters in New York.

On 23 December, the European Union (EU) ratified the CRPD, becoming the first intergovernmental organization to join a United Nations human rights treaty.

2011: The fifth session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities took place from 11 to 15 April 2011. The Committee adopted its first concluding observations in relation to Tunisia and also a list of issues relating to its dialogue with Spain.

The first ever World Report on Disability, produced  jointly by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, reviews evidence about the global situation of persons with disabilities, and offers directions for policy and practice to address exclusion. The report will be launched at UN Headquarters on 9 June.

2014: First-ever Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities appointed by the Human Rights Council