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Ad Hoc Committee Main


Daily summary of discussions related to Article 3



UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
Fourth session of the Ad Hoc Committee - Daily Summary
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Volume 5, #1
August 23, 2004



The Netherlands (EU)
opposed defining “disability” or “persons with disabilities” as they risk becoming exclusive instead of inclusive. Where definitions are needed they can be included in the relevant provisions. A definition on “reasonable accommodation” is needed in an article on non-discrimination as it is a key concept in the convention and is not yet sufficiently defined in international law. The EU favored a strong definition of the terms “discrimination on the ground of disability,” which must include both direct and indirect discrimination, on which specific proposals were made at AHC3.

China supported an article on definitions but covering only the important terms, which at the minimum should be “disability” and “discrimination against persons with disabilities.” China has presented its definition of these terms in English to the Secretariat. China noted that more time was needed to consider definitions in the Working Group text of “communication” and “language.”

India did not support the formulation of definitions and stressed that this should be left to States Parties to address at the national level.

Japan stressed that any definition of disability should be flexible to accommodate different national systems. Japan believes that sign language is a form of language, but it is important to consider what type of legal obligation this would entail. A number of questions also arise in relation to defining reasonable accommodation, a concept that has not been defined in international law.



Yemen noted two definitions that need clarification: reasonable accommodation and universal design.

Republic of Korea called for retaining the article, at least in terms of defining disability and disability discrimination. The definition of disability has evolved and ICF now embraces a broad, social model definition.

South Africa
called for the adoption of guidelines on definitions for States Parties to follow in devising national frameworks. It submitted some definitions to the Secretariat.

Guatemala affirmed the social approach to disability and the elimination of the medical approach. With regard to “reasonable accommodation”, in Guatemala there is no such concept, and further information is therefore required. Regarding “universal design” and “inclusive design”, it prefers “universal design.”

Cuba stated that definitions should reflect social dimensions of disability emphasizing diversity and diverse kinds of disability. Definitions could include those by WHO. In addition, “persons with disabilities,” “accessibility,” “universal design,” “inclusion,” “autonomy” and “solidarity” should be defined.

Chile recommended a focus on defining those terms of greatest use rather than creating an article of many definitions that are not useful. Definitions should be provided for: “Persons with disabilities,” “discrimination on the ground of disability,” “universal design,” “inclusive design,” “accessibility,” “reasonable accommodation,” “equal opportunity.

Canada stated that when it is necessary to include definitions, it should be done within specific articles. Definitions on disability tend to change and vary depending on what program they are used for and it will be difficult to come up with a definition of disability that stands the test of time. However, if there is a decision to include a definition of disability, Canada will participate in the discussion and to contribute its experience.

Norway pointed out the problem of finding one definition of disability that will fit every context, doubted whether a definition was necessary, and therefore suggested a focus on other aspects of the work.

Venezuela called for retaining a separate article, defining disability from a social standpoint. Many terms lend themselves to different interpretations.

Australia pointed that there are few terms requiring definition outside the relevant substantive provisions. For example, it is not necessary to have a definition of accessibility in the convention and if there is to be one, it should be outcome based and be able to evolve as interpretation of technology develops. Similarly, there is no need for a definition of communication. In defining disability, it should be broad and inclusive and should ensure that it covers physical, mental, intellectual disabilities as well as future, past and imputed disabilities. The social model of disability is important, but disability seen purely as a function of the environment would render a definition unworkable. The people entitled to protections under the convention need to be clearly identified. Australia has submitted proposed language defining disability as well as “associates” to the Secretariat.

Holy See cautioned against hastily deciding at this stage in the process whether or not various definitions were needed, though the delegation was generally in favor of a definitions section.

Ethiopia did not see the practical importance of defining disability. The attempt to develop a universal definition may complicate things at the national level, where it is most appropriate to pursue a definition of disability. However it may be possible to agree to a definition in this Convention in relation to the social model and on very broad terms.

Lebanon agreed on the difficulty in defining disability but emphasized its importance in enabling each state to implement the convention. There is a danger that some countries may have too restrictive a definition and deny to many PWD their rights under the convention. The article should not define disability, but should include a statement providing guidelines on defining disability at the national level. Lebanon supported definition within specific substantive articles, such as universal design, accessibility and communication.

Thailand reiterated that it is essential to define disability in a separate article, despite the inherent risks. Any definition must be broad and based on the social model. It supports several definitions proposed by South Africa, with slight modifications and additions.

Bahrain called for the deletion of a separate article and the inclusion of definitions within the substantive articles.

Costa Rica suggested leaving definitions up to States, though certain elements may be defined as the negotiations proceed. However this is not the appropriate time.

Kenya submitted a proposed definition of “persons with disabilities” to the Secretariat but noted that many other definitions could be defined within their substantive articles.

New Zealand agreed it was premature to propose a separate article on definitions, but noted that as negotiations proceed if terms are used more than once they can be defined separately. Any definition should be in keeping with the spirit of the convention and should be as broad as possible.

Mali stated that definitions are important and necessary.

Argentina agreed on the importance of definitions and submitted proposals on “disability” and “discrimination against persons with disabilities,” citing the Inter-American Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities.

El Salvador called for a meaning somewhere in the convention of “persons with disabilities.”

Mexico submitted a proposed definition of “persons with disabilities” to the Secretariat.

Sierra Leone referenced the footnotes in document 265. “Accessibility” has been addressed in Article 19, discrimination has been addressed in Article 7, reasonable accommodation has been addressed in Article 7, communication could be addressed in another article, so we are left with the need to define disability and persons with disabilities which could be addressed in a separate article, whereas others could be addressed within the separate articles.
Inter-Governmental Organizations

International Labour Organization (ILO)
supported defining concepts that appear throughout the text early on in the convention. A definition of “persons with disabilities” should be: 1. focused on the reduction in prospects for participation arising from duly recognized physical, sensory, intellectual or mental impairment, referencing ILO Convention 159 and the ILO Code of Practice on Managing Disability in the Workplace; 2. include direct and indirect discrimination; 3. specify that affirmative actions are allowable to combat discrimination. Reasonable accommodation should also be defined. A definition of disability would be limiting, but if a decision to incorporate this in the convention was made, the definition should be broad, inclusive, and reflect the social dimension of disability. The ILO submitted proposed language.

Non-Governmental Organizations

PWDA called for a broad and inclusive definition, encompassing all impairment groups, including people with disabilities resulting from health conditions like HIV/AIDS, and recognizing that disability may be permanent, temporary, episodic or transitory.

WBU referenced the consensus in the International Disability Caucus that certain terms must be defined, including language, reasonable accommodation, universal design, accessibility, communication, discrimination, persons with disabilities.

WFD called for a definition of “language” covering spoken and sign languages, and submitted proposed text. Deaf people should be able to use sign language on the same basis that others in society use their language.

WNUSP emphasized the need to ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities are recognized as persons protected, and able to assert their rights, under this convention. Therefore a definition may be necessary, whether it is referred to as such or couched in another form. Any definition should ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities need not be recognized by a medical professional in order to be defined as such, as this would require them to seek services they may not want. WNUSP rejects defining disability in terms of the need for support. People with disabilities may choose to seek support, and they may also “choose to accommodate themselves in their everyday life.” WNUSP rejects the Argentine proposal referencing the Inter-American Convention.

DPI rejects any definition of disability that excluded people with disabilities from protection under the convention. Many States do not have working definitions of disability in their legislation and many have definitions grounded in the medical model, that exclude people who face barriers to inclusion in society. States must adopt an understanding of disability that is drawn from the social model.

European Disability Forum (EDF) supported defining reasonable accommodation and discrimination in Article 7. EDF supported the statement of WFD regarding recognition of sign language as a language. There may be merit in defining accessibility and universal design in a specific article as these terms will be used in many articles. Any definition of disability should be broad and based on the social model. There is merit to having a definition. If there is no definition there would be certain groups of disabled people in the EU who would not be covered because there are countries that do not, for example, include people with psychosocial disabilities in their legislation.

Save the Children Alliance supported defining disability in the convention which will be important for data collection and monitoring and implementation. It must be broad and inclusive. It supports the definition of disability found in the Landmine Survivors Network Legal Analysis. Save the Children proposed defining diversity, reasonable accommodation, and communication including language proposed by WFD.

National Human Rights Institutions supported defining disability, discrimination, and accessibility. Discrimination and accessibility may be defined within particular articles. The definitions contained in the Chair’s draft are helpful definitions. A definition of disability must be broad and inclusive and based on the social model. There is a danger in not defining disability – States may refuse to ratify the convention if its meaning and obligations are uncertain, it would fail to provide a template for national law and policy and for guiding disability awareness, and states which lack legal or policy protections for some types of disability would not be stimulated to develop more inclusive policies.


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