Access to buildings is a human right, say monitoring group

A key group monitoring disability rights in New Zealand says proposed changes to building regulations are unnecessary and infringe disabled peoples right to access buildings.

Media Release: Access to buildings is a human right, says monitoring group

A key group monitoring disability rights in New Zealand says proposed changes to building regulations are unnecessary and infringe disabled people’s right to access buildings.

When a building is upgraded, reasonable and adequate access must be made for people with disabilities. The proposed changes to the Building Act 2004 will allow councils to issue building consents for earthquake strengthening without triggering this requirement.

In its second report, launched this week, the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticises this proposal.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem says the proposal sends a clear message that the rights of disabled people are a low priority.

“Inaccessible buildings limit disabled people’s opportunities for education, employment, and their ability to contribute to and participate in their community.”

The IMM includes the Office of the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Convention Coalition made up of eight disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

In the report, the IMM has contrasted the Building Act proposals with other areas where progress has been made since July 2012. It welcomes increasing involvement by disabled people and their organisations in practical and policy decisions about their lives. For example, the Earthquake Disability Leadership Group (EDLG), established to advocate for the rights of disabled people in Canterbury during the recovery, is making progress.

“The EDLG has been particularly successful in ensuring that disabled people have an effective and united voice in the rebuilding of Christchurch,” says the IMM’s report.

The EDLG’s aim is to make Christchurch the most accessible and liveable city in the world. This is picked up as the focus of the IMM’s report launch in Christchurch tomorrow (August 7).

However, Disability Commissioner Paul Gibson says accessibility continues to be an issue in Christchurch and across the country.

“The Commission’s December 2013 report Monitoring Human Rights in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery identified two and three level buildings constructed without lifts or the capacity to include them at a later date,” he says.

The IMM welcomes the current Government review into building access for disabled people. Its report recommends considering whether the existing accessibility standard should be mandatory and extended to cover residential housing.

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News about ADA

The Department of Justice announced today that it has entered a settlement agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to protect the right of qualified bar applicants with mental health disabilities to have equal access to the legal profession.  The agreement prohibits the Louisiana Supreme Court (the Court) from asking unnecessary and intrusive questions about bar applicants’ mental health diagnosis or treatment.  The agreement also requires the Court to refrain from imposing unnecessary burdens on bar applicants with mental health disabilities, such as requests for medical records, compulsory medical examinations, or onerous monitoring and reporting requirements.

For more information about the ADA or to view a copy of the agreement, please visit our ADA website at

With an Aging Population, Euthanasia and Rationing are Real Threats

The fifth working session of the Open-ended Working Group on Ageing convened this week at the United Nations.  Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO), spoke today at the session about the importance of protecting the rights of older persons.

elderlypatient18“The number of older persons in society is increasing, the cost associated with aging is increasing, and the medical advances enabling longer life expectancy are increasing,” Fischbach stated.  “These facts point to the need to improve protection of the rights of the elderly if we are going to build a world in which all human beings are respected and protected by law.”

Twelve years ago, the United Nations adopted the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing.  It included a call to ensure “the full enjoyment of all human rights” of older persons and to combat “all forms of discrimination.”

“The denial of medical treatment, withdrawal of nutrition and hydration, and active and passive euthanasia are direct violations of every human being’s right to life,” Fischbach explained.  “Euthanasia does not address physical and mental diseases that can be treated with today’s medical advancements.”

MCCL GO also noted that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that we must “prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.”  Such language should be used to protect those at the end of life as well.

“Our older people are amazing resources of knowledge and understanding, history and compassion—they are human beings and have human rights that require protection,” Fischbach concluded.  “The first of these rights is life itself.”


David P. Rundle: Senate should heed Dole on U.N. treaty

Before they left for vacation, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted mainly on party lines to recommend ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). If the treaty passes procedural hurdles – which is not guaranteed, by any means – the full Senate may vote on it for the second time, the first being in late 2012.

That earlier vote failed to garner the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution. Both Kansas’ GOP senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, voted “no.” Moments before they did, the two had warmly greeted former Sen. Bob Dole, who was on the Senate floor lobbying for the pact.

Divided on many other issues, the GOP is also divided on the CRPD. On one side are people such as the 91-year-old Dole, disabled in World War II and one of the authors of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). On the other are people such as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Both men were or are considered conservative stalwarts.

Dole sees the CRPD as affirming the ADA and encouraging other countries to follow our lead in securing the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. Indeed, the United States created the very notion of disability rights, and it would seem we would want to encourage other nations to follow our lead.

Santorum wrote on that we could do that by working one-on-one with other lands. Does he want a new branch of the State Department to achieve this? If not, what does he mean?

Also, Santorum speculates that somehow the CRPD could be used by the disabled abroad to void our patent laws, claiming they were discriminatory. It’s unclear exactly how or why they would do that. I find it hard to believe that doing so would ever enter the mind of someone who was, say, blind in Uganda.

Further, Santorum says the CRPD would be used to force private homeowners and small-business owners to modify their buildings. This has not happened in the 150 or so nations that have approved the treaty to date.

Elsewhere, Santorum has said the CRPD would give our government the right to end a person’s life if he had a disability and doing so would, in the government’s view, serve that person’s best interests. If that were so, no disability rights group would support it.

But the groups do, along with the American Legion and similar organizations. Sadly, though, the distortions of Santorum are spread across far-right media almost daily, while the truth has to fight for attention in the mainstream.

But, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested, the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. The CRPD will be ratified at some point. I hope Dole sees that happen.

NZ: Report on CRPD

Minister for Disability Issues Tariana Turia welcomed the release of the second report of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism on Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Making disability rights real – Whakatturu …Hon Tariana Turia

Minister for Disability Issues
7 August 2014
PR: Minister welcomes the release of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism Report on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Minister for Disability Issues Tariana Turia welcomed the release of the second report of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism on Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Making disability rights real – Whakatūturu ngā Tika Hauātanga,’ today.

“The independent monitoring mechanism plays a critical independent role in ensuring New Zealand’s compliance with the obligations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It consists of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, and the Convention Coalition Monitoring Group, which has representatives of disabled people through key organisations. This is a fine example of the call of the disability rights movement ‘Nothing About Us Without Us,’” says Minister Turia.

“I have been thrilled with the expert advice that the independent monitors have provided to me and to the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues. Their analysis is well grounded in both professional knowledge and their own experience and I have valued their expertise greatly.”

“I am also pleased that the Independent Monitors have recommended that the Government continue to jointly develop the Disability Action Plan with Disabled Persons’ Organisations. This is an approach I have strongly championed. The Disability Action Plan seeks to address many of the areas which the Independent Monitors have identified as areas of concern including data collection, accessibility, violence and abuse, education and building a people driven support system for disabled people.”

“The report also raised key issues relating to Māori and their whānau who live with disability. There was clear acknowledgement of the importance of mana tangata (the dignity and rights of people), mana whenua (the customary rights and connections between people, generations and land) and how they are intertwined and central to tikanga (culture and practice).”

“I am also pleased that the report acknowledges the role of Whānau Ora, the holistic approach to whānau health and well-being that empowers all whānau including those with disability to take control of their own lives and make decisions for themselves. As well the report acknowledges the importance of Te Whare Tapa Whā – an holistic approach encompassing the physical, mental, spiritual and whānau aspects of health for all whānau, including those with disability.”

“This report highlights that there is still much work to be done to ensure that all ethnic groups who live with disability are able to make decisions about the services they need and how they should be provided. For example the report showed that current resourcing structures and systems do not provide Māori and Pasefika people the level of rangatiratanga or choice to which they aspire.”

“It is important that we find ways to enable those who live with disability and I am pleased that one of the key recommendations of the report included reviewing all disability support systems to ensure they reflect the whole of life strengths-based approach recommended by the Social Services Committee Inquiry and incorporated into Enabling Good Lives.”

“I sincerely thank the Independent Monitors for this comprehensive report and assure them that the eight key recommendations and 38 specific recommendations will be carefully considered by the Government,” says Mrs Turia.

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The Global Disability Rights Movement: Winning Power, Participation, and Access

An Interview with Diana Samarasan, Disability Rights Fund

By Beverly Bell

August 5, 2014

 Diana Samarasan is founder and director of the Disability Rights Fund, a path-breaking advocacy and grantmaking organization. The Fund’s motto is “Building community capacity to achieve the human rights of all persons with disabilities.”

“Nothing about us without us” is the global slogan for the disability rights movement. It means that nothing should be decided about people with disabilities without their presence, their participation, and their inclusion.

The disability rights movement has been evolving for a long time, but in the US, it really gained momentum from the civil rights movement. There were people with disabilities who used the tactics of the civil rights movement: sit-ins, protests, and marches to bring disability rights to everyone’s attention. Eventually, that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act [passed in 1990].

Globally, there is a relatively new international human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD, passed in 2006]. The process of negotiating the treaty at the UN – only three years, short as treaties go – was unique. Never before, when treaties were drafted, had there been so many civil society representatives participating in the actual drafting of the treaty text. One-third of the seats in the working group that drafted the treaty were reserved for people with disabilities. That process brought together people with disabilities from around the world and from different impairment groups: deaf people, blind people, people with intellectual disabilities, people with psychosocial disabilities, people with physical disabilities, little people. For the first time, they had a platform and a target for joint advocacy.

Like any resource-poor movement, the disability rights movement prior to the convention was disjointed. There were blind people negotiating for their rights or services, there were people with physical disabilities negotiating for their rights or services. There was not a way to talk about rights across the spectrum of disability. Of course, people with disabilities are heterogeneous, and there are hierarchies in the movement just as in other movements. What the treaty has done is put a common language to the rights deprivations that people with disabilities face.

The development of an International Disability Caucus to negotiate the wording of the treaty helped to build a movement that is now international. Out of the Caucus evolved the International Disability Alliance [IDA], comprised of membership organizations like the World Blind Union, World Federation of the Deaf, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, the International Federation of Hard of Hearing, and also regional networks of organizations, like the Arab Organization of People with Disabilities and the Latin American Disabled Person Organization. IDA now has a secretariat in New York and in Geneva, which negotiates not only with the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but all of the treaty bodies and the universal periodic review, and all of the UN development organizations for inclusion of people of disabilities. They help organizations at national levels present alternative reports to the UN, and be present during the review processes and during development negotiations. It’s really a huge step forward from where things were just a few years back.

Many innovations in human rights are in the treaty. The convention demands that all state parties to the Convention have legal protections for rights of persons with disabilities. Prior to the convention, among the member states of the UN, there were maybe 45 that had any national law that addressed people with disabilities. The Convention is also the only international human rights treaty that establishes national, in addition to international, monitoring mechanisms. This brings the treaty much closer to home, to people on the ground. Because they don’t have to only go to Geneva, they can go to national human rights institutions and national focal points on the treaty within their own countries. The more that people with disabilities know about the treaty, the more able they are to demand that their governments implement the rights within it.

Especially in the developing world, people are using the Convention as both an international human rights and development instrument to gain access to rights, and as a platform for coming together to demand inclusion. Those states that have ratified the convention now have to report to the UN, and civil society can report as well. And the states can say, “Well, we did this, that, and the other,” and civil society can say, “Well, actually, no, you didn’t.” And this is what’s happening. Coalitions of organizations of people with disabilities in various countries are working together to write alternative reports to monitor abuses of rights, and to craft reports to present in Geneva.

As outlined in the Convention, “disability” is not something that is within an individual, it’s the interaction between a person who has an impairment and attitudinal, social, and environmental barriers. What this means is that society must shoulder the burden for inclusion. If there were accessible buildings, streets, public services, transport, employers and schools everywhere, people in wheelchairs wouldn’t have a “disability.” Currently, people with disabilities are still struggling for full recognition as humans. In Tanzania and Uganda, Albinos are hunted for their body parts, because they are not thought to be part of the human race. They are thought to be ghosts, and their body parts are used in traditional medicine. In Uganda, little people report that they weren’t allowed to enter post-primary education because they were too short. The directors of schools said, “Well, you’re so short you can’t possibly be the right age to enter.”

The organizations we’ve funded [at the Disability Rights Fund] have been able to make themselves known in the media and at governmental levels, and have advocated so that they can access school, participate in elections, be voted into office, access services, have the right to life, and that’s huge, that’s huge.

Now, within the disability movement, there are hierarchies that have to be addressed. Urban, educated men with physical disabilities and blind men are the ones on top and everybody else falls underneath. Some of the grantmaking that we’re doing addresses the need to diversify the movement, the need to bring in new voices, the need to hear from the grassroots, the need to hear from the very marginalized sectors. We give grants to raise the voices of women and youth with the disabilities. And to start to break down membership guidelines for umbrella organizations at the national level which don’t allow Albinos or little people to be members of organizations, because they don’t recognize them as people with disabilities, and because they don’t want to share the small power they have, frankly.

For example, in Peru, we’ve funded groups of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities. Both have worked very hard to see that their rights are recognized in national laws and in national disability movements. Before the 2011 elections in Peru, the electoral commission removed over 23,000 people with psychosocial disabilities and intellectual disabilities from the voter registry. There was an amazing campaign, led in part by a young woman with intellectual disabilities who went to vote and found that she couldn’t. She challenged this at the legal level. She also came to New York and spoke at the United Nations, very poignantly, stating: “I am a person too, I have political views, I have the right to vote.” She, and many Peruvians behind her, including in the larger disability movement, were able eventually to reverse the removal.

Unfortunately, disability rights is new, even to longstanding human rights organizations, human rights donors, and development organizations. People with disabilities haven’t been considered as part of “human” in human rights. What is needed is for people to start thinking about all of the people they know who have disabilities, because all of us have colleagues or friends or family members with disabilities. It is not an uncommon issue: there are one billion people with disabilities around the world, that’s one in every seven people. They are women; they are children; they’re farmers; they’re lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender; they’re workers. They have the same rights as everyone else. And they have the same trouble in winning those rights as many others.

Many thanks to Megan Feifer for transcribing this interview.

Beverly Bell has worked for more than three decades as an advocate, organizer, and writer in collaboration with social movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. Her focus areas are just economies, democratic participation, and gender justice. Beverly currently serves as associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and coordinator of Other Worlds. She is author of Walking on Fire: Haitian Women Stories of Survival and Resistance and Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide.