Time to Be Heard: How Advocates Can Use the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Drive Change

Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 45, 2011

Posted: 10 Apr 2011

See all articles by Paul Harpur

Paul Harpur

University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law

Date Written: April 7, 2011


People who use sign language to communicate have argued that they are a linguistic minority and not disabled. Rather than being disabled, people in this group have argued that they simply speak a language different than others, such as Spanish or Russian. Labeling a person as disabled attracts negative historical baggage. For this reason, some scholars have argued for the term of "ableism" to replace the term "disability discrimination." Although these debates are extremely important, it is equally important to utilize all available tools to achieve social inclusion for all people regardless of their different abilities. This Article will demonstrate how one such tool can be used to benefit persons with disabilities. In particular, this Article will analyze how the norms and state acceptance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ("CRPD") can be used by non-government organization ("NGO") and disability person organization ("DPO") advocates to drive change in their communities and achieve law reforms where appropriate. Persons with disabilities are the world's largest minority group. Persons with disabilities have historically confronted systematic discrimination. The Preamble to the CRPD explains that the United Nations adopted this Convention based on twenty-five key facts including "the fact that the majority of persons with disabilities live in conditions of poverty, and in this regard recognizing the critical need to address the negative impact of poverty on persons with disabilities." The World Bank estimates that persons with disabilities make up twenty percent of the world's poorest people.

There have been recent international and domestic commitments to improving the human rights of persons with disabilities. In 2006, the United Nations adopted the CRPD and in 2009 the United States ratified this convention. The rights of persons with disabilities have gained national attention as the result of the Obama administration's express commitment to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. The adoption of the CRPD by the United Nations and its ratification by the United States have substantially shifted the paradigm that guides domestic laws and policies.

Part II of this Article will analyze the paradigm shift inherent in the CRPD. Part II.A analyzes the development of disability policies through the welfare model, to the social model, and finally to the propounding of a human rights agenda. Part II.B then explores how the CRPD has embraced this human rights agenda and how its sweeping human rights agenda can change the lives of persons with disabilities. To emphasize the potential of the rights approach, Part II.C demonstrates what the change means for persons with disabilities exercising their right to work. Part III of this Article then builds upon the sweeping rights agenda to analyze what DPO advocates can do to facilitate the change.

Part III.A considers the role of shadow reports and builds on comments of the current chairman of the international committee monitoring the implementation of the CRPD.

Part III.B analyzes other steps advocates can take to create a climate of change. This Article then focuses on DPO capacity building.

Keywords: CRPD, Disabilities, Human Rights

Suggested Citation

Harpur, Paul David, Time to Be Heard: How Advocates Can Use the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Drive Change (April 7, 2011). Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 45, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1804734

Paul David Harpur (Contact Author)

University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law ( email )

Brisbane, Queensland 4072

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