Strategies for Change

Independent Living Movement Ireland


In this week’s Strategies for Change session, we had Iris Elliott from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) talk to us on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People (UNCRPD). Iris kicked off her presentation by sharing her journey to becoming a proud “Rights Holder.”

She grew up in the North of Ireland and later became involved in the Women’s Rights Movement. Her lived and later learned experience helped her be the person that she is today, proudly belonging to a movement that fights for the rights of everyone.

Building a culture of disability rights within Ireland and elsewhere is about embedding, owning, understanding, and realising that each and every one of us are deserving citizens. For this to happen, we need legislative, institutional, and organisational systems to change as well as attitudinal and behavioural.

We are all human; we are all equal; disability is not going to disappear; it’s part of the human experience. Disabled people have diverse needs/wants and want to live and participate in society like everyone else.

  • Why can’t a house “just be a house” – built for everyone?
  • Why do disabled people have to be “inspirational”?
  • Why are disabled people treated differently?
  • Why is “stigma” and “oppression” part and parcel of a disabled person’s lived experience?

“Diversity is beautiful,” and it should be celebrated – see: All Human All Equal for more information.

We all know that disabled people are more likely to experience discrimination and have their human rights restricted; the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is a living and breathing document and is an agreement between different countries and, when signed and ratified, informs them about what they have to do to ensure that all disabled people enjoy the same rights as their non disabled counterparts.

The UNCRPD does not give disabled people any new rights (written by disabled people) and is a tool to help countries understand what they have to do to ensure that this group has the same rights as everyone else. There are 50 Articles in the Convention, and all of these relate to a different human right, and many are interconnected. For example, the right to Independent Living includes having a right to housing, human support, privacy, transportation, education, and employment. The right to having a family includes having the right to make decisions, have intimate relationships, and have children.

As Ireland has now ratified the UNCRPD, it must make sure that all disabled people can access and exercise all of the rights listed in the Convention. Alongside the Convention there is a way for disabled people to make individual complaints. This is called the Optional Protocol. This allows disabled people to make individual complaints to the UN. However, Ireland has decided not to sign this part of the Convention yet as they need to make changes to existing laws that restrict disabled people’s rights.

Every 4 years, the Irish Government has to write a report about how they are making sure that disabled people have the same rights as everyone else. This report was written and made public for review this January. Many disabled groups, including ILMI, had many consultations with disabled people, these were wrote up and submitted to the Irish government. The content of these submissions included what needs to happen/change to make sure disabled people are treated equally. The Government has to look at these submissions and may make changes if needed to their final report. This is then sent to the United Nations Committee where the report is checked to make sure that Ireland has stuck to what they have signed up to do. The committee will then write to Ireland to inform them how they are doing and will also give guidance to what they need to achieve in the following 4 years.

The Irish Government must make sure that there is an independent organisation to monitor how the Convention is being put into practice. In Ireland, this is being done by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC). IHREC have set up a committee made up of disabled people that are expert in the area of human rights to support this monitoring. See: Explained A Brief Guide to the CRPD.pdf for more information.

All disabled people need to feel deserving; they need to be “Rights Holders” and use the CRPD whenever their rights are restricted. For example, if a disabled person needs a Personal Assistance Service to live like everyone else, then they need to use Article 19 – the right to Independent Living, if they need Assistive and or Adaptive Devices to live like everyone else, then they need to use Article 20 – Personal Mobility, if they want to get involved in politics, then they need to use Article 29 – Participation in Political and Public Life.

Some important observations by participants included:
  • That the Convention needs to be enshrined into law/legislation to make a real difference
  • Our rights cannot be achieved under our current system of support because it is resource based and is intrenched in the Medical Model of Disability
  • That the Convention does not use Social Model Disability language.
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