Human Rights and Differently-Abled Persons
What are the Human Rights of Differently-Abled Persons?
Human Rights are universal, and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights belong to all human beings,
including differently-abled persons. Differently-abled persons are entitled to the realization of all human rights
and fundamental freedoms on equal terms with others in society, without discrimination of any kind. They also enjoy
certain human rights specifically linked to their status.
The Human Rights at Issue
The human rights of differently-abled persons include the following
indivisible, interdependent and interrelated human rights:
The human right to freedom from any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on the status of
differently-abled, which has the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental
The human right to freedom from discrimination in access to housing, education, social services, health care or
The human right to active participation in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life of society,
and in shaping decisions and policies affecting him- or herself and community, at the local, national and
The human right to equality of opportunity.
The human right to full equality before the law and equal protection of the law.
The human right to the highest attainable standard of health, to medical, psychological and functional treatment,
including prosthetic and orthetic appliances, to medical and social rehabilitation, and other services necessary for
the maximum development of capabilities, skills and self-reliance.
The human right to work, according to capabilities, to receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of
living, and to receive equal remuneration for equal work.
The human right to economic and social security, and to an adequate standard of living.
The human right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Rights of Differently-Abled
What provisions of human rights law guarantee the human rights of
Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the ILO
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, No. 159.
- "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to all ... rights and
freedoms ... without distinction of any kind.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any
discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination ...
and against any incitement to ... discrimination.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ...
health and well-being .. Including ... the right to security in the event of ... disability...."
Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 7, and 25
- "The States Parties ... undertake to guarantee that ... rights ... will be exercised without discrimination of any
kind.... The States Parties recognize the right to work.... The right of everyone to ... equal remuneration for
work of equal value.... the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living.... to the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health.... to education.... [Education] shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a
free society.... Primary education shall be ... available to all; Secondary education ... shall be made generally
available and accessible to all...; Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all.... States Parties ...
recognize the right of everyone ... to take part in cultural life; to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress...."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social, and
Cultural Rights, Articles 2, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, and 15
- "Each State Party ... undertakes to ... ensure ... rights ... without distinction of any kind...; to ensure that any
person whose rights or freedoms ... are violated shall have an effective remedy.... No one shall be subjected to
torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... no one shall be subjected without his free
consent to medical or scientific experimentation.... All persons shall be equal before the courts.... Everyone shall
have the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.... No one shall be subjected to ... unlawful
interference with his privacy, family, home.... The right of men and women ... to marry and to found a family shall
be recognized.... Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity ... to take part in the conduct of public
affairs...; to vote...; to have access, on ... terms of equality, to public service.... All persons are equal before
the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.... [The] law shall prohibit
any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any
- --International Covenant on Civil and Political
Articles 2, 7, 14, 16, 17, 23, and 26
- "Each Member shall ... formulate, implement ... a national policy on vocational rehabilitation and employment of
disabled persons.... The ... policy shall aim at ensuring that appropriate vocational rehabilitation measures are
made available to all categories of disabled persons, and at promoting employment opportunities for disabled persons
in the open labour market.... The ... policy shall be based on the principle of equal opportunity between disabled
workers and workers generally. Equality of opportunity and treatment for disabled men and women workers shall be
respected.... The competent authorities shall take measures with a view to providing ... vocational guidance,
vocational training, placement, employment and other related services to enable disabled persons to secure, retain
and advance in employment.... Measures shall be taken to promote the establishment and development of vocational
rehabilitation and employment services for disabled persons in rural areas and remote communities."
ILO Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons) Convention, No. 159, Articles 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8
- "States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child within their jurisdiction without
discrimination of any kind.... States Parties shall take all appropriate ... measures to protect the child from all forms of
physical or mental violence, injury or abuse..., maltreatment or exploitation.... States Parties recognize that a
mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity,
promote self-reliance, and facilitate the child=s active participation in the community. States Parties recognize the right
of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension ... to the eligible child and
those responsible for his or her care, of assistance ... which is appropriate to the child=s condition.... [A]ssistance ...
shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health
care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive
to the child=s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development...."
- --Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2,
19, and 23
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Rights of Differently-Abled Persons
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the human rights of differently-abled persons?
Includes excerpts from the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled
Persons, the World Programme of Action
Concerning Disabled Persons, and commitments made at the World
Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International
Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the World Conference on Women in Beijing, and the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.
- "Disabled persons shall enjoy ... rights ... without any exception whatsoever and without distinction or
discrimination.... Disabled persons have the inherent right to respect for their human dignity. Disabled persons,
whatever the origin, nature and seriousness of their handicaps and disabilities, have the same fundamental rights as
their fellow-citizens..., which implies first and foremost the right to enjoy a decent life, as normal and full as
possible.... Disabled persons have the same civil and political rights as other human beings.... Disabled persons
are entitled to the measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible.... Disabled persons have
the right to medical, psychological and functional treatment, including prosthetic and orthetic appliances, to
medical and social rehabilitation, education, vocational training and rehabilitation, aid, counselling, placement services
and other services which will enable them to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum and will hasten the
processes of their social integration or reintegration.... Disabled persons have the right to economic and social
security and to a decent level of living. They have the right, according to their capabilities, to secure and retain
employment or to engage in a useful, productive and remunerative occupation.... Disabled persons are entitled to
have their special needs taken into consideration at all stages of economic and social planning.... Disabled persons have
the right to live with their families ... and to participate in all social, creative or recreational activities. No
disabled person shall be subjected ... to differential treatment other than that required by his or her condition or
by the improvement which he or she may derive therefrom. If the stay of a disabled person in a specialized
establishment is indispensable, the environment and living conditions therein shall be as close as possible to those
of the normal life of a person of his or her age.... Disabled persons shall be protected against all exploitation,
all regulations and all treatment of a discriminatory, abusive or degrading nature."
- --Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons,
Articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10
- "More than 500 million people in the world are disabled as a consequence of mental, physical or sensory impairment.
They are entitled to the same rights as all other human beings and to equal opportunities.... Governments must ...
ensure that [disabled] people ... have an opportunity to achieve a standard of living equal to that of their fellow
citizens.... A strategy of prevention is essential for reducing the incidence of impairment and disability....
Measures should be taken for the earliest possible detection of ... symptoms ... of impairment, to be followed
immediately by ... curative or remedial action, which can prevent disability or ... lead to significant reductions in
the severity of disability.... For early detection it is important to ensure adequate education ... of families and
technical assistance to them by medical social services.... The principle of equal rights for the disabled and
non-disabled implies that the needs of each and every individual are of equal importance, that these needs must be
made the basis for the planning of societies, and that all resources must be employed in such a way as to ensure, for
every individual, equal opportunity for participation...."
- --World Programme of Action
Disabled Persons, paras. 2, 3, 13, 14, and 25
- "Special attention needs to be paid to ensuring non-discrimination, and the equal enjoyment of all human rights and
fundamental freedoms by disabled persons, including their active participation in all aspects of society.... The
Conference on Human Rights reaffirms that all human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and thus
unreservedly include persons with disabilities. Every person is born equal and has the same rights to life and
welfare, education and work, living independently and active participation in all aspects of society. Any direct
discrimination or other negative discriminatory treatment of a disabled person is therefore a violation of his or her
rights.... The place of disabled persons is everywhere. Persons with disabilities should be guaranteed equal
opportunity through the elimination of all socially determined barriers, by they physical, financial, social or
psychological, which exclude or restrict full participation in society."
Declaration, Part I, para. 22, and Part II, paras. 63 and 64
- "Objectives ...: To ensure the realization of the rights of all persons with disabilities, and their participation
in all aspects of social, economic and cultural life; To create, improve and develop necessary conditions that will
ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and the valuing of their capabilities in the process of
economic and social development; To ensure the dignity and promote the self-reliance of persons with disabilities....
Actions: ... Governments at all levels should promote mechanisms ensuring the realization of the rights of persons
with disabilities and reinforce their capabilities of integration."
- --Cairo Programme of Action, paras. 6.29 and 6.32
- "We heads of State and Government ... will create ... action to: ... Ensure that disadvantaged and vulnerable persons
and groups are included in social development, and that society acknowledges and responds to the consequences of
disability by securing the legal rights of the individual and by making the physical and social environment
accessible.... We will ... Ensure equal education opportunities at all levels for children, youth and adults with
disabilities.... Strive to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to rehabilitation and other independent
living services and assistive technology to enable them to maximize their well-being, independence and full
participation in society."
Declaration, para. 26(I), and Commitments 2(d), 6(f), and (n)
- "Broadening the range of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities requires: ... Ensuring that laws and
regulations do not discriminate against persons with disabilities.... Making appropriate adjustments in the workplace
to accommodate persons with disabilities.... Developing alternative forms of employment, such as supported
for persons with disabilities who need these services.... Governments, in collaboration with organizations of people
with disabilities and the private sector, should work towards the equalization of opportunities so that people with
disabilities can contribute to and benefit from full participation in society. Policies concerning people with
disabilities should focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities and should ensure their dignity as
- --Copenhagen Programme of Action,
paras. 62(a), (c), (d), and 75(k)
- "Actions to be taken: ... Design and implement ... gender-sensitive health programmes ... that address the needs of
women throughout their lives and take into account ... the special needs of ... women with disabilities.... Ensure
that girls and women of all ages with any form of disability receive supportive services...."
- --Beijing Platform for Action,
paras. 106 (c) and (o)
- "As human beings are at the centre of our concern for sustainable development, they are the basis for our actions in
implementing the Habitat Agenda.... We shall intensify our efforts to eradicate ... discrimination, to promote and
protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and to provide for basic needs.... We shall promote full
accessibility for people with disabilities ... in policies, programmes and projects for shelter and sustainable human
- --Istanbul Declaration, para. 7
- "... Persons with disabilities have not always had the opportunity to participate fully and equally in human
settlements development and management, including decision-making, often owing to social, economic, attitudinal and
physical barriers, and discrimination. Such barriers should be removed and the needs and concerns of persons with
disabilities should be fully integrated into shelter and sustainable human settlement plans and policies to create
access for all.... We ... commit ourselves to ...: Promoting shelter and supporting basic services and facilities for
education and health for ... persons with disabilities... and people belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged
groups.... We ... commit ourselves to ... Promoting equal access and full participation of persons with disabilities
in all spheres of human settlements and providing adequate policies and legal protection against discrimination on
grounds of disabilities...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 16, 40(l), and 43(v)
See also Declaration on Social Progress and Development,
Art. 11, section c; Declaration on the Rights of Mentally
Retarded Persons; Principles for the Protection of Persons
with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care; and
the Declaration on the Rights of Deaf-Blind Persons.
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;