Equality and the rights of persons with disabilities
This blog is part of the CPA’s blog series, ‘75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its impact on the Commonwealth.’ The series was published to mark UN Human Rights Day 2022. You can find all the articles in the series here.
In this blog, the Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disabilities network, Hon. Laura Kanushu, MP writes about equality and the rights of persons with disabilities
As we celebrate Human Rights Day 2022, and 75 years of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come internationally on establishing and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Whilst the UDHR sets out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms, it arguably wasn’t until 2006, with the agreement of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that equality and inclusion for people with disabilities was truly enshrined internationally.
As Chairperson of the CPA’s Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disabilities (CPwD) network, on this Human Rights Day, I am recognising all those who campaigned for a human rights convention which allows for the full participation and equality of people with disabilities and enables us to truly engage in this year’s theme of ‘Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All’.
Since my election as CPwD Chairperson in August 2022, I have had the honour of meeting many of these disability champions from across the 56 countries of the Commonwealth.
Meeting these people - Members of Parliament, academics, businesspeople, youth activists – has given me real hope that we are making progress towards a more accessible and equitable future.
At the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in August, I met Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion. Hon. Qualtrough, a lifelong disability champion who is legally blind, talked inspiringly about her work on Canada’s Accessible Canada Act, the country’s first-ever Disability Inclusion Action Plan and the goal of a barrier-free Canada by 2040.
Above: The CPwD Chairperson, Hon. Laura Kanushu, MP (second from right) met with Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion (centre) at the 65th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in August along with other CPwD Regional Champions.
I also met Dave Dame, Director of Accessibility at Microsoft. He told people in the room about the untapped potential of accessible technologies like speech-to-text and closed captioning. He explained how these technologies, which benefit not just persons with disabilities but everyone, are being integrated into the computer and mobile software that billions of people around the world use every day.
Last month, at the 2nd CPwD Africa Regional Conference in Tanzania, I heard stories from civil servants, charity workers and activists across Africa who are working to guarantee disabled persons equal opportunities and rights in education, employment and elections.
The meetings I have had and the stories I have heard make me confident that the call for equality for persons with disabilities is growing louder, and the number of disability champions is growing.
As elected representatives, it is our job to take this momentum into the debating chambers and Committee rooms of Parliament. I call on all Commonwealth Parliamentarians to be disability champions in your respective Parliaments.
- New legislation can be passed to enshrine disability rights within national law.
- Scrutiny of government policies can take place to ensure that they are in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- Parliamentarians can also use their platforms to bring the stories of persons with disabilities into the public eye.
The Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disabilities network stands ready to support all Commonwealth Parliamentarians in this work. Our aim is to equip Members of Parliament and parliamentary staff with the expertise to become disability champions within their own Parliament. I urge all Commonwealth Parliaments to seek the support of the CPwD network in their journey to becoming disability inclusive institutions.
A great resource for all CPA Members, and other interested non-members, to utilise is the CPA Parliamentary Academy, which has a specific CPwD network course on ‘Making Parliaments Accessible’.
As a touchstone of our democracies, Parliaments have a key role to play in ensuring the highest possible level of accessibility to all Parliamentarians, staff and visitors with a disability. We need to undertake measures to ensure this accessibility is in place and to adopt innovative and modern approaches to our work on disabilities – this course serves to inform and empower us to do so.
As Parliamentarians we have a unique position to initiate and entrench real change. I hope that many will take the opportunity this Human Rights Day to really question what ‘Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All’ really means in practice and what role they can play in this pledge.
This UN Human Rights Day blog series highlights three different perspectives on human rights in the Commonwealth. Read the rest of the series now.