As mentioned last Friday, I went to a conference on the hopefully soon-to-be ratified UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and this Friday, I will attend a second conference about this. Before I received both invitations, I was unaware of the CRPD. My first thought was “Oh, I thought there were already human rights in place in Europe for people with disabilities?” Not so, and I have tried to learn about conventions and optional protocols since then. It’s testing, mind you, trying to remember article 1 by the time I’ve arrived at article 2, but challenges don’t scare me. They spur me on.
Human rights, oddly so, and especially rights for people with disabilities is not common knowledge just yet. Sure, we all know that you should not kill your neighbour because of his/her gender, religion, sexuality etc, but how much do people really know about rights for the disabled? As a person with a disability myself, I should be in the loop, n’est-ce pas?
However, the first thing I heard about the UNCRPD was two weeks ago when an email landed in my mailbox with an invite to a conference. ‘Fancy,’ I thought, ‘that is definitely something I am interested in, especially if it’s about the opportunity for people with disabilities to take part in public and political life.’ I am already a member of an Irish coalition party, and also of their Disability Group, so learning how disabled people can take part in a political life on an equal basis with others, would be my niche indeed.
When a week later the MS Society were stuck for someone to represent them at the UNCRPD – Ready to Ratify conference, I heard about Ireland’s slow move towards that very ratification. It was my first big conference, and it didn’t fail my expectations.
What stood out on Friday – politicians beware – was the intent everyone carried with them, from the main speaker to the very last person who attended. They showed the necessity people with disabilities have to be recognized by their own government. Ireland, as Ireland goes, is working ever so slowly towards this, and has signed but not yet ratified the convention (together with only two other states in Europe… shame on you Ireland!). Hence the visit of the CRPD to Dublin. And could you blame them?
Present were John Dolan, CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland who started by giving a short overview on the history of the Convention, and how we as a society need to start looking after people, emanating late teenager Dónal Walsh’s wishes. Dónal, who stepped into the limelight shortly before passing away due to terminal cancer, went public about his anger at teenagers who commit suicide. While he wanted to live so much, other people were giving up without thinking about the life they were leaving behind. Dónal wanted everyone to care, and his message should be thought about and acted upon.
Also at the conference was Theresia Degener, Professor of Law and Disability studies at University of Bochum in Germany. Theresia is also a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and who could be better placed than her to tell everyone what the challenges are as a disabled person, and to have the convention ratified.
Martin Naughton represented the Disability Federation of Ireland and he inspired me no end; I hope I will remember his words for a long time to come.
Agnes van Wijnen, MSc and Independent Developer and Advisor on Disability Policy & Strategy and Researcher in Disability Studies, gave an overview on how The Netherlands are trying to get the convention ratified by using interesting ideas to inform civil society about the rights for persons with disabilities.
Finally, Professor Gerard Quinn, Director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway School of Law gave an overview of the laws that need to be abided to by Ireland if they were to ratify the convention.
If Ireland were to ratify… ‘If…’
No more ‘ifs!’
Martin grabbed me by the throat in saying, ‘Ireland needs to ratify now. Do not tell us you will ratify somewhere in 2015, we need a date now, minister.’
‘As disabled people, we have to step up and our expectations need to change. We will not refer to ourselves as disabled anymore; we want the same rights as anyone else.‘
Mr. Naughton’s language could not have been clearer. He called disabled people to action and said, ‘Disabled people need to be given back their voices. Also, the capacities of a person with disabilities need to be recognised and people need to be put in the driving seat of their life again.‘
John Dolan said that ‘Every letter, call and email is a form of protest and that the impact will be how organised we are (use good intelligence before protesting) when we contact our local TDs and government. We can use the conference as a driving force forward, to build on how many people were present and we must spread awareness about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’
We therefore must educate Irish and foreign citizens living in Ireland about what the convention would mean as disabled people, what it could mean to people waiting on a diagnosis to put their minds at ease. Unaware yet of their future on a medical level – they should be comforted by the idea that Ireland is doing what it possibly can to respect their rights.
We, as already disabled people, must check with our government and find out what the value of our life and as people are to them. Are we only as important as the money we put into their bank account, or are we as important as healthy people, as valuable as them and do we not hurt enough already without being treated unequally by the people who should protect us?
Ireland is still in the top 20 of the richest countries in the world, using austerity and recession is not a legitimate reason not to ratify the UN convention. Failing to do so is to disgrace disabled people by not acknowledging their human rights.
What I wanted to bring in this blog post was the view from a person living with a disability, not one trying to explain what conventions and protocols mean. Explain it as someone who thought her government had already ratified this ever so important document. I had the opportunity to visit the conference on the impending ratification and I will forever be grateful to the Irish MS Society for once again thinking of me.
I am claiming my voice back.
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