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Standards of care: vital to safeguarding the rights of disabled people

February 2, 2010 7 comments

(* This article is co-authored with Charles O’Mahony, PhD fellow, Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway)

According to an article in the Irish Times today, more than 500 official complaints (approx three a week) over the past two and a half years have been made regarding abuse and mistreatment of disabled people in residential settings.  The most serious incidents included allegations of abuse or physical assault by a staff member at a number of residential centres.

Currently Ireland has no mandatory standards or independent inspections for assessing care provided by residential services to disabled people.  Health Research Board statistics for 2008 show that there are more than 8,000 adults with an intellectual disability in receipt of full-time residential services. The majority of these services are provided through voluntary service providers at an approximate cost of €1.5bn to the Irish government.  Despite this volume of state funding, these services remain uninspected and unregulated.

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Inclusion should be at the heart of humanitarian responses

January 15, 2010 3 comments

The Haitian earthquake brings a stark reminder of how natural disasters can bring widespread devastation and loss to a country. This destruction is further compounded when disaster hits a country like Haiti where poverty is rife. Haiti ranks 149th of 179 countries in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index and the majority of its citizens earn below US$2 per day.  As Haiti emerges from the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, a seemingly insurmountable task is ahead of aid agencies, NGO’s and humanitarian organisations. A global humanitarian response is currently underway, with a daunting task for agencies on the ground as they attempt to coordinate vast amounts of aid relief and get it to people who require it urgently. As with most humanitarian responses, the challenge to provide effective assistance to everyone can be difficult and this difficulty can be magnified when ensuring those with additional needs are included.

For the moment, discussions about policies and good practice may seem trivial in face of the current crisis in Haiti. It is vital in order to save lives however that there is an ongoing exchange of information and practice between mainstream humanitarian and disability organisations. It is a known fact that people with disabilities are the most vulnerable in natural disasters. A major challenge from the outset for those coordinating humanitarian assistance is the identification of people with disabilities as statistics and data remains limited for many countries. It is estimated that 7% of Haiti’s population (approximately 630,000 people) have a disability with over 50% under the age of 15. Alongside unreliable statistics, people with disabilities are generally isolated or marginalized from communities making them invisible to relief efforts. Research by the International Disability Rights Monitor after the Tsunami of 2004 found that despite dedicated, intensive and well-funded relief efforts that disabled people remained on the periphery of relief efforts. Contributing factors to this included lack of basic facilities such as inaccessible shelters (the absence of a ramp making temporary shelters inaccessible to people with mobility disabilities); and inaccessible communication systems, which spread word about food and medical distribution (informal networks of communication for most the part do not consider people with hearing impairments).

In addition to the inclusion of people with disabilities in humanitarian responses is the indisputable fact that natural disaster causes injuries, which can result in long term disability. For example, it is estimated due to the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, that 70,000 people were severely injured or disabled. These injuries can be physical resulting from spinal injuries or mental or emotional issues stemming from loss of life.

These research findings are not isolated. Advocates and disability organisations have been working to increase awareness about the practical needs of people with disabilities in emergency response situations. Partnership with humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross has proved crucial to furthering this goal. Training and models of good practice are important to raise awareness among humanitarian organisations on how to include people with disabilities in emergency response plans. Organisations such as Handicap International and Christian Blind Mission have developed toolkits, which provide advice and guidance on how to make sure responses are inclusive of the needs of people with disabilities.

Alongside advocacy efforts, legal and policy initiatives have also been developed. International organisations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have a key role to play in raising awareness with their operational staff on inclusion of people with disabilities in emergency responses. Finally, from an international law perspective, Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, on situation of risk and humanitarian assistance asks that state parties take all appropriate measures to ensure the safety of disabled people in times of natural disasters.

The Convention, coupled with policy initiatives by humanitarian agencies, and good practices by disability organisations, provides the potential for an inclusive humanitarian response that is respectful of the human rights of people with disabilities and most importantly saves lives.

Making the Millennium Development Goals Disability Inclusive

December 3, 2009 2 comments

The United Nations General Assembly established International Disability Day in 1998 to promote awareness of disability issues. It is observed annually on December 3rd and each year has a different theme to highlight the variety of issues faced by disabled people. These themes range from access to decent work, independent living and arts and culture. For 2009, the International Day is focusing on making the Millennium Development Goals Inclusive of disabled people.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) were developed in 2000 as a strategy for poverty reduction, and has been agreed to by all world institutions to meet the needs of the worlds poorest. However, out of the 48 MDG indicators, there was is reference to disabled people or to disability in general. Nearly 10 years later, it is now widely recognised that the MDG’s cannot reach their targets without addressing the needs of disabled people.

Disability affects a large proportion of the world’s population and disabled people are among the poorest of the poor. It is estimated that 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population – 670-800 million people have a disability, the majority of whom, approximately 80% live in developing countries. The high level of poverty experienced by disabled people stems from their routine exclusion from social and economic life. This exclusion occurs across the globe, be that in developed or industrialised countries.  For example in Ireland, over 60% of disabled people are not in employment and in developing countries the link between disability and poverty is exacerbated.

Evidence suggests that poverty is linked with disability and that disability may aggravate poverty risk. Persons with disabilities make up 20% of the poorest people living below one dollar a day and lacking access to food, clean water, clothing and shelter (Elwan, Ann 1999).

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European Community ratifies the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

November 30, 2009 Leave a comment

In the final week of November 2009, the EC has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first international treaty of the 21st century and it is a result of five years of negotiations with strong involvement from the disability movement. Since its entry into international law on May 3rd 2008, it continues to be ratified across the globe. To-date, the CRPD has 143 signatories and 74 ratifications.

What will the EU’s ratification mean for its disabled citizens? Its ratification gives the 65 million disabled people living in Europe hope that the EU recognises disability as a human rights issue. At EU level, the CRPD obliges it State Parties to revise existing legislation, policies and programmes to ensure they are in compliance with the Conventions provisions. The thirty or more articles of the CRPD cover all area’s of life ranging from access to education, employment, independent living and development cooperation. Ratifying the CRPD means that the EU across its institutions and programmes will have to work towards progressing inclusion for disabled people in the areas listed above and many more.

On a member state level, 12 countries so far have ratified the Convention (Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, and the UK). Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the Brussels-based European Disability Forum, stressed: “The European Union has not only achieved a major step in its history, but it is also sending a positive signal to its Member States that haven’t ratified the Convention yet.”

While the CRPD’s ratification was welcomed by many disability groups in the EU, there was also disappointment with regard to; the delay in ratifying the Optional Protocol (which enables complainants to communicate directly with the Conventions committee regarding violations by a state of provisions of CRPD) and the reservation of the Council to exclude the employment of disabled people in the armed forces.

Ireland signed the Convention in March 2007, however as of yet has given no definite timetable for its ratification. It is time now for our government to consider joining alongside its fellow EU member states and ratify the Convention to ensure continued protection of the rights for its 393,786 disabled citizens.