Hannah Holland ‘1Staff Writer
Despite the staggering numbers of people living with
disabilities, 20-percent of all people below the poverty line and 1/3 of all
children enrolled in schooling systems, there is a flagrant absence of any
United Nations treaty expressly defending these people.
To inaugurate Human Rights Week, the co-founder and
executive director at Harvard Law School Project on Disability, Michael Stein,
shared his experiences on the United Nations General Assembly fighting to adopt
a treaty promoting the fair and equal treatment of the disabled population.
The main goal, Stein argued, is to make those 600 million
people living with disabilities visible to the rest of the world. He argued
that the human rights umbrella of protection can, ultimately, impact a singular
As the UN Convention progressed, in December of 2006,
disparities between the opinions of the participating UN delegates became
evident. The European Union argued for a nondiscrimination treaty while the
United States still considered the issue of the humane treatment of those
disabled tobe a concern on a national level. Although the United States did not ultimately block the treaty, they refused to disclose any information they had collected through their enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act of the 1990s. Italy came fully equipped with its own mock treaty. To combat the voluminous catalogue of differing opinions and ideas, the UN made history and targeted non-Government Organizations, or NGOs, to participate in the discussion. In other words, those suffering from disabilities were given the opportunity to both share and explain their struggles to the delegates. 85 participants registered the first day, by the last day, 850 people had come to share their story. Ironically, the UN came fully equipped with merely two handicap accessible bathrooms. The overwhelming consensus from each story, Stein explained, was a desire to be seen. Thus came about the unofficial slogan of the convention, “nothing about is without us.”
The treaty argued for a world that catered to the handicapped community, not the fixing of disabled people, people that are not even broken to begin with. The treaty largely functions as a social model. There are sections included to protect sexual rights, personal rights and, among other things, a fundamentalist approach to decision making. Then in March of 2007, the treaty gained the most signatures of any UN treaty drafted to
Twenty years ago Stein, who is bound to a wheelchair, lived
in a world that had no bus lifts, no handicapped restrooms and no ramps. It is
the mundane, it is the buses and the bathrooms, the two story buildings and the
visibility that make the different for those living with a disability. With
this treaty, they will be visible.