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Human Rights Council holds Annual Discussion on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Human Rights Council
MIDDAY

6 March 2013

Focuses on Employment Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

The Human Rights Council at a midday meeting today held its annual discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities with a focus on employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

In an opening statement, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the right to work was a fundamental human right inseparable from human dignity but millions of persons with disabilities around the world continued to be denied this right and remained excluded from the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their communities.  In this critical time of building a post-2015 development agenda firmly anchored in human rights, joint efforts to promote the work and employment of persons with disabilities were more important than ever.

Ronald McCallum, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that undertaking remunerated work was not simply a human right, but a central core of citizenship.  The notion of “reasonable accommodation” was central to the demands made by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on signatories.  Failure to provide reasonable accommodation, which was appropriate, fair and proportionate, constituted discrimination on grounds of disability.

Barbara Murray, Senior Disability Specialist, International Labour Organization, said that the central requirements for labour-market inclusion included the creation of an enabling legal environment, enhancing accessibility and addressing misunderstandings concerning disabilities.  Vocational and skills training for persons with disabilities were crucial.  Many countries were familiar with affirmative action but not with the concept of “reasonable accommodation” and needed to understand what this meant in practice.

Frederick Ouko Alucheli, Director of Action Network for the Disabled, Kenya, said that persons with disabilities continued to be on the periphery of those absorbed within the few available job opportunities.  Action Network for the Disabled had taken the path of promoting self-employment amongst persons with disabilities as an alternative to creating jobs and sustainable livelihoods that resulted in an independent life for the participants. 

Susan Scott-Parker, Founder and Chief Executive of Business Disability Forum, said that the Governments ratifying the Convention needed to understand that few regarded disability as an issue to do with human rights, employment rights, or equal opportunities.  Any country seeking to implement the Convention had to focus on educating the key players, communicating the way discrimination and unfair treatment worked in practice, and challenging deep-rooted assumptions. 

Valery Nikitich Rukhledev, President of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, said that discriminatory job requirements and descriptions were among the main obstacles in the area of employment.  It was important to find a balance between the effective provision of social protection and benefits and incentives for the employment of persons with disabilities.  The absence of information created barriers between employers and persons with disabilities, and important obstacles for the implementation of the Convention.  

During the discussion, speakers reiterated that persons with disabilities should not be treated as a burden, but as contributors to societies.  A number of delegations outlined challenges to fulfilling the equal right to work and employment for persons with disabilities, including the existence of discriminatory perceptions and barriers to employment, and stressed the need to monitor the implementation of provisions from disability legislation.  This process involved radical shifts in the way of thinking and the recognition of persons with disabilities as equal citizens and co-workers.  Delegations stressed the importance of education and training as a way of ensuring that persons with disabilities could participate in an open labour market.  Other measures included the participation of persons with disabilities in the elaboration of employment legislation; the implementation of quotas, tax breaks and subsidies; and the participation of persons with disabilities in public and political life.

Other speakers recommended, among other measures, that States adopt comprehensive policies on the issue, enact anti-discrimination legislation, and make the provision of reasonable accommodation a binding obligation on employers.  Delegations asked a number of questions, such as how to ensure that alternative employment opportunities were consistent with the Convention, and what role could the international community play; and requested examples of good practices in creating a working environment welcoming persons with disabilities.

Speaking in the discussion were New Zealand, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Maldives, Australia, Mexico, European Union, Philippines, South Africa, Egypt, Estonia, Peru, Council of Europe, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, Finland, Chile, Austria, China, Argentina, Spain, Belgium, Costa Rica, Poland, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Togo, Cuba, Indonesia and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

The following non-governmental organizations also addressed the Council: National Human Rights Institution of Morocco, European Disability Forum, International Coordination Committee and Association of World Citizens.

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council will start a clustered interactive dialogue with the Independent Experts on the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment and on the effects of foreign debt on all human rights.

Opening Statements

LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, said that the annual discussion on the rights of persons with disabilities would focus on the work and employment of persons with disabilities.  The thematic study was available in accessible formats on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. 

NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening statement, said that when the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been adopted in 2006, it had embodied an important shift in the way that the global community viewed persons with disabilities.  Prior to this, they had been regarded as mere recipients of care and charity and the Convention had changed this by establishing persons with disabilities as right holders on an equal footing with others.  There were now 129 States parties to the Convention and 76 States had ratified its Optional Protocol.  The thematic study on work and employment of persons with disabilities, prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a basis for this annual discussion, highlighted good practices in this regard, delved into the barriers that persons with disabilities faced in the field of employment, and identified main challenges that States encountered in ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoyed access to, retention of and advancement in employment on an equal basis with others. 

The right to work was a fundamental human right that was inseparable from human dignity, but millions of persons with disabilities around the world continued to be denied this right and remained excluded from the opportunity to realise themselves and to make a meaningful contribution to their communities.  Three barriers to the world of work often confronted persons with disabilities: accessibility to places of work, both in terms of physical access and via attitudes that created barriers to equal participation and viewed persons with disabilities as incapable of carrying out tasks required in the labour market; lack of access to education and training in relevant skills, as persons with disabilities often received training for years without any expectation that they would one day find a job in the open labour market; and the lack of meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities in the development of legislation and policies related to their training and employment.  In closing, Ms. Pillay stressed that in this critical time of building a global development agenda beyond 2015 that was firmly anchored in human rights, joint efforts to promote the work and employment of persons with disabilities were more important than ever.

Statements by Panellists

RONALD MCCALLUM, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that undertaking remunerated work was not simply a human right, but a central core of citizenship.  While significant positive changes had taken place, in particular with regards to accessibility and education, employment required significant improvement.  This is why Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was of crucial importance as it required States to safeguard and promote the realization of the right to work.  It also recognised that the right to work was a fundamental right and one which was to be enjoyed by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.  The Committee had expressed concerns that unemployment and underemployment rates of people with disabilities were consistently higher than for other population groups and those employed were often to be found in segregated or restricted occupations which may discriminate against them in their vocational and career choices.  The Committee had highlighted measures, such as access to training and development, establishing quotas, tax incentives and self-employment programmes for addressing unemployment and underemployment.  The notion of “reasonable accommodation” was central to the demands made by the Convention on signatories.  Failure to provide reasonable accommodation, which was appropriate, fair and proportionate, constituted discrimination on the grounds of disability.

BARBARA MURRAY, Senior Disability Specialist, International Labour Organization, said that the central requirements for labour-market inclusion included the creation of an enabling legal environment, enhancing accessibility and addressing misunderstandings concerning people with disabilities.  Vocational and skills training opportunities for persons with disabilities were crucial.  Many countries were familiar with affirmative action but not with the concept of “reasonable accommodation” and needed to understand what this meant in practice.  Concerning different training programmes available for people with disabilities and required for the implementation of the Convention, Ms. Murray indicated that there were a number of mainstream training centres offering vocational and skill training for youth and persons with disabilities.  Among other opportunities, job training was available in many countries, often in the form of supported employment, and this was an excellent way of giving people with disabilities the skills needed, and of educating employers and helping them overcome apprehension.  The International Labour Organization had noted that there was little attention paid to the need for the transformation of mainstream services.  Expectations needed to be transformed, including those of persons with disabilities and society at large, as part of the process towards a more inclusive situation.  
    
FREDERICK OUKO ALUCHELI, Director, Action Network for the Disabled, Kenya, said that Kenya was a growing economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a population of slightly over 40 million people of which 15 per cent were estimated to have one form of disability or the other.  Persons with disabilities continued to be on the periphery of those being absorbed within the few available job opportunities and youth unemployment continued to be the biggest challenge faced by successive Kenyan Governments.  Action Network for the Disabled had taken the path of promoting self-employment amongst persons with disabilities as an alternative to creating jobs and sustainable livelihoods that resulted in an independent life for the participants.  While there were many young people willing to start their own enterprises, opportunities for training and support were minimal both from the Government and other stakeholders, as this was an area that many were not willing to give full attention to due to lack of sensitization and awareness of the fact that persons with disabilities deserved the same opportunities in starting their own enterprises.  In its experience, a person with a disability who had a means of income had a feeling of dignity and was ready to participate in nation-building.

SUSAN SCOTT PARKER, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum, said that the Governments ratifying the Convention needed to understand that few regarded disability as an issue to do with human rights, employment rights, or equal opportunities.  Any country seeking to implement the Convention had to focus on educating the key players, communicating the way discrimination and unfair treatment worked in practice, conveying new messages, and challenging deep-rooted assumptions.  The advice to the Governments was: do not make assumptions about what people could do on the basis of medical diagnosis; remove obstacles for groups of people with different impairments, such as online recruitment which prevented those with dyslexia from applying; make reasonable accommodation available to enable individuals to contribute to the business and develop their careers; and give teeth to legislation and introduce significant penalties for those treating persons with disabilities unfairly.  Employment legislation must be drafted in a way that compelled employers that disability was a human rights issue and that persons with disabilities must be treated equally.

VALERY NIKITICH RUKHLEDEV, President of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, said that in 2012 Russia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Work to provide protection and defence of persons with disabilities had been stepped up through a number of reforms.  Among the main obstacles in the area of employment, Mr. Rukhledev highlighted strict job requirements and descriptions which were discriminatory in nature; for example in Russia, instructions from the Ministry of Health prevented deaf persons from working with machines or driving.  Similarly, flawed medical recommendations often hindered the provision of employment.  The report of the High Commissioner indicated that the implementation of Article 27 of the Convention depended on the implementation of other articles, among others, concerning the right to education.  It was extremely important to introduce vocational programmes to increase the competitiveness of persons with disabilities.  It was important to find a balance between the effective provision of social protection and benefits and incentives for the employment of persons with disabilities.  The absence of information created barriers between employers and persons with disabilities, and important obstacles for the implementation of the Convention internationally. 

Discussion

New Zealand said that, even though persons with disabilities had very clear ideas about their employment, their work and employment outcomes in all countries continued to be poor; for example, 88 per cent of persons with disabilities in Morocco were unemployed, said the National Human Rights Institution of Morocco.  Philippines reiterated that persons with disabilities must be part of the workforce in any country, while Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, stressed the principle of non-discrimination in the workplace and the importance of measures aimed at presenting work opportunities for persons with disabilities.  States must not treat persons with disabilities as a burden, but as contributors to societies, stressed Egypt.

A number of delegations outlined challenges in ensuring the equal right to work and employment for persons with disabilities:  Maldives and Australia noted the need to challenge negative attitudes, reverse stigma and shift attitudes related to the capability of persons with disabilities; Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, noted the existence of discriminatory perceptions and barriers to employment for persons with disabilities, while the European Union said monitoring the implementation of provisions from disability legislation was a challenge; South Africa mentioned the infrastructure of the education system that was inadequate to prepare youth with disability to compete in the open labour market or to self-employ.

Concerning measures that States could take, Estonia stressed the importance of the involvement of persons with disabilities in the elaboration of employment legislation,
Peru highlighted systems of quotas, and tax breaks and subsidies, while the Council of Europe said that participation in public and political life of persons with disabilities could have a positive impact on their employment.  The European Disability Forum recommended that States adopt a comprehensive policy on the issue, enact anti-discrimination legislation, make the provision of reasonable accommodation a binding obligation of employers, introduce financial incentives, and develop schemes for civil and public employment of persons with disabilities.

Delegations asked a number of questions and raised issues, such as how countries could ensure that alternative employment opportunities were consistent with the Convention; the role the international community could play to ensure that persons with disabilities could find work; good practices in creating a working environment that welcomed persons with disabilities and the microfinance schemes in their favour; and situations in which women with disabilities were more vulnerable then other persons with disabilities.  

RONALD MCCALLUM, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, responding to New Zealand’s question about sheltered employment, said that most sheltered workshops for blind people had been closed in Australia.  Mr. McCallum stressed that the Convention had been written by people who had that life experience that sheltered work was the most normal, and had established that the right to employment should be free and open.  Mr. McCallum called on States to do away with workshops and implement programmes to increase access to workplaces.  This was the reason why the Convention was so strong on open employment.

BARBARA MURRAY, Senior Disability Specialist, International Labour Organization, there had been several questions about how to move away from sheltered workshops.  Ms. Murray reiterated the surge in supported employment, where persons with disabilities were placed in individual jobs in ordinary places and received training and coaching.  Social firms had also started in Italy when the mental institutions were closed in the mid-1970s and they had been very.  Self-employment also provided an important opportunity for people with disabilities: while not necessarily for everyone, it was also an opportunity for providing employment.  The International Labour Organization had found that a key barrier for entrepreneurs with disabilities concerned wrong beliefs about repayment rates, poor people were often less willing to take risks. 

FREDERICK OUKO ALUCHELI, Director, Action Network for the Disabled, Kenya, said there was a move to ensure the participation of any relevant group in measures for their benefits; the creation of financial funds for persons with disabilities should follow the same principle and so ensure that the products and services offered fitted the needs.  It was true that microfinance institutions considered persons with disabilities as a higher risk, but they were willing to take part in discussions and dialogue; this was the role that disability organizations could play in facilitating access to capital for persons with disabilities.

SUSAN SCOTT-PARKER, Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum, said that she encouraged every country to invest in business development and to include persons with disabilities.  By investing in persons with disabilities as leaders, States could set an example.  It was only when business leaders and persons with disabilities came together that stereotypes were demolished and transformed.

VALERY NIKITICH RUKHLEDEV, President of the all-Russian Society of the Deaf, said that the proposal by Barbara Murray was the most realistic when it came to preparing persons with disabilities from around the globe to enter the business world.  It was not productive to think of persons with disabilities as persons who needed State support because they were incapacitated.  The right approach was to see persons with disabilities as individuals with potential.     

Gabon, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that persons with disabilities were discriminated against and some groups, such as girls with disabilities, were even more vulnerable.  Finland said that the right to work was a fundamental human right and access for persons with disabilities constituted a key pillar for their equality and inclusion in society; Finland had developed a guide on accessible education and a youth inclusion scheme.  Chile highlighted that this was a rights-based exercise and it was essential to bear this element in mind with regards to employment policies; it was necessary to value the idea of reasonable accommodation and make it known in both the public and private sectors.  In order to achieve full inclusion, Austria said, barriers should be eliminated and the Convention should be implemented at all levels.  Austria had taken several measures to ensure equality in the labour market.  What were the main challenges preventing fair and equal participation in the labour market?  China agreed with the proposals put forward by the report of the High Commissioner; China had taken several measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities, including tax reductions and subsidies.  It was the responsibility of all States to promote employment so that persons with disabilities could live with dignity.

Argentina regretted continued difficulties to promote job integration and training, including cultural barriers, prejudices and preconceived ideas; Argentina had norms tackling the situation of persons with disabilities, including a national policy, quotas, tax reductions, and other measures.  Spain said that it was important to have an effective legislative framework for the promotion of employment for persons with disabilities; the support of public opinion and tackling instances of discrimination was also necessary; and Spain called on the adoption of the right to work as part of the post-2015 framework.  According to Belgium, employment was one of the best ways to provide an income and ensure participation in society for persons with disabilities; training and qualification measures in an open and sheltered environment were also important.  For Costa Rica, the effective inclusion of persons with disabilities was a priority and it sought to enhance the employability profile of persons with disabilities by providing training and skills, as well as awareness raising and the involvement of inclusive employers.  Poland considered the discussion of employment and working conditions for persons with disabilities as timely.  States and the international community should remove barriers and promote inclusive societies; this involved radical shifts in the way of thinking and the recognition of persons with disabilities as equal citizens and co-workers.

Singapore said that it had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and was working to create an inclusive society in which every person with disabilities could realize his or her full potential.  Financial incentives and appropriate schemes were provided to facilitate the process.  Sri Lanka said that employment was one of the most important goals of persons with disabilities and the right to employment was a fundamental human right.  Sri Lanka had been actively promoting the right to work of persons with disabilities since 1988.  Togo said that it had taken a number of measures to promote the economic and social rights of persons with disabilities.  Priority had been attached to the recruitment of persons with disabilities as civil servants.  Cuba said that it attached a lot of importance to persons with disabilities, and that it was a clear example in terms of good practices, having taken many initiatives to give persons with disabilities access to employment and to promote integration in society.  Indonesia said that it continued to attach great importance to the rights of persons with disabilities and had formulated a special national action plan which offered job placements for persons with disabilities.  It was also working to improve the quality of data relating to persons with disabilities.  The United Nations Children’s Fund said that it had created a special team which was building organizational capacity so that it could play a full role in improving the situation of children with disabilities.      
   
International Coordination Committee said that the right to employment was very important, yet persons with disabilities were often denied the opportunity to work because of deeply rooted stereotypes and prejudices.  Association of World Citizens said that certain countries hid persons with disabilities, while in other countries training and employment opportunities were provided to persons with disabilities, who were given the possibility to be an active part of society. 

Concluding Remarks

RONALD MCCALLUM, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said in his concluding remarks that the way to do away with stereotypes was through dialogue, and he had seen the success of doing this in his own professional practice.  This needed to take place between leaders, governments and businesses and, in fact, every person needed to reach out to members of the disabled community.

BARBARA MURRAY, Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organization, said that stereotypes were the main challenge to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the labour market, as was inaccessibility of buildings and information.  Members of the disabled community also needed a reasonable environment and better awareness of legal information.

FREDERICK OUKO ALUCHELI, Director, Action Network for the Disabled, Kenya, said that there was now a need to walk the talk.  The United Nations family, international organizations and players in the field of employment of persons with disabilities needed to demonstrate that they were providing an opportunity for persons with disabilities to be employed to demonstrate that this was feasible and that it was working.  It was also important to ensure a dialogue between the private and public sector, discuss issues of employment and ensure the implementation of existing legislation. 

SUSAN SCOTT PARKER, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Business Disability Forum, said that messages sent out caused confusion in the minds not just of employers but society more widely.  On one hand, one said equal treatment and then, on the other hand, said different treatment.  Quotas reinforced stereotypes in her opinion.  In almost every country most employers had nowhere to turn to on expert advice, and had nothing to look at but the law.  Enabling the local business communities to develop best practices standards, as intended by the Convention, meant that a completely different conversation could be had.  Just telling employers they had to change and not explaining what they had to do differently was of no use. 

VALERY NIKITICH RUKHLEDEV, President of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, in concluding remarks said that persons who were deaf were usually stereotyped and noted that no deaf persons had been included in the video that had been shown.  More should be done to improve deaf persons’ access to employment.

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For use of the information media; not an official record