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Thematic reports

A/HRC/31/62: Report on the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in decision-making


12 January 2016

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Persons with disabilities

Participation is a core human rights principle and a basic condition of democratic societies. It cannot be confined to basic voting rights, but must also include all aspects and levels of decision-making. This report makes the case in support of participation mechanisms that fully reflect the diversity of the community as the cornerstone for better policies and services, and more effective governance.

What is participation?

Participation in political and public life means people participating in decisions that affect their own lives, their development, and that of their communities. It includes the right to vote, to be elected, to access public service positions and to participate in public affairs. Being part of public affairs includes all aspects of public administration and policy making, as an individual or as part of a larger association or organization. Participation must be ensured to both individuals and groups.

Persons with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination or barriers to participation. The right to vote, for example, might be limited by inaccessible procedures, denied after a restriction of legal capacity or being placed in a psychiatric or social institution. As well as barriers to participation in public life, persons with disabilities have often had their views disregarded in favour of other people speaking or making decisions on their behalf.

Why is participation important?

Participation is important because it helps reach better decisions, is a part of empowerment, and a component of good governance. Participation of persons with disabilities in public decision-making make it more responsive to their actual situation, and add to efficiency and innovation. This process of participation also leads to transformative social change as persons with disabilities have more agency and voice. Organizations of persons with disabilities can contribute to good governance by holding authorities accountable and making them responsive to their needs. State authorities themselves also benefit from this contribution, which is also an opportunity to see the valuable contribution persons with disabilities can make in societies.

Organizations of persons with disabilities

Organizations of persons with disabilities are non-governmental, membership-based organizations. They are led and controlled by persons with disabilities themselves. At local, national and international levels, these organizations can play a mediating role between individuals and the States, making an important contribution to more inclusive societies.

It is important to distinguish between organizations of persons with disabilities with organizations for persons with disabilities. Organizations for persons with disabilities are those that work on disability but are not led and controlled by persons with disabilities. To ensure genuine participation, States need to ensure that the will and preferences of persons with disabilities themselves are given priority.

Ensuring the participation of organizations of persons with disabilities

States are obliged under international human rights law to closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, in policymaking, through their organizations.

In this regard, States should:

  • Create an enabling environment for their establishment and functioning;
  • Guarantee their right to operate free from State interference;
  • Offer capacity-building and training to increase their ability to participate;
  • Allow them to and support them in seeking and securing funds and resources;
  • Reach out directly to women and girls with disabilities;
  • Promote participation of persons with disabilities across all population groups.

Furthermore, organizations of persons with disabilities should build collaborative relationships with other actors for the respect of human rights.

Consulting with persons with disabilities

  • Legal framework: national legal frameworks must require that State authorities consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities.
  • Institutionalized consultative bodies and mechanisms: systematic consultations with organizations of persons with disabilities should take place.
  • Non-discrimination: guarantee non-discrimination and provision of reasonable accommodation to persons with disabilities in participation.
  • Accessibility of all facilities and procedures related to public decision-making.
  • Good faith: embrace transparency, mutual respect, and meaningful dialogue.
  • Awareness-raising: implement awareness-raising training programmes.

Key Areas for participation

  • Legal Harmonization with Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  • Budgeting in all public and participatory budgeting processes
  • National implementation and monitoring of the Convention
  • International monitoring of the Convention
  • International decision-making processes throughout United Nations system
  • International cooperation: engage, support and consult persons with disabilities

Recommendations for States:

  • Establish the right to participate in legislation.
  • Support representative organizations of persons with disabilities.
  • Engage with women and girls and disadvantaged groups.
  • Guarantee accessibility and provide reasonable accommodation.
  • Ensure participation in legislation, public budgeting, decision-making and international processes.

Recommendations for international cooperation actors and the United Nations:

  • Engage with, and promote participation of, persons with disabilities.

Issued By:

Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities

Delivered To:

HRC at its 31st session, 4 March 2016