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Disability: UN expert urges States to make their social protection systems more inclusive

Disabilities call

28 October 2015

NEW YORK (28 October 2015) – States should make their social protection systems more inclusive for persons with disabilities, rather than pursuing models that often lock them into a cycle of dependence and poverty, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas Aguilar has said.  

“Most countries base their social protection systems on a ‘medical approach’ to disability. Under this model, persons with disabilities are seen as incapable of studying, working or living independently in the society,” said Ms. Devandas Aguilar during the presentation of her first report* to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

“Such an approach promotes a false sense of well-being and protection,” the expert said.” “Yes, persons with disabilities get services and benefits but often at the cost of their autonomy and independence. Such approach has without any doubt resulted in more poverty, segregation, stigmatization and exclusion,” she stressed.

“Non-inclusive poverty reduction programmes implemented in the past decades also constitute a missed opportunity, which could have enabled persons with disabilities to get out of poverty,” Ms. Devandas Aguilar said.

In her report, the UN expert argues that well-designed social protection systems are an essential tool to combat poverty and promote the independence, inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in a sustainable manner.

The report provides concrete steps that States can take to ensure that their systems become more inclusive, including:
· Review domestic legislation to recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection, and take this right into account in national social protection strategies and plans;
· Ensure access by persons with disabilities to general and disability-specific social protection, without discrimination;
· Guarantee that benefits offered promote independence and social inclusion and cover disability-related costs.
The Special Rapporteur also expressed her deep concern about the disproportionate effect of austerity measures on persons with disabilities. “While adopting austerity measures, some countries make budget cuts that have a profound impact on the livelihood of persons with disabilities and their right to live independently in their community,” she noted. The Special Rapporteur reminded that States should refrain from  adopting measures that are deliberately regressive in the exercise of the right to social protection.
“Inclusive social protection is essential to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals. The inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection systems is not only a question of rights, but also a crucial step to move towards the proposed new SDGs: end poverty in all its forms everywhere; ensure healthy lives and promote well-being; ensure inclusive and equitable quality education; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; and reduce inequalities,” she concluded.

(*)  Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report:  


Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar  (Costa Rica) was designated as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities in June 2014 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Devandas Aguilar has worked extensively on disability issues at the national, regional and international level with the Strategic Partnerships with the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund, the UN unit responsible for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the World Bank. Her work has focused on the rights of women with disabilities and the rights of indigenous peoples with disabilities. Learn more, log on to:

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the ‘Special Procedures’ of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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