Disabled People’s Rights

There are an estimated one billion disabled people in the world (around 15% of the total population). The Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum estimates that around 450 million disabled people live in the Commonwealth.

Two people smile, one standing and one in a wheelchair, and hold a sign that says "we are all humans from conception to natural death" in English and Spanish.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) commits states to protecting and promoting the human rights of disabled people. This includes:

  • eliminating disability discrimination
  • enabling disabled people to live independently in the community
  • ensuring that education systems are inclusive, and
  • ensuring that disabled people are protected from all forms of exploitation, violence and abuse.

There are specific references to disability in a number of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of the SDGs (including those related to education, growth and employment) include taking action to improve the lives and rights of disabled people.

The Commonwealth Charter, which all Commonwealth Member States have signed up to, also expresses a commitment to human rights and opposition to all forms of discrimination.

Under Article 33(2) of the CRPD, NHRIs have a particular role in monitoring and reporting on states’ compliance regarding disabled people’s human rights. NHRIs also help civil society organisations to understand international conventions on disability rights, to help improve government accountability.

Language on disability

The CFNHRI uses identity-first language, referring to ‘disabled people’ rather than ‘persons with disabilities’. This approach to language emphasises that people with impairments are disabled by barriers in society and aligns with the Social Model of Disability. It places the onus on society to remove disabling barriers and be fully inclusive to people who have impairments.

The Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum (CDPF) says:

The CDPF uses ‘disabled people’ rather than ‘persons with disabilities’, as we are people with long term physical, psycho-social or mental impairments who are disabled by the barriers in environment, organisation and attitude that in interaction with our impairments lead to the denial of our full human rights and our disablement.

Many organisations, including some Commonwealth NHRIs and the UN, use person-first language. This approach to language prioritises the individual’s personhood and avoids the suggestion that a person’s disability is their defining characteristic.

The discourse around disability is constantly evolving. Non-disabled people must respect the relationship that disabled people have with their own impairments and affirm disabled people’s choice of language that they use about themselves.


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