Topic 2.3 – Module 1 – Human Rights and Disability Rights

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What are Human Rights?

Human rights are entitlements held by all people. They are universal, which Logo of the United Nationsmeans that they apply equally to everyone around the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made by the countries of the United Nations in 1948, states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms, without distinction of any kind.

Human rights help us to respect each other and live with each other. In other words, they are not only rights to be requested or demanded but rights to be respected and to be responsible for. The rights that apply to you also apply to others.

Human rights can be divided into four kinds of rights:

1. Social rights

Social rights improve the well-being and standard of living of all members of Three people in uniforms pose with their hands raised above head, seemingly in celebration.society. They give people security as they live together in families, schools, and communities. Some examples from United Nations human rights treaties include:

  • the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • the right to adequate housing, food and sanitationA family of people sit in front of a tent in the desert posing with sack of rice and other dry food.
  • the right to inclusive and accessible education
  • the right to live independently


2. Economic rights

Economic rights deal with income-generating activities or income supports that allow people to have the necessities of life


Two children smile at the camera in a classroom.


3. Cultural rights

Cultural rights deal with protecting, developing and enjoying one’s cultural identity. Some examples from United Nations human rights treaties include:

  • the right to participate in mainstream culture, arts, recreation, leisure and sport
  • the right to create unique disability culture
  • the right to cultural materials in accessible formats
  • the right to access places of cultural performances

A boy with no arms paints a picture with his foot in a classroom. A woman kneels beside him.

4. Civil and Political rights

Civil and political rights allow people to have equal citizenship. Some examples from United Nations human rights treaties include:

  • the right to life, liberty and security of personSmiling Politician in a wheelchair in his office
  • the right to freedom of opinion
  • the right to protection from torture and violence
  • the right to vote and run for political office

Human rights are indivisible and interdependent. That means that no one type of right is more important than another. For people to be free from fear and want, they must be able to enjoy all of their rights – economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights.

Video: What are Disability Rights?

Video Summary

Dr. Paul Longmore discusses disability rights issues in the United States.

For a reminder on how to turn on AMARA close captions, visit the FAQ page by clicking here (Question 9).

Transcript of Video

San Francisco ADA 20th Anniversary, Dr. Paul Longmore Speakers: Dr. Paul Longmore Jessie Lorenz (of ILRCSF)

Transcription provided by:
Caption First, Inc. P. O. Box 3066 Monument, Colorado 80132 877-825-5234

>> JESSIE LORENZ: Thank you so much Paul. We’ve got a lot of folks in our audience.
>> PAUL LONGMORE: First, I want to acknowledge that Neil Marcus’ partner in that performance earlier was John Kelly, who came all the way from Boston to be with us.
So, Jessie asked me to talk about the history of the Disability Rights movement. You want to hear about your history?
>> AUDIENCE: Yeah!
>> PAUL LONGMORE: It’s a semester long course, so we’re going to be here for a while. But, I’m going to try to do it in five minutes. I have three points.
First of all, we redefined the meaning of disability. That’s what the disability rights movement has accomplished.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was one piece of that re-definition. In fact, there was a quarter century of legislation at not only the federal but also the state level, redefining what disability is. What the situation and status of people with disabilities is and how to address the issues of people with disabilities. And here’s what the re-definition did.
Previously, disability was defined, as a set of limitations in the ability of people with disabilities to function in society because of some kind of pathology in us.
The disability rights movement redefined disability as a problem located mainly out there in society, not just in our bodies and minds, but in society. Therefore, the solution was not so much to fix individuals, but to repair society.
So that was the first thing we accomplished, that’s my first point, the disability rights movement has redefined the meaning of disability.
Secondly, subsequent to the ADA, we have been involved in its implementation. What that means is, we have been using the ADA and these other laws and policies, to build for ourselves an infrastructure of freedom and self-determination. That’s what access is all about; that’s what all the policies promoting employment are about, that’s what anti-discrimination protections are about; that’s what our movement is about, in terms of building our culture, our sense of pride, individually and collectively.
We are building an infrastructure of freedom and self-determination, not just individually, but collectively. And it’s obvious that that task has involved not only the enforcement of laws like ADA, the implementation of those policies, but also its involved and continues to involve, resistance against the forces that would nullify the impact and the intent of the ADA.
And sometimes that means the courts that have misinterpreted it, so we had to get another law passed to redefine what the Congress intended; and we’re having to fight things like budget cuts, such as Governor Schwarzenegger’s unconscionable war on people with disabilities. I sometimes think Eunice Shriver must be turning over in her grave.
So that’s the second point. We’ve continued our struggle to build the infrastructure of self-determination and freedom.
Now here’s the third point. We are the ones who did this. This wasn’t handed to us. This wasn’t an act of charity. This was not something done paternalistically. We made it happen. We did it.
Now I’m very glad that the state legislature has sought to recognize our leader Ed Roberts with a Day of Significance. But here’s something to keep in mind. That designated day, is not just about Ed, as much as we honor him as much as we valued his leadership, this movement was not created by one person. Great leaders do not create great movements. Great movements give rise to great leaders.
So, when we honor Ed Roberts, we’re honoring all of us. Because no movement can exist without, in this case, millions of ordinary men and women asserting themselves to demand dignity and their rights. So that’s what our movement is all about. That’s our past, that’s our present, that’s our future.
Jessie has said we’re here to celebrate. We’re here to celebrate what we’ve accomplished; we’re here to celebrate what we’re going to accomplish.
The banners say Culture, History, Future — We’re here to celebrate all of those things; all of the things that we have done together.
So, let’s continue to celebrate.

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“Disabled persons frequently live in deplorable conditions, owing to the presence of physical and social barriers, which prevent their integration and full participation in the community. Millions of children and adults worldwide are segregated and deprived of their rights and are, in effect, living on the margins. This is unacceptable.”

Photo of Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002)


Graphic: 15% of the world's population, or more than 1 billion people, live with some kind of disability, especially in poor countries
1 Billion People Live with Some Kind of Disability. 11% of population in higher income nations. 18% of population in lower income nations. 22% of population in poorest nations. (Statistics are based on a 2011 World Health Organization And World Bank report on disability)
Illustration of the global wealth pyramid showing 0.6% of the world's population has a net worth of 1 million dollars while 69.3% have a net worth of less than ten thousand
The Global Wealth Pyramid (Source: Credit Suisse)

It is important to remember that people without disabilities are much more likely to find employment than people with disabilities.

One major reason that so many people with disabilities live in poverty is that they are less likely to find employment.

This can be the result of discrimination by employers and their refusal to create an accessible workplace or provide workplace accommodations.

 “Discrimination takes many forms. At times, it is embedded in laws and in practices. Yet more often, discrimination is less visible. It manifests itself in attitudes and in the belief that persons with disabilities are unable to learn and to work, or to take part in political decision-making that affects them.
Or that persons with disabilities need charity to survive rather than rights.
Discrimination also appears in the form of an inaccessible environment which prevents persons with disabilities from participating freely and independently in everyday activities.”
(UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Addresses World Congress of WFD, July 18, 2011)

‘Disability rights’ are not a separate or a new category of human rights. Disability rights include the full range of human rights (civil, cultural, economic, political and social) applied to situations faced by persons with disabilities.

Up until now, human rights have rarely been implemented in ways that reflect the experiences of persons with disabilities. It is hoped that with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN), this situation will be improved. The UN clearly states that persons with disabilities are entitled to enjoy the full range of human rights, without discrimination.

Video: Francis Escalate

Video Summary

Caption: Francis Escalate talks about what disability rights mean to him during a workshop on disability right in El Salvador.

Transcript of Video

Francis Escalante discusses disability rights in El Salvador
Transcription provided by: Caption First, Inc.P. O. Box 3066
Monument, Colorado 80132
877-825-5234>> MODERATOR: Hello, can you please introduce yourself?
>> FRANCES ESCALANTE: Hi, my name is Frances Escalante and I’m from San Salvador, El Salvador.
>> MODERATOR: Can you tell us please what does disability rights mean to you?
>> FRANCES ESCALANTE: Disability rights for me are very important because they show the value that you have within your family, within the things you do, and they make you a better human being. That’s all.
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Group Discussion

Watch this video of Francis Escalate from El Salvador and think what disability rights mean to you. Share with your group.  If you are going through the training by yourself, take some time to reflect on this question.

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