Report of the Proceedings

 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities International Conference

 

U.S. Federal Transit Administration

U.S. International Council on Disabilities

American Public Transportation Association

 

 

July 27-28, 2009

Washington, DC

 

 

 

This conference was organized to provide information regarding the CRPD’s history, context, content and status, as well as explore aspects of the CRPD’s successful implementation in countries seeking to promote the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life.

 

This report was drawn from transcriptions of oral summaries provided in closing each day’s proceedings.

 

 

 

 

 

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Opening Reception

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The opening reception for the conference was intended to celebrate the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), herald the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and honor the longtime public service career of Mr. Norm Mineta.  The program of speakers included figures that have served the United States as advocates and policymakers, and have demonstrated a commitment to the civil rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities. 

 

Representatives of the three host organizations provided opening remarks and reflected on the passage of the ADA, the advancement of public policies for inclusion and access, and the disability, civil and human rights movements.  They were:

  • William Millar, President, American Public Transportation Association
  • Marca Bristo, President, United States International Council on Disabilities
  • Michael Winter, Senior Program Analyst, U.S. Federal Transit Administration

 

Representing the Obama Administration, White House Staff Member Kareem Dale spoke about the Administration’s celebration of the anniversary of the ADA and the recent announcement of U.S. signature to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Mr. Dale also spoke about the President’s recent announcement of the creation of a special assistant position at the U.S. Department of Transportation on accessibility policy.

 

Congressman James L. Oberstar of Minnesota provided the keynote address of the evening, recognizing special guest and the evening’s honoree, Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.  Representative Oberstar shared his memories of working with Mr. Mineta on a variety of legislations, and of the honoree’s commitment to ensuring the rights and access of persons with disabilities in public transportation and throughout society. 

 

The following quote was shared with the audience by USICD President Marca Bristo, and is attributed to Mr. Mineta during his time representing the 13th Congressional district of California in the U.S. House of Representatives, delivered on the House floor in support of passage of the ADA:

 

“At the core of this legislation is fairness and equity. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights measure that addresses the barriers of ignorance, prejudice, and inaccessibility that individuals with disabilities confront each day of their lives. Americans believe that the time is now for clear, concise protections against the strain of discrimination which individuals with disabilities must endure on a daily basis.”

 


Day One Proceedings

Monday, July 27, 2009

 

Welcoming Remarks and Conference Overview

 

  • Rita Daguillard, Director, Office of Research Management, U.S. Federal Transit Administration
  • Marca Bristo, President, United States International Council on Disabilities
  • William Millar, President, American Public Transportation Association

 

The conference was opened with welcoming remarks from representatives of the three sponsoring organizations.  The speakers reflected on the progress of people with disabilities in the United States and abroad, notably drawing a link between the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (which turned 19 years old) and the development of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  As the first human rights instrument of the 21st century and drawing on a vision of equality for disabled people around the world, the CRPD should be understood by Americans as a call to engage with the international community, just as the American disability movement rallied in its pursuit of passage of the ADA.  Marca Bristo noted that this is not just about shifting domestic policy, but about elevating the human rights of people with disabilities everywhere.  She stressed that the U.S. disability community has much to give and gain during the process of ratification that the country will undertake following the President’s announcement of his intention to sign the CRPD.  The struggle for civil rights and social justice is never easy, but the process of working towards those civil rights and the vision of the CRPD should foster the development of organizational skill sets that serve the disability community well.

 

 

Plenary I

 

Objective: To provide a legal and historical overview of the history, context and status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD)

 

  • Maria Veronica Reina, Executive Director, Global Partnership for Disability and Development
  • Venus Ilagan, Secretary General, Rehabilitation International
  • Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director, Mental Disability Rights International
  • Marca Bristo, President, United States International Council on Disabilities
  • Moderator: David Morrissey, Executive Director, United States International Council on Disabilities

 

Panelists in this first plenary discussed the history, context, and current status of the CRPD.  Multiple speakers emphasized how the CRPD drafting process brought the international disability community together in ways not seen before.  The process further served to effectuate changes in the attitudes of many of the delegates and diplomats at the United Nations, and helped move the process forward in ways not anticipated at its inception.  For example, the initiatives undertaken to enhance the accessibility and inclusiveness of the negotiations have served to alter the methods utilized by the U.N. in many of its operations.

Maria Veronica Reina talked about the formation of the international disability caucus and how that coalition worked together effectively in unprecedented ways.  She emphasized two important challenges to this work: the first being the need to monitor implementation of the CRPD; the second being the critical need for education and outreach.  People with disabilities, especially those in developing countries, must know their rights under the convention and that they are stakeholders in the process.

 

Craig Mokhiber spoke of the monitoring and accountability mechanisms in the CRPD, which ensure that the convention has real meaning and legal obligation.  He noted that the CRPD represents the first time that explicit language has been included in a human rights convention addressing monitoring at both national and international levels.  He further observed that the monitoring process is a living process; ongoing and critical to the treaty’s implementation.

 

Eric Rosenthal explained the process of U.S. ratification, and how we will now need to turn our attention to the U.S. Senate and the possibility of reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs) that may be attached to U.S. ratification of the CRPD.

 

The general discussion addressed how the CRPD moves us past a charity model towards one that fosters greater equality for people with disabilities through an understanding of the social model.  The participants also discussed the interaction between gender, family, children's issues and children's rights, and the complementarity of these, and the treaties addressing such issues, with the CRPD.

 

Participants also discussed the partnerships that will be essential to realization of the vision of the CRPD, specifically, the partnerships between civil society, States Parties and national human rights institutes.  Such entities will need to engage each other from ratification through implementation and monitoring.  Shadow reporting offers just one way in which civil society groups can maintain their engagement beyond their current activism around ratification.

 

 

Presentation: CRPD Overview

 

Objective: To provide an overview of the structure and contents of the CRPD.

 

·        Katherine Guernsey, Director of Education and Outreach, United States International Council on Disabilities

 

Katherine Guernsey addressed the essential components of the convention itself, taking participants through the various articles in a comprehensive way.  She emphasized that there is an explicit role in the CRPD for people with disabilities themselves, in monitoring the convention and in the decision-making processes of respective countries.

 

In reviewing specific articles, she discussed the concept of access to justice and how marginalization on the basis of disability can result in lack of access. She noted that the convention includes strong provisions on living independently and living in the community, aimed at making such concepts achievable.  On international development, she talked about the treaty addressing the reality of the lives of people with disabilities living in poverty.  She also noted that if development and human rights actors do not address the broad variety of populations with disabilities, achievement of the Millennium Development Goals will not be possible.  As a guide to development actors, the treaty speaks to more than giving money to developing countries, but also references information sharing and technical assistance.  She also talked about statistics and data collection and monitoring and CRPD’s implementation.  She noted that the conference itself is an example of international cooperation through information sharing between representatives of different countries.

 

 

Luncheon Keynote

 

Former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater delivered the keynote address of the conference luncheon.  Mr. Slater shared memories from his time in the U.S. Department of Transportation related to advances in the inclusion of and accessibility planning for transportation users with disabilities.  He reflected on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the great strides American society has made in access and inclusion, and the obligation we share to continue moving forward.  He acknowledged how the CRPD casts a new vision and standard for the global disability community’s advancement, and the importance of America’s participation in this international dialogue.

 

 

Plenary II

 

Objective: To provide international perspectives on the need for ratification of the CRPD and next steps in implementation

 

  • Ambassador Luis Gallegos Chiriboga, Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States of America
  • Antoine Averseng, Transportation, Energy and Sustainable Development Attaché, Trade Office, Embassy of France
  • Nicola Hill, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations
  • Moderator: Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Senior Operations Officer, Human Development Network Social Protection World Bank

 

The second plenary convened international perspectives on the need for the convention and the next steps on implementation.  Moderator Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo introduced the discussion with both a call for celebration and a caveat to be very vigilant that implementation becomes a reality.  She made the point that there are already consequences in place because of the signature and ratification in many countries, especially in the development arena.  Many aid agencies are already changing their policies and examining how to implement the convention.  She also spoke about her experience traveling, seeing how disabled people on the ground, who want to share the treaty’s vision with those in their countries, were unofficially translating the convention into local languages.

 

Ambassador Luis Gallegos talked about the importance of American participation in the current ratification process, and how important it was to have people with disabilities be the subject matter experts during the negotiations.  He talked specifically about Ecuador's experience, of how their vice president is a person with a disability, and how disability principles and laws have been written into their own constitution.  He noted that these changes occur as part of a long-term process, because it is not just laws that are being changed but also attitudes.  These changes take place in the midst of dynamic societal changes, which are influenced by changes in technology and other factors.  Time is of the essence in ensuring that such developments are inclusive of people with disabilities.  He also noted that this process of change is strengthened because of the universal language for human rights and disability generated by the CRPD.  He concluded by noting that although important, ratification is not required for the CRPD to be implemented.  All individuals and organizations have a role to play in moving our societies toward realization of the vision of the treaty, regardless of whether our governments have as yet ratified.

 

Antoine Averseng of France talked about the practical realities of accessible transportation and facilities, drawing on the French experience.  Addressing developments over time, he talked about the approach during the 1970s and '80s, when there were commitments made to principles but little action.  By contrast, there is currently a greater emphasis on utilization of specific accessibility guidelines.  He also emphasized the utility of a systemic and holistic approach to access.  Specifically, he noted that implementation of accessibility standards benefits all transportation users, not just people who self identify as people with disabilities. 

 

From New Zealand, Nicola Hill referenced the treaty negotiations process as providing guidance for those working on ratification of the CRPD.  She noted that in the final moments of the negotiations there was a shared commitment to work together for the greater good instead of becoming bogged down in details.  This approach was reflected, for example, in the agreement of the U.S. to join in the adoption of the CRPD text by consensus – a position that the international community viewed as positive U.S. engagement.   She advised that in ratification campaigns, advocates must similarly unite with one voice, find one route and march that route together to adopt the treaty at domestic levels.

 

 

Plenary III

 

Objective: To provide insight into the importance of the CRPD in improving the lives of people with disabilities globally

 

  • Hon. Judith Heumann, Director, Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia
  • Hon. Kathy Martinez, Assistant Secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Moderator: Hon. Michael Winter, Senior Program Analyst, U.S. Federal Transit Administration

 

Two longtime leaders in the U.S. and international disability communities, Kathy Martinez and Judy Heumann, shared compelling personal stories and insight into having a disability in the United States, particularly as related to growing up disabled and receiving an education.

One of the articles in the convention is about inclusive education.  The CRPD confirms that people with disabilities have a right to education just as others do. 

 

They both emphasized that in realizing the convention, it is not just about the U.S. sharing its experience in disability inclusion with the world, but about partnerships and the U.S. learning from and moving forward with the benefit of international experience.  Such partnerships should extend to a wide range of issues, including the enjoyment of human rights by women and children, and also global poverty – all of which constitute great challenges facing people with disabilities and therefore society.

 

End Day One

 

 

Left to Right:  Judith Heumann, Secretary Rodney Slater, Donna McNamee,

Julie Cunningham, Michael Winter, and Billy Altom.


Day Two Proceedings

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 

Plenary IV

 

Objective: To examine what opportunities exist for US actors to assist in promoting livable communities in other countries in the context of CRPD implementation.

 

  • Honorable Michael Winter, Senior Program Analyst, US Federal Transit Administration
  • Glen White, International Committee Chair, National Council on Independent Living
  • Christopher Hart, Director of Urban and Transit Projects, Human Centered Design
  • Honorable Patricia Morrissey
  • Honorable Richard Balkus, Associate Commissioner for Program Development and Research, Social Security Administration
  • Moderator: Rita Daguillard, Director, Office of Research Management, US FTA

 

Plenary IV examined opportunities that exist for United States actors to assist in promoting livable communities in other countries in the context of CRPD implementation.  Michael Winter highlighted the interest shown in different countries around the world in developing accessible transportation systems, both in new transportation systems in developing countries and retroactively retrofitting transportation systems in developed countries.  He provided examples of reciprocity in the provision of technical assistance to and from the United States, including: 1) low floor buses first introduced in Europe - now 95% of the new buses in the United States are low floor buses; 2) bus rapid transportation systems, which came from Latin America; 3) intelligent transportation systems, for example, in Japan there is a hand-held information system which shows an individual where accessible bathrooms are located; and 4) the importance of addressing issues in terms of universal usage, not just universal design.  He also emphasized the need to plan for access up front and not retroactively.

 

Glen White’s discussion of independent living (IL) highlighted five important concepts associated with IL: consideration; capacity building; communication; cultural competence; and continuation.  He noted that there is still a huge learning curve in the U.S. on the Convention, and it will be extremely important to educate the grassroots.  Capacity building will therefore be important, especially enhancing leadership and mentoring.  Communication should take place through the exchange of information. Such communication will only going be meaningful and effective if participants understand the cultural context within which they are working, and thus cultural competence is important. With respect to the concept of continuation, he noted that we are in this for the long haul and the U.S. CRPD ratification process is just starting.

 

Universal design was discussed from the perspective of practitioner Christopher Hart.  He noted that individuals are more or less disabled based on the environment they inhabit and statistics are only meaningful up to that point.  Examples of case studies being implemented around the world were discussed.  He emphasized that people with disabilities should be consulted as experts in the design process, and that the design dramatically improves when you include people with disabilities throughout that process.

 

Patricia Morrissey discussed the principles of accessible healthcare in the context of CRPD Article 25.  These principles include promoting wellness among people with disabilities; making all community settings accessible; including people with disabilities in health surveys; training professionals in working with people with disabilities in their healthcare; and always recognizing that people with disabilities are, and should be, central players in the discussions about their health.  In the participant discussion period that followed the plenary a suggestion was made to hold an international working conference on accessible healthcare as a way to begin discussion of these important issues.

 

Article 28, Adequate Standard of Living, was discussed by Richard Balkus, including how the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) is addressing issues present in Article 28, including the right to continuous improvement; the benefit equity principles at SSA which parallel those in Article 28; program integrity; and getting people social security benefits on time.  He also outlined a number of initiatives underway at SSA: 1) to get people to work; 2) to transition youth into secondary education and employment; and 3) SSA’s work specifically with OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) on best practices and transition policies.

 

 

Plenary V

 

Objective: To examine implementation and funding Mechanisms in the context of CRPD Article 32 (International Cooperation)

 

  • Rakesh Nangia, World Bank Director, Strategy and Operations, Human Development Network, the World Bank Group
  • Lloyd Feinberg, Disability Coordinator, US Agency for International Development (USAID)
  • Akiko Ito, United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs
  • Moderator: Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director, Mental Disability Rights International

 

Rakesh Nangia discussed the importance of sharing knowledge.  He emphasized that international cooperation isn't just about money; it's also about information sharing.  He noted that the World Bank has a pivotal role to play through its Human Development Network, which incorporates disability and development, and raises awareness about disability and development.  He discussed how the Global Partnership on Disability and Development, under the World Bank, is facilitating dialogue around disability and development issues within the international disability community.

 

Lloyd Feinberg discussed the activities of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  USAID’s activities were highlighted in the context of Article 32, emphasizing their most important partners in the implementation of Article 32 are DPOs (disabled peoples organizations) around the world.  He referenced the importance of facilitating, supporting, capacity building, information sharing, and training on disability and development, and the provision of technical and economic assistance to other countries.  He noted that the President’s signature of the CRPD will be an accelerator for this work, and will help develop action plans for countries where USAID works. 

 

Akiko Ito focused on implementation of the CRPD and the work currently underway by the United Nations.  She also noted the importance of the incorporation of disability in the international development framework and in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  She recommended that the U.S. should take full advantage of its upcoming signature by taking part in the second Conference of States Parties this September. 

 

 

Closing Remarks and Looking to the Future

 

  • David Morrissey, Executive Director, USICD
  • Joan Durocher, Senior Attorney/Advisor, National Council on Disability

 

The value of international cooperation is one that is infused throughout this treaty, and is now in the process of being created and implemented.  Partnership is happening at an intergovernmental level and at an intersectional level between governmental and nongovernmental organizations.  It is happening at the international level, and it's also happening on a person-to-person level and at exchanges like this one, where researchers, DPO leaders, and development actors can come together and build the bridges that become the foundation for implementing this treaty.  Advocacy is another aspect of international cooperation - the voice of civil society in changing global society for the realization of the vision of this treaty.

 

The transformative process that occurred at the U.N. in drafting this treaty is now transforming the way countries are implementing this treaty. Ambassador Gallegos mentioned change on a global level that's larger than this community, and larger than humanity.  The language and the framework of the CRPD is moving global society into the 21st century as the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, and is including people with disabilities in this global change.

 

A key point made was that the CRPD is not creating special rights for individuals with disabilities but rather is creating a framework and a language about basic human rights as applied to individuals with disabilities.  This will ensure that governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society can work together, cooperatively, to realize the vision of this treaty and to prevent the denial or lack of access that individuals with disabilities encounter so frequently, to mitigate invisibility, to stop the lack of voice or the silencing of voices, and actually to give a voice, to provide venues for participation and access, and opportunities for inclusion.

 

This is really about changing societies, which takes time. The treaty crafts a vision for us, as partners with each other, to work towards leading our global society toward realizing.

 

To do this work, ratification is not necessarily required because we can live the values of the treaty in our daily work.  We're then leading our societies to realize the reality of it.  The excitement about President Obama's announcement of signature of this treaty does not minimize the knowledge that the political process of the United States will take time for ratification to become a reality.  It is important to use the treaty in our language as we talk to others about DPOs and development and about the international disability community so we continue to bring people back to the treaty and what its vision is.  It's a vision that was written by people with disabilities, and in that, there is nothing about us without us.

 

Yoshiko Dart always reminds us to lead on – we should all lead our global society to the full inclusion and realization of human rights for people with disabilities.

 

This ratification won't happen without us.  The work that AID is doing, the new policy guiding the World Bank, those things were achieved through hard work way below the radar, by the board of the United States International Council on Disabilities, the National Council on Disability, and other advocates in the community.  If we've been able to move the bar that far, we can achieve the goal of ratification.  We need youth to get involved in this process, as they are the next generation of advocates.

 

 

End Day Two

 

Back Row, Left to Right:  David Morrissey, Jules Eason, Chelsea Wright, Mary Leary, Secretary Norman Mineta, Kareem Dale, Mrs. Oberstar, Congressman James Oberstar, Julienne Chen, Yoshiko Dart, Bill Millar.  Front Row, Left to Right:  Judith Heumann, Michael Winter, Donna McNamee, and Marca Bristo.