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The importance of human rights

In this video, various academics in the area of disability studies introduce human rights and describe the importance of human rights frameworks.
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. The importance of human rights.
ROSEMARY KAYESS: Human rights are accorded to every person because of their humanness. There an agreed codified mechanism by which the community of nations enshrines the dignity and worth of every human being.
DINESHA SAMARARATNE: So back in Sri Lanka, I teach human rights. And it’s a final year subject– human rights law, actually. And one of the things we discuss is what does it mean for you to realise your human rights. And the standard answer is, well, for your dignity to be respected. But if you want to make it more real to somebody, the way I explain it is to say, well, is that individual flourishing in his or her context. Are they able to fulfil their aspirations for themselves?
TOM SHAKESPEARE: I think in the post-war era, the human rights treaties, the apparatus we have, are about laying out what human beings need in order to achieve a good life. And that’s partly what they need to be protected from– abuse, violence– and what they need to be enabled to participate in– health, school, work. So human rights are a set of treaties which nation states sign up to where there is an obligation to ensure a basic raft of needs being met and safeties being protected. And of course, human rights particularly specify groups that are at risk of violation of human rights– women, children, disabled people. Not because those rights are different, but because we can see that those rights are violated.
So we need to make additionally clear what is owed to these folks.
ERIC EMERSON: I think in most societies– in most countries around the world, I think there’s a growing realisation that disability is fundamentally an issue about– is fundamentally a human rights issue. And the connection there is the growing awareness, the growing acceptance, that the disadvantage faced by people with disabilities is– it’s partly, in a sense, related to the impairments or health conditions associated with disability. If you have a very, very severe intellectual impairment, then you are going to be disadvantaged in the labour market. You’re never going to be getting the kind of academic qualifications which gain you access to the more privileged professions and jobs.
But– and that’s really important for some people with disabilities. But the main issue for most people with disabilities is not the impact that their health condition or impairment has on the way they live their life, it’s the impact which– it’s the impact of the discriminatory attitudes and discriminatory practises in society which restricts people’s participation. And I think there’s a growing awareness that people with disabilities can contribute to society.
But the way our education systems work, the way our labour markets work, disadvantages them, and makes it much more difficult for them to contribute to society, much more difficult for them to acquire the wealth and power that many of us take for granted, and makes it much easier for them to become poor and disenfranchised. And that’s nothing about impairments. That’s about discrimination. That’s about the impact of social structures and public attitudes on the way in which people with disabilities are treated from birth and onward throughout their lives, which has a very strong impact– a very kind of powerful impact in determining what their choices and opportunities are. And that’s a human rights issue. That’s about discrimination.
It’s the same as the issue about discrimination if it’s a particular ethnic group within society. N.G.
KAMALAWATHIE: Actually, if human rights are protected for everyone, we don’t need to talk about rights of persons with disability in any special way. But because persons with disabilities are now being discriminated against, we now have a special field which we call human rights for persons with disability. Why should we talk about human rights? Well, actually that’s the main basis for our life. Human rights belong to everyone. So if it’s not given to people like us with disability, not only must we asked for it, we must lobby for it. We must advocate for it. We should even fight for it. Because it is our right, and if so, we must claim it.

The purpose of the above video is to introduce why human rights have been important to humans in general, and to disabled people in particular.

The video includes Rosemary Kayess and Tom Shakespeare, both of whom were involved in the development and drafting of the UNCRPD. As they explain, a human rights approach specifies what every human being needs, and lays out the obligations of the state to protect and enable access to these basic needs. As we will explore more throughout the week, people with disabilities are one group of people who have historically not always had their needs equally protected or enabled by the state. As such, Eric Emerson suggests that disability is fundamentally a human rights issue.

While people with disabilities may experience some disadvantages as a result of their impairments or health conditions, the main disadvantage occurs due to different kinds of discrimination. In the next steps, we explore what discrimination is, and what it looks like in the lives of people with disabilities.

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