United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons proclaimed that persons with disabilities have the same civil and political rights as other human beings and provided for equal treatment and services for the disabled.

Summary of Event

More than 500 million human beings are disabled by mental, physical, or sensory impairment. Approximately 80 percent of these people live in isolated rural areas in developing countries. Because of the physical and social barriers that hamper their full participation in societal institutions, millions of children (at least 10 percent of children are disabled) and adults suffer lives that are segregated, debased, and in violation of disabled persons’ basic human rights and access to equal opportunity. Many disabled persons are extremely poor. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, U.N. (1975) Disabled persons’ rights[Disabled persons rights] United Nations;human rights [kw]United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights (Dec. 9, 1975) [kw]Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights, United Nations Adopts a (Dec. 9, 1975) [kw]Disabled Persons’ Rights, United Nations Adopts a Declaration on (Dec. 9, 1975) [kw]Rights, United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ (Dec. 9, 1975) Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, U.N. (1975) Disabled persons’ rights[Disabled persons rights] United Nations;human rights [g]North America;Dec. 9, 1975: United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights[02180] [g]United States;Dec. 9, 1975: United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights[02180] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Dec. 9, 1975: United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights[02180] [c]United Nations;Dec. 9, 1975: United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights[02180] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Dec. 9, 1975: United Nations Adopts a Declaration on Disabled Persons’ Rights[02180] Waldheim, Kurt Akhund, Iqbal Ahmad Pérez de Cuéllar, Javier

Through its numerous social and humanitarian programs, the United Nations has worked to better the conditions of the disabled and to uphold the human rights of disabled people around the world. The Economic and Social Council Economic and Social Council, U.N. (ECOSOC) of the United Nations, for example, passed a landmark resolution concerning the “social rehabilitation of the physically handicapped” on July 13, 1950, and another important resolution on the “rehabilitation of the disabled” on July 30, 1965.

In 1971, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons, U.N. (1971) as part of ongoing efforts to protect the disadvantaged. This declaration states that mentally retarded persons have, to the maximum degree of feasibility, the same rights as other human beings, including the right to proper medical care and physical therapy; the right to education, training, rehabilitation, and guidance; the right to economic security and a decent standard of living; the right to a qualified guardian whenever necessary; and the right to protection from exploitation, abuse, and degrading treatment. The declaration also stipulates that any mentally retarded person who is prosecuted foran offense has the right to due process of law with sensitive recognition of the person’s degree of mental responsibility. Moreover, the families of disabled persons should receive assistance for care, and, if institutionalization is necessary, then care should be provided in surroundings and circumstances closely resembling normal life. In those cases in which mentally retarded persons are unable to exercise their rights because of the nature of their disabilities or where rights are restricted or denied, legal safeguards should be implemented against every form of possible abuse.

During 1975, the United Nations conducted technical aid activities in the areas of social welfare and rehabilitation of disabled persons, supporting a variety of regional centers for training and research. For example, the United Nations provided nine experts in social welfare and three in rehabilitation to the countries of Bahrain, Cambodia, Cyprus, Iran, Laos, Oman, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka. From October 13 to October 22, 1975, an interregional expert group meeting was held at the U.N. headquarters in New York City to discuss measures to improve social welfare of the disabled. Included were participants from Brazil, Chile, India, Jamaica, the United States, and Zambia, as well as representatives from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. Environment Program, the Economic Commission for Africa, and several international social welfare organizations.

On May 6, 1975, ECOSOC adopted a resolution concerning the rehabilitation of disabled persons that requested that governments take legislative measures to identify and prevent disabilities and to rehabilitate the disabled; to identify and evaluate services for the disabled; to incorporate services and projects for the disabled; and to assure education, training, vocational guidance, suitable work, and social security benefits for disabled people.

From June 16 to June 19, 1975, participants in an ad hoc interagency meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, discussed the formulation of a global program concerned with the rehabilitation of disabled people and with provisions for technical assistance to the disabled. That meeting was attended by representatives of the U.N. Development Program, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization, the Council of World Organizations Interested in the Handicapped, the International Social Security Association, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With these U.N. developments concerning disabled people as a historical background, the General Assembly on December 9, 1975, adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons. The declaration calls for national and international action to guarantee that the declaration is used as a common basis and frame of reference for protecting the rights it sets forth. The declaration defines a disabled person as “any person unable to ensure by himself or herself, wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal individual and/or social life, as a result of a deficiency, either congenital or not, in his or her physical or mental capabilities.”

The declaration states that disabled people are to enjoy all the human rights set forth in the declaration without distinction or discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, or any other situation applicable to the disabled person and to his or her family. The declaration names the inherent right to respect for the human dignity of disabled people and notes that the disabled have the same civil and political rights as other human beings. Disabled people are entitled to those measures that allow them to become as self-reliant as possible, including the right to medical, psychological, and functional treatment; the right to medical and social rehabilitation; the right to educational, vocational, and rehabilitation training; and the right to aid, counseling, and placement services in order to attain their maximum autonomy.

Disabled persons, the declaration continues, have the right to economic and social security, including a decent standard of living, and, according to their capabilities, the right to secure and retain employment and join trade unions. Disabled persons also have the right to live with their families or foster parents and to enter into all social, creative, or recreational activities. No disabled person is to be subjected to differential treatment other than that required by a given condition. When any type of specialized living establishment is required for the disabled person, the environment and conditions of life ought to be as close to normal life as possible.

The declaration further states that disabled persons are to be protected against exploitation and from all regulations or treatments that are discriminatory, abusive, or degrading in nature. Where necessary for the protection of their persons or property, the disabled are to have access to qualified legal aid. Any legal procedures involving disabled persons should take into account those individuals’ physical and mental conditions. Finally, the declaration affirms that organizations devoted to the concerns of disabled persons may be consulted in all matters pertaining to the rights of other disabled persons. The declaration calls for the families and communities of the disabled to be fully informed of all the rights laid out in the declaration.

Significance

The U.N. General Assembly’s 1976 proclamation of 1981 as the International Year of Disabled Persons International Year of Disabled Persons, U.N. (1981) is only one of the immediate effects of the 1975 Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons. The themes of the 1981 International Year were “full participation” and “equality,” defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, to enjoy living conditions equivalent to those of other citizens in their societies, and to have equal access to improved conditions resulting from socioeconomic development. The activities of the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons—conducted at regional, national, and international levels—were designed to develop increased awareness of the problems, needs, and capabilities of people with disabilities. They also were intended to illustrate how negative social attitudes constitute one of the greatest barriers to the full participation and equality of the disabled.

The declaration also provided an impetus for a 1982 seminar on the role of the information media in helping to accomplish the goals of the United Nations in regard to the rights of disabled persons. Participants included disabled and nondisabled specialists in the media and rehabilitation fields. They developed eight guidelines to assist media personnel in improving public perceptions of people with disabilities.

Also important for the human rights of disabled persons was the World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982) which the U.N. General Assembly formally adopted on December 3, 1982. The purpose of the World Program of Action was “to promote effective measures for prevention of disability, rehabilitation and the realization of the goals of ’full participation’ of disabled persons in social life and development, and of ’equality.’” Equalization of opportunities was the underlying theme and guiding philosophy of the World Program, which worked toward the goal of achieving full participation of persons with disabilities in all facets of social and economic life. In order to provide an initial time frame during which governments and various other organizations could implement the recommended proposals of the World Program, the General Assembly proclaimed the period 1983-1992 as the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons. The World Program defined disability as “any restriction or lack (resulting from an impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.”

Since the adoption of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, significant positive changes have been accomplished on behalf of disabled persons in those countries where government commitment to the principles of the declaration has been strong. Through the combined efforts of service agencies, business, and industry to take measures against malnutrition, environmental pollution, poor hygiene, inadequate prenatal and postnatal care, waterborne diseases, and accidents of all types, many disabilities have been prevented. Moreover, economic and social development, the redistribution of resources and income, and improved living standards have contributed positively to the implementation of the U.N. World Program. In many countries, however, progress has been limited. Particularly in developing countries, the disabled continue to face numerous barriers at a variety of levels—physical, social, and economic. Human rights;treaties, conventions, and declarations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, U.N. (1975) Disabled persons’ rights[Disabled persons rights] United Nations;human rights

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herr, Stanley S., Lawrence O. Gostin, and Harold Hongju Koh, eds. The Human Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities: Different but Equal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Collection of essays by scholars from various disciplines discusses the efforts around the world to establish standards of human and civil rights for persons with intellectual disabilities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United Nations Department of Public Information. Improving Communications About People with Disabilities. Vienna: Author, 1987. Presents the recommendations for “organizations of and for people with disabilities” that came out of a U.N. seminar held in 1982. Focuses on the role of the information media in helping to accomplish the goals of the International Year of Disabled Persons.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The United Nations and Disabled Persons. New York: Author, 1990. Brochure provides a general introduction to the assistance offered by the United Nations to persons who are disabled. Provides information on the Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs, the focal point within the U.N. system on matters relating to disability. Includes a list of relevant publications and addresses in Vienna and New York.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons. New York: Author, 1983. Booklet is a helpful resource concerning the principles, concepts, and definitions relating to disabilities as well as the world situation regarding disabled persons. Offers recommendations for action at the regional, national, and international levels. Includes notes and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">World Health Organization. Development of Indicators for Monitoring Progress Towards Health for All by the Year 2000. Geneva: Author, 1981. Companion volume to Global Strategy for Health for All by the Year 2000 intended to help member states of the World Health Organization decide which indicators to use at regional, national, and global levels to monitor health. Includes bibliographic references.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Global Strategy for Health for All by the Year 2000. Geneva: Author, 1981. Document adopted by the Thirty-fourth World Health Assembly in 1979. Endorses the Report and Declaration of the International Conference on Primary Health Care, held at Alma-Ata in the Soviet Union in 1978.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Mental Retardation: Meeting the Challenge. Geneva: Author, 1985. Document on disabled persons that was prepared in collaboration with the Joint Commission on International Aspects of Mental Retardation. Organized around the nature of the international problem, etiological factors, national policy formation, services available, and the role of voluntary and international organizations. Includes bibliographic references.

United Nations Declares Rights for the Mentally Retarded

U.S. Congress Responds to Demands of Persons with Disabilities

U.S. Law Provides for Public Education of Disabled Children

U.S. Congress Enacts Disability Rights

Categories: History Content