Fieldnotes: Right to choose (or not?)

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Day three of the International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities at the United Nations. We've been talking about draft article 17 of the convention. This has to do with the educational rights of people with disabilities. This is one of the most important articles of the convention and the committee spent much more time debating it than other sections.

One of the most difficult issues has to deal with the right of choice:

2: In realising this right, States Parties shall ensure:

a. that all persons with disabilities can choose inclusive and accessible education in their own community (including access to early childhood and pre-school education)

This short paragraph took the better part of half a day of heated debate and I do not believe the issue has been resolved. Almost every clause was in contention. For example, some country delegates felt that they should only "endeavor to ensure" and not "ensure." The main issue those was the question of choice.

You would think that PWD (people with disabilities) would welcome the phrase "persons with disabilities can choose inclusive and accessible education in their own community." But this is a very dangerous phrase since the question of choice has been a fraught one within the history of PWDs.

The general consensus of the international disability NGOs present seemed to be that the phrase "can choose" would be problematic. It could be used by local and national governments to present two options but to apply social, financial, or other pressures to make only one option viable. Or the choice itself might be made by the local school boards and not presented to the families or children themselves (this is often a problem in the USA). The international disability community seemed to push more for the requirement that the government have inclusive and accessible education in their communities.

This then brought up the issue of deaf, deaf-blind, and blind students. The various NGOs representing those groups advocated strongly for the continuation of special schools for the deaf, deaf-blind, and blind because of the importance of peer community, shared language, and culture within those groups. A representative from MDRI (Mental Disability Rights International) made a very cogent argument for the continuation of those schools without infringing on the commitment to inclusive education by invoking the rights of indigenous groups to run their own special schools to ensure their minority language and cultural rights.

All in all, I am amazed at how smoothly the convention is proceeding. The chairman, Ambassador Mac Kay from New Zealand, is very competent. The various country delegates as well as NGOs are very committed to making a strong statement about disability rights internationally. Apparently they want to wrap this up by next year and I think the convention would be a welcome addition to the body of international human rights laws.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on August 4, 2005 12:24 PM.

Info: e-fax services was the previous entry in this blog.

Fieldnotes: Absence of the United States from the Convention on Disability Rights is the next entry in this blog.

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