2013-2014: Disability Rights

Disability Rights girlFor hundreds of years, the treatment of persons with disabilities was a question of charity. Society offered pity and compassion, but people with disabilities had no right to equal treatment under the law. Reformers struggled to make “the handicapped” more productive, more “normal,” and less of a burden to society. In the nineteenth century, such efforts led to the mass confinement of persons with disabilities in asylums. In the twentieth century, many countries – including the United States – adopted polices of forced sterilization. A widespread obsession with “racial improvement” and a fear that persons with disabilities posed an unsustainable burden for society culminated in the Nazis' program of “euthanasia,” or mass-murder. The legacies of this past are with us today. 

The 2013-14 Year of International Human Rights (YIHR) at Webster University focused on the theme of Disability Rights in a global context. More than 700 million people – or one-tenth of the world's population – have mental or physical disabilities, yet they continue to face severe challenges to their basic human rights. In many countries, persons with disabilities are still treated as pariahs, forced to live in degrading and abusive institutions and deprived of access to the law. The abuse of persons with disabilities, sometimes reaching the legal definition of torture, goes largely unseen or unacknowledged. In the United States, discrimination against persons with disabilities is rampant almost 25 years after passage of the landmark Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Today only 20 percent of the disabled population in America participates in the work force.

Despite these challenges, an international revolution in the legal standing of persons with disabilities is growing. Recently, activists achieved their greatest success when the United Nations adopted a Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.The Convention, modeled in ways on the Americans with Disabilities Act, set a new standard for legal equality and equality of opportunity worldwide. Inspired in part by the ADA, many countries have passed their own legislation protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Some of these nations have advanced beyond the United States by vigorously promoting fair housing, access to education, and employment opportunities for disabled citizens. An international network of disability rights advocates has fought for the recognition of disability as a human rights issue. Non-government organizations today carry out investigations and issue reports on the status of persons with disabilities around the world. In 2006, the United Nations adopted a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. More than 80 countries have signed the Convention, and it is fast becoming an important tool for pressuring governments to abolish discriminatory laws and practices.

The Conference

Webster's annual human rights conference took place on the Webster Groves campus on October 9-10, 2013, featuring scholars and activists from around the world.

The conference brought together issue leaders and pioneers in the struggle to recognize disability rights as an international human rights issue. Participants in this conference explored the current status and conditions of persons with disabilities worldwide and discuss successes and failures in the struggle to realize the promise of the Convention. The conference program was of interest to human rights scholars and activists, including both persons with disabilities and the temporarily able-bodied.

Conference participants include:

Chen GuangchengChen Guangcheng
Human Rights Activist

Chen Guangcheng began his human rights advocacy working in rural China with people with disabilities. He first ­­­­­­petitioned the Chinese government over unfair taxes being levied against the disabled, including himself. Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, brought several cases concerning land rights and family planning practices against the Chinese government. In 2006, he was arrested for instigating property damage and was sentenced to more than four years in prison. Upon his release in 2010, he was unlawfully placed under house arrest and subjected to beatings and harassment. Guangcheng escaped to Beijing in April 2012, where he requested asylum at the United States embassy.

Maria Bistro

Marca Bristo
President & CEO, Access Living

Marca Bristo is a well-known leader of the disabilities movement. She helped create the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and she served as the Presidential-appointed chairperson of the National Council on Disability from 1994-2002. She was also influential in negotiations for the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Bristo is currently the President and CEO of Access Living, an organization that helps develop independent living skills, supports public education, and advocates for those with disabilities.

Sofia GalvanSofia Galvan Puente
Mexico & Central America Programs Director, Disability Rights International

Sofía Galván Puente currently serves as Human Rights Specialist at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). She is a Mexican lawyer who has worked as the Director of Disability Rights International for Mexico & Central America, and with the Inter-American Human Rights System's Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the IACHR. 

Raul Montoya
Raul Montoya Santamaria
Executive Director, Colectivo Chuhcan, Mexico

Raúl Montoya Santamaría is the Executive Director of the Colectivo Chuhcan, which was the first organization of people with psycho-social disabilities in Mexico. Santamaria stresses the importance of fully integrating people with disabilities into society, as well as the importance of reforming laws regarding the guardianship of institutionalized people with disabilities. Santamaria focuses on the systematic segregation and abuse of people with disabilities in Mexico. He has also represented individuals institutionalized in dangerous institutions, which violates their basic human rights.

Jean Francois TraniJean-Francois Trani
Assistant Professor, Washington University
Brown School of Social Work & Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Inclusive Development Centre

Jean-Francois Trani
 is an Assistant Professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in Saint Louis. His work lies at the intersection of mental health, disability, vulnerability, and poverty. He focuses on conducting research that informs policy and service design for individuals living in conflict-affected fragile states and developing countries.Trani's research has contributed to the policy papers of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan regarding disability issues.

DisAbility Project The DisAbility Project & Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company

The DisAbility Project empowers individuals, honors their stories, sparks imaginations, fosters community, encourages civic dialogue, and enhances public awareness about disability through innovative theater of the highest quality. It focuses on developing projects that bring together amateur performers with professional artists to create innovative material based on lived experience. It represents one of the most comprehensive creative endeavors in the Midwest to address issues of disability and creativity.

Wednesday October 9, 2013 

8:30‐9:00 Tea and coffee
9:00- 9:30 Welcome by Dean David Wilson, College of Arts and Sciences Framework by Warren Rosenblum, Webster  University
9:30-10:45 Plenary #1 Shifting the Paradigm: Has the Disability Rights Treaty Made a Difference?
Shantha Rau Barriga, Human Rights Watch
11:00- 12:00 Panel discussion: Organizing by People with Disabilities. 
Moderated by: Warren Rosenblum, Webster University
• Raúl Montoya Santamaría, Colectivo Chuhcan A.C., Mexico 
• Arlen Chaleff, National Alliance on Mental Illness 
• Sarah Durbin, Paraquad
12:00-1:15 LUNCH
1:15-2:45 Plenary #2 The Campaign to Ratify the Disability Rights Treaty: Will America Step Up?
Marca Bristo, Access Living; Judith Heumann, U.S. Department of State
2:45-4:00 Breakout Sessions A
• Session 1: Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities: International Perspectives
Donna Campbell, Vicki McMullen – Webster University
          • Room EAB 264
• Session 2: Employment & Disability Rights
David Newburger, Starkloff Disability Institute; Brandy L. Johnson, Feirich, Mager, Green and Ryan; Cheryl L. Anderson, Southern Illinois University School of Law
          • Room EAB 253/262
4:15-5:30  Plenary #3 The Protection of Persons with Disabilities in the Americas: Mexico and Guatemala, Sofía Galván Puente, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Thursday, October 10, 2013

9:00-9:30  Tea and coffee
9:30-10:00  Welcome and recap by Elizabeth Sausele, Webster University
10:00-11:15  Plenary #4 Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Emergencies: Achievements and Challenges in Low Income Countries, Jean-Francois Trani, Washington University
11:30-12:30  Breakout Sessions B
• Session 1: Cultural and Global Perspectives on Disability
Hemla Singaravelu and Hasmik Chakaryan, Webster University; Rina Chittooran, Saint Louis University 
             • Room EAB 253/262  
• Session 2: The Visibility of Disability: Hidden Disabilities and their Implications
Gloria Grenwald and Heather Mitchell, Webster University; Austin Walker, National Council on Independent Living 
            • Room EAB 264
12:30-2:00  LUNCH
2:00- 3:30 Plenary #5 Roundtable discussion
4:00-5:15 Performance DisAbility Project and Common Threads Dance Company
6:00- 7:00  Keynote Address Disability Rights: A Mirror on Social Progress, Chen Guangcheng, Independent Activist 
• Introduction by Dean David Wilson, College of Arts and Sciences
• This event will take place in the Loretto Hilton Center at 130 Edgar Road. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.


Resources on Disability Rights

I. Articles and Reports on Violations of the Rights of People with Disabilities Worldwide 

II. The United Nations and Disability Rights 

III. Organizations Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Worldwide 


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