EUD participated in the 2016 UN Social Forum in Geneva, which focused for the first time on the rights of persons with disabilities.
A large variety of topics were addressed, including accessibility and non-discrimination, participation and empowerment of persons with disabilities and on how to raise awareness and implement the human rights-based approach put forward by the UNCRPD. Additionally, among many others, a very interesting side-event on inclusive education was held.
Colin Allen, chairperson of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) as well as president of WFD, was a speaker on the opening panel and WFD’s human rights officer Elena Down spoke on the panel on inclusive education. On that panel, she highlighted that high quality bilingual or multilingual education, where the primary language of instruction is sign language, leads to the best educational outcomes for deaf students. Additionally, she underlined the importance of deaf students being taught together with other deaf peers to allow them to fully develop their language and culture, as otherwise they are not included. She also highlighted how crucial it is for deaf children to learn sign language early in life in order to prepare them for their future participation in society. Parents have an especially important role to play in that regard.
In the main event, EUD director Mark Wheatley underlined the need for legal sign language recognition around the world to ensure that deaf persons can fully participate in all areas of life and called onto the state parties to adopt such legislation. He also informed the audience about the sign language conference organised by Helga Stevens in the European Parliament and invited participants to organise similar events to showcase the richness of sign languages and how sign language provision removes barriers to the full inclusion of deaf persons. He also denounced the wide spread discriminatory practice of prohibiting deaf persons to serve as jurors in court. In this and many other examples, the UNCRPD needs to be used as a tool to raise awareness against discriminatory laws and practices, excluding persons with disabilities from participating in society.
Furthermore, Terry Riley, member of EUD as well as as the official representative of WFD on the Board of IDA pointed out how austerity measures particularly affect persons with disabilities. Due to this, they are losing rights, for example the number of paid hours for sign language interpretation, that had already been achieved. He also highlighted a British good practice example regarding media accessibility, a law from 2003 that obliges broadcasters to subtitle 90% of its broadcasts and to provide 10% of them with sign language interpretation.
We also had the opportunity to network with deaf policy actors, such as Alistair McEwin, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
We were happy to participate in such a high level event on disability rights, presenting the challenges various disability communities face, but also the advances DPOs have been able to successfully fight for. We also hope that our interventions helped to inform policy-makers around the world about deaf rights issues.