Independent Living Institute


United Nations Standard Rules
on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities

Introduction by
Mr. Bengt Lindqvist, Former M.P. and Cabinet Minister, Sweden

På svenska

1981 was the International Year of Disabled Persons. This was an event of historical importance. The greatest contribution of this event was, in my opinion, the theme of the Year: Full Participation and Equality. This must be considered as a recognition on the highest possible political level of the right of persons with disabilities to full participation and equal opportunities in the society they belong to. This important achievement was followed by the adoption of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, which outlined the policies in harmony with the theme of the Year.

The idea was that these policies should be implemented during the subsequent Decade of Disabled Persons, 1983 - 1992. Some important achievements were noted during this period, but already in the middle of the decade it was obvious that too little happened. The international disability community therefore requested that the United Nations should assume a stronger leadership role in the development of better living conditions for persons with disabilities. The response to this request was the elaboration of the Standard Rules, which took place between 1990 -1993, when they were adopted.

"In all societies of the world there are still obstacles preventing persons with disabilities from exercising their rights and freedoms and making it difficult for them to participate fully in the activities of their societies. It is the responsibility of States to take appropriate action to remove such obstacles."

These are probably the two most important sentences in the whole Standard Rules document. You find them in the Introduction, paragraph 15. The process outlined in the Rules is to identify and remove obstacles to full participation. Governments of countries are responsible for taking action to remove such remaining obstacles.

Well, as you see, we now already know three important things about the Standard Rules. The objective is to achieve full participation and equal opportunities. The method to use is to identify and remove remaining obstacles and governments are responsible for the necessary measures.

The Standard Rules instrument summarizes the message of the World Programme and adds the ideological development during the decade. Above all the stronger emphasis on the human rights perspective, which developed during the decade, has been incorporated. In comparison with the World Programme there are mainly three features which distinguish the Rules document. The language of the Rules is far more concentrated and shorter in form. The message of the Rules is directly addressed to member states, i.e. the governments of countries. The third characteristic is that the Standard Rules will be monitored through a special monitoring system.

The Standard Rules include an introduction, a preamble, 22 different Rules and a description of the monitoring system. The actual Rules are divided into three sections: preconditions for participation, target areas for equal participation and implementation measures.

The first section, dealing with the preconditions for participation, mainly presents Rules on different forms of support to the individual, medical care, rehabilitation and various forms of support services. The purpose of these is to reduce the functional limitations and increase the independence of the individual.

The section on target areas deals with sectors and aspects of society, which are of general importance for the quality of life. There is an initial Rule on accessibility, which deals with all the various aspects of access to physical environment and activities and services generally available to non-disabled persons. The Rules on education, employment and income maintenance and social security are, of course, of great importance. The Rule on family life and personal integrity is new and has no corresponding chapter in the World Programme. It reflects an area, which has attracted considerable attention during the decade.

The third section of the Rules, the implementation measures, presents a number of rather well-known measures. They are all of importance to achieve results and development in the disability field. I should here like to draw your attention to three of these measures. In the Rule on legislation (Rule 15) the message is that states should create a legal base for measures to achieve full participation and equality for persons with disabilities. Legislative action may also be needed to remove conditions which may adversely affect the lives of persons with disabilities.

In Rule 18 it is stated that states should recognize the right of the organizations of persons with disabilities to represent their groups at all levels. States should encourage and support the formation and strengthening of such organizations.

The third measure I should like to draw your attention to concerns coordination (Rule 17). Disability involves all spheres of society and therefore it is necessary to use a comprehensive approach. This also means that there is a constant need for coordination. It is therefore stated in the Rule that states are responsible for the establishment and strengthening of national coordinating committees or similar bodies.

The chapter on monitoring among other things contains the following:

"The purpose of the monitoring mechanism is to further the effective implementation of the Standard Rules. It will assist each state to assess its level of implementation of the Standard Rules and to measure its progress. The monitoring should identify obstacles and suggest suitable measures which would contribute to the successful implementation of the Rules.

...The Rules shall be monitored within the framework of the sessions of the Commission for Social Development. A Special Rapporteur...shall be appointed... for three years to monitor the implementation of the Rules. International organizations of persons with disabilities having consultative status with the Economic and Social Council...should be invited to create among themselves a panel of experts, on which organizations of persons with disabilities shall have a be consulted by the Special Rapporteur and, when appropriate, the secretariat."

Education and employment should constitute cornerstones in any national disability policy or plan of action. Rule 6 on education, Rule 7 on employment and Rule 8 on income maintenance and social security present direction and guidelines, particularly for governments, in these important areas. I advise you to study carefully this text and relate the indicated principles and measures to your own situation back home. In the following I should like to make a few comments on the contents of these Rules.

In Rule 6 on education it is stated that Member States should recognize the principle of equal educational opportunities for persons with disabilities, in integrated settings. States should ensure that the education of persons with disabilities is an integral part of the educational system. Adequate accessibility and support services, designed to meet the needs of persons with disabilities should be provided. In States where education is compulsory, it should be provided to girls and boys with all kinds and all levels of disabilities, including the most severe. Integrated education and community based programs should be seen as complementary approaches in providing cost-effective education and training. In situations where the general school system does not yet adequately meet the needs of all persons with disabilities, special education may be considered. It should be aimed at preparing students for education in the general school system. The quality of such education should reflect the same standards and ambitions as general education and should be closely linked to it.

The essence of Rule 7 on employment is that persons with disabilities should be empowered to exercise their right to gainful employment and that it is the responsibility of states, i.e. governments of countries, to remove all remaining obstacles to employment. As far as possible, and it is possible to a far greater extent than today, persons with disabilities should have jobs in the regular labor market. When this, despite all efforts, does not seem to be possible, jobs should be offered in more protected forms.

Let me quote the following paragraphs from the text:

"Laws and regulations in the employment field must not discriminate against persons with disabilities and must not raise obstacles to their employment"

"States should actively support the integration of persons with disabilities into open employment"

"States, worker¥s organizations and employers should cooperate with organizations of persons with disabilities concerning all measures to create training and employment opportunities ...."

The text also contains a list of various technical measures, which could be taken by governments, in order to obtain these objectives.

In the related area of income maintenance and social security it is, of course, difficult to establish global guidelines due to the fundamental differences in economic conditions existing in the world today. Still it has been possible for the UN General Assembly to agree on some universal principles, which should be observed by all. I should here like to quote the following parts of Rule 8, which outline the basic responsibility of governments:

"States are responsible for the provision of social security and income maintenance for persons with disabilities"

"States should ensure the provision of adequate income support to persons with disabilities who, owing to disability or disability related factors, have temporarily lost or received a reduction in their income or have been denied employment opportunities"

"In countries where social security, social insurance or other social welfare schemes exist or are being developed for the general population, states should ensure that such systems do not exclude or discriminate against persons with disabilities"

"Social security systems should include incentives to restore the income-earning capacity of persons with disabilities."

In my opinion these principles must be applied in any national effort to create systems for social security. the principles and guidelines outlined in Rules 6, 7 and 8 have been elaborated in close cooperation with the International Labour Organisation and the UNESCO. It is therefore fair to say that these guidelines represent a valid summary of values, knowledge and experiences of today.

The Standard Rules document is not an international convention. Consequently it is not legally binding for member states. Formally the Rules are a UN declaration with some special features, which I pointed out earlier. How important and committing are the Rules then? Well, the mere fact that they have been unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly after extensive preparations and as the consequence of the UN Decade of Disabled Persons, makes them a strong international document. However, more has been done to increase the strength of the Rules. At all four major World Conferences, organized by the United Nations from 1993-1995, on human rights in Vienna 1993, on population issues in Cairo 1994, on social development in Copenhagen 1995 and on the situation of women in Beijing 1995, Strong statements have been adopted in support of the implementation of the UN Standard Rules. This remarkable achievement has been made thanks to the untiring efforts and determination by many representatives of the organized movement of persons with disabilities to make the most of this document and to convince governments to move from words to concrete action to improve the living conditions of persons with disabilities.

After my presentation of the Rules I often get the following question: Is it at all possible to adopt a disability policy, which is relevant for the whole world, taking into account the enormous differences in economic and social conditions between countries? Yes, indeed, it is, as long as you stick to general values, and principles. The obvious example of this is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is, of course, relevant for all nations in the world.

Even though causes, kinds and numbers of disability vary between regions, it is an undeniable fact that any national population holds a considerable proportion of citizens with disabilities. Every government sooner or later has to take disability into account. It may then choose to neglect and isolate the phenomenon or it may adopt policies for the mobilization and inclusion of citizens with disabilities in their national efforts. This choice should be fairly simple don't you think?

In this context both the human rights instruments and the Standard Rules give clear guidance even to the poorest of all countries. It goes without saying that a strong economy and an already existing welfare structure in a country will make things easier. It sometimes, however, seems easier for emerging nations and nations in transition to apply the principles and policies of integration and inclusion, expressed in the Standard Rules. Some industrialized countries seem to have got stuck in structures and institutions, which cost a lot but which do not seem to deliver results in accordance with the philosophy of full participation and equal opportunities.

Soon the first two years of monitoring have been completed. It all started when the Secretary-General of the UN during the spring of 1994 appointed me Special Rapporteur. A Panel of Experts was established in September the same year by the following six international organizations: Disabled Peoples International, Inclusion International, Rehabilitation International, World Blind Union, World Federation of the Deaf and World Federation of Psychiatric Users. There are five men and five women with different disabilities and from different parts of the world in this panel. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate these six organizations on a remarkable achievement.

In November 1994 I circulated a letter to all governments, asking them how they have received the Rules and how they are going to use them in future. A summary of the 38 replies from governments and four additional replies from NGOs is available in a report. In April 1995 I presented a first report to the Commission for Social Development, which passed a strong resolution (CSD 34/2) in support of our work. My report to the Commission, together with the summary of replies, was circulated as a document before the 50th session of the UN General Assembly.

During February 1995 I met the Panel of Experts for the first time. Although we all realized that the 22 Rules are of great importance, we agreed to concentrate our efforts, during the remaining two years of this first period of monitoring, mainly on the following six areas: Accessibility, education, employment, legislation, coordination of work and organizations of persons with disabilities. During the remaining time of my appointment I will use all available opportunities to introduce and explain the philosophy and contents of the Rules - this most recent and concrete international agreement on policy and standards in the disability field. I have up to now been able to attend all major conferences held by the six organizations in the Panel and a considerable number of other occasions. During August and September 1995 I traveled extensively in Africa and visited the Middle East.

In Africa I participated in a number of regional seminars on disability policy, in which altogether about 30 African countries participated. I hope we will be able to organize a similar seminar with governments and organizations in the Middle East.

In the field of education we are cooperating with UNESCO. Among other things we have received material collected in connection with the World Conference on Special needs Education, held in Salamanca in 1994. I think we will be able to present an interesting and reliable picture of the situation in special needs education in the 60 countries concerned.

The issues particularly studied are: What does the legal regulation of the right to special education look like? What is the parents role in the decision-making about the placement of children with disabilities? We also study financial aspects, curriculum issues, vocational training and the issue of responsibility for special education.

Concerning the Rule on employment ILO placed at our disposal the very rich and interesting material collected in the monitoring of the ILO convention and recommendations. This material will constitute the main source of information in our monitoring of Rule 7 on employment. Most of the issues raised in Rule 7 will be covered by this data, as the Rule, when it was elaborated, was based on the ILO Convention 159. Our analysis of this material will mainly concern the 56 countries, which so far have ratified the Convention.

The remaining four Rule areas - legislation, accessibility, coordination and the position of organizations - have been included in our own questionnaire to all governments. We have also circulated this questionnaire to all national member organizations of the six internationals belonging to the Panel of Experts. We have invited them to reply and we have asked them to assist us in obtaining replies from their governments.

The final day for replies was the 31st of March this year. On 30 May we had received 70 replies from governments and 150 from organizations. However, we know from experience that many governments are slow in delivering information on request like this. We sincerely hope that we will get many more replies both from governments and NGOs.

During this first monitoring period we have one more year to go. During the past two years we have seen some really promising initiatives and policy development. Still the situation for the vast majority of persons with disabilities is totally unacceptable. Let us now use the remaining time of this monitoring effort to make real progress in many more countries and regions. We must do it to avoid further suffering and discrimination of persons who happen to be disabled, but we also have to do it to protect general democratic values and the credibility of both the United Nations and member states.

A society good for disabled people is a better society for all. All of us gathered here today know that this is true. Let us use our insight to convince others! I wish you progress in your future struggle for a Society for All. I thank you for your attention.

Special Rapporteur of the Commission for Social Development on Disability
Box 16363
103 26 Stockholm
Tel. 46-8-453 4022 and 453 4021
Fax.46-8-248 847 and 453 4050