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Many people with disabilities do not have equal access to health care, education, and employment opportunities, do not receive the disability-related services that they require, and experience exclusion from everyday life activities


An estimated 1 billion people are disabled (World Health Organisation) about 15% of the world's population. 

80% of disabled people live in developing countries.

Over 650 million people are estimated to be living with disabilities globally, of whom more than 500 million are in developing countries. To help protect their rights, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006.

The convention and an additional optional protocol are intended to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities.

Article 3 of the convention establishes general principles for its implementation. Among them are respect for everyone’s inherent dignity and the freedom to make their own choices, full participation in society, acceptance of people with disabilities as part of human diversity, access to transportation and information, and equal opportunity. It also cites the rights of people with disabilities, including:

  • equality before the law

  • life, liberty and security of the person

  • freedom from torture, exploitation, violence and abuse

  • freedom of movement and nationality

  • respect for privacy

  • access to education and health care

  • work and an adequate standard of living, and

  • participation in cultural, political and public life.

The convention does not explicitly define “disability.” However, the preamble states that “disability is an evolving concept” that “results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers” that hinder their full, effective and equal participation in society.

Compliance with the convention is monitored internationally by a Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The committee reviews reports submitted by signatory governments and also has the authority to examine individual complaints and conduct inquiries in countries that have ratified the optional protocol.

Another legal instrument under the convention is the Conference of State Parties, which meets periodically to discuss the convention’s implementation. The convention and its optional protocol are supported by a joint secretariat, consisting of staff from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in New York and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

—Marian Aggrey

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