Disability Rights are Human Rights: Thoughts from Emily Ladau

Updated: Jun 22

A Brief History of Human Rights

Here we are, nearing the end of the year, already in the middle of December. Which just so happens to be Universal Human Rights Month, with Human Rights Day recognized and celebrated by the United Nations (UN) on Dec. 10.

So, what are human rights?

According to the UN, human rights are “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.” Although the concept of human rights has been around for longer than most of us can imagine, some dating it back to Hammurabi’s Code while other’s consider it to have started with the Cyrus Cylinder, the modern understanding of human rights was first put down in writing by the UN in 1948, as a response to WWII, in the form of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Today, the UDHR and other treaties serve to hold nations responsible for honoring and protecting people’s rights.

Disability Rights as Human Rights

While the UDHR strives to defend human rights and does so in many ways, one area of rights that tends to be overlooked is disability rights.

With over 1 billion people (which is 1/7, or roughly 15%, of the world’s population) living with a disability, it seems like it should be one of the top priorities when addressing minority groups whose rights need to be protected, but the UDHR only mentions disability a single time, in Article 25.

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Luckily, the UN later adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, which specifically addresses disability rights.

Unluckily for us, the U.S. is one of few nations that has not ratified this treaty.

And, although the U.S. has created its own laws surrounding disability rights, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), some people, including writer, speaker, and disability rights activist Emily Ladau, lament that even though it’s been decades since these laws were put in place, many of their promises have yet to fully come to fruition.

So, what gives? Are disability rights human rights? And if so, how do we make them matter?