Welcoming the draft convention on the rights of people with ...

By Lucille Adams,2014-03-28 17:43
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Welcoming the draft convention on the rights of people with ...

Pacey, S. 2007, ‘Changing Hearts and Minds’ in CRUcial Times, Issue 39, September 2007, pp.


    Changing Hearts and Minds

    Violations of human rights occur on a daily basis despite the United Nations (UN) Declaration of Human Rights almost sixty years ago and subsequent UN declarations on the rights of minority and disadvantaged groups.

    Claiming rights for certain groups within society which have historically been denied their rights can be a long and difficult process. Slavery, for instance, was abolished two hundred years ago, however segregation continued and it was not until the civil rights movement of the 1960s that the rights of African Americans were fully recognised in law. Yet in the forty years since the civil rights movement began, we can observe that this rights strategy has done little in terms of changing social conditions: black Americans remain marginalised, the majority living in conditions of social adversity; their individual needs remain fundamentally overlooked.

    A rights-based strategy, such as that which underpinned the civil rights movement seeks to combat violations of human rights by enshrining rights within the law a vital step in the political process towards addressing societal inequity. Yet it is a limited strategy for achieving cultural and social change and has had little impact in addressing prejudice. Legislating to combat discrimination simply does not change the hearts and minds of people within society or lead to better lives for those within our communities whose lives have been blighted by prejudice, ignorance and fear.

    The rights-based strategy for the rights of people with disabilities made significant inroads in the political process in 2006, when the United Nations stadopted its first convention of the 21 Century, The Convention on the Protection

    and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Welcoming

    the convention, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, observed that the needs and rights of people with disabilities had been overlooked for many years. The convention recognises the rights of people with disabilities to be afforded the opportunities to participate in and contribute to society. However, this is not the time to sit back and admire this significant accomplishment. At the same time as the rights of people with disabilities are being recognised, trends in modern service delivery are gaining favour, which run counter to the ideals expressed in the UN convention.

    One such trend is the global trend towards the reinstitutionalisation of people with disabilities in particular people considered by others to have challenging

    behaviour’ – in group homes, nursing homes or in some instances, segregated placements in institutions. This trend is based on the premise that some people need to be restricted in order to protect themselves or those around them and that they will more easily learn the skills to facilitate living in community when this learning occurs isolated and disconnected from community. This not only obstructs social change, it continues to violate the basic human rights of people

Pacey, S. 2007, ‘Changing Hearts and Minds’ in CRUcial Times, Issue 39, September 2007, pp.


    with disabilities, fuelling prejudice, ignorance and fear within community and acting as a barrier to key features of the community living movement the

    participation and contribution of people with disabilities in community.

    This reinstitutionalisation trend is a modern interpretation of older models of service, often referred to as the continuum models. In a recent essay which discusses deinstitutionalisation, American researcher Stephen Taylor suggests that the continuum model of service and the least restrictive environment continuum are flawed concepts in that they both obscure the debate about where people with disabilities who require intensive levels of service and support belong. The continuum model argues that at one end of the continuum the most intensive services and support are offered in the most restrictive models of service, such as institutions, group homes and nursing homes. At the other end of the continuum, the least intensive services and support are offered in the least restrictive models of service, such as living independently within the community. The individual needs of each person would determine where they would be placed along this continuum, with transition along the continuum a possibility as a person develops his or her individual skills.

    Taylor argues that in such a model, a person who lives or could live in the community and whose support needs increase would be required to move into a more restricted environment as a condition of receiving more intensive levels of service and thus would forfeit the right to live in community. The question becomes not whether the basic rights to freedom and community participation for people with disabilities should be restricted, but to what extent.

No doubt, the necessary systemic change will occur as individuals and families

    seek redress through the judicial system when their right to freedom and community participation have been violated. Legal and political challenges to the status quo will occur over time and may strengthen and improve the systemic responses to ensuring the human rights of individuals with disabilities are not infringed. However, once established, the continuum models of service are not as simple to dismantle as they were to set up.

    A rights-based approach, while it may challenge the system, will have a minimal impact on social attitudes. Challenging attitudes requires a different strategy. We discriminate with our hearts and minds and a strategy of social change is needed to change the hearts and minds of our neighbours, our school communities, our colleagues and employers, our social acquaintances and friends, our communities and societies.

    People do not behave better towards others simply because this law or that regulation tells them to do so. People behave better towards others when their conscience is pricked; when they are challenged to question their own values; when they experience first-hand or witness some form of discrimination or bad treatment of others; when they can relate this to themselves or the experience of

Pacey, S. 2007, ‘Changing Hearts and Minds’ in CRUcial Times, Issue 39, September 2007, pp.


    others and when they care enough to want to act in conscious ways to improve

    the lives of people with disabilities.

    Having strengthened the rights-based strategy with the UN convention, people with disabilities, their families, friends and allies can look forward to real systemic change. However without real efforts to strengthen the community living movement and build real social change by changing hearts and minds, the UN convention could be a hollow victory. Systemic change supports and in turn is supported by strategies for social and attitudinal change. The community living movement is a social strategy which has the potential to change the hearts and minds of all us within society and to transform the inner lives and real lives of people with disabilities and their families.

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