Available translations: English العربيّة

Promoting the rights of people with disabilities: Practice tips for NHRIs

Graphic: Staff of Nepal's NHRI show their support for the rights of people with disabilities

  1. NHRIs can play a leading role to promote the rights of people with disabilities.
  2. Every country has unique challenges facing people with disabilities and a comprehensive national strategy is needed to address them.
  3. NHRIs should look for opportunities to work in partnership with people with disabilities when planning and conducting their promotion work.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a major shift in how we understand, and respond to disability. The 'human rights model' of disability [1] it champions does not see the person's impairment as the 'problem', but the daily barriers that people with disabilities experience because of a 'disabling' social environment and negative community attitudes around disability.

Promoting the rights of persons with disabilities involves identifying and removing the social and attitudinal barriers that prevent people with disabilities from enjoying their human rights, on the same basis as others.

There are many ways that national human rights institutions (NHRIs) can promote the rights of people with disabilities. While some of these can be done independently, NHRIs should look for opportunities to work in partnership with people with disabilities and their representative organisations when planning and conducting their promotion activities.

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[1] See the first fact sheet in this series, Disability and Human Rights: A New Perspective.


Graphic: Community discussion with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities


Building a strategy for change

Every society will have unique challenges and, unfortunately, not everything can be done at once. NHRIs should develop a strategic approach to inform and guide the work they do in order to bring about genuine and sustained change.

In preparing a strategy, NHRIs should consider the following questions:

  • What priorities have persons with disabilities identified?
  • Is there evidence of grave and systemic rights violations?
  • Are there areas of non-compliance with international human rights law and standards?
  • What are other organisations doing? What could they be doing?
  • What powers are available to the NHRI?
  • What resources are available to the NHRI?
  • Where is the NHRI likely to be most effective?
  • How can other functions of the NHRI support this work?

Preparing an action plan

NHRIs can contribute to the development of an action plan to advance the rights of people with disabilities. An action plan is a powerful tool because it:

  • Identifies the steps necessary to implement the rights of persons with disabilities
  • Sets goals, a timeframe and ways to measure progress
  • Ensures accountability among participating organisations.

An action plan can be developed at a national level, as well as by an individual NHRI. The plan might include action to reform law and policy, to change practices with service providers or to achieve changes in education outcomes for children with disabilities.

It is critical that people with disabilities and their representative organisations are closely involved in the development of any action plan, and that the plan is clearly linked to the NHRI's monitoring and measurement tools and programs.


A street-based activity to promote the right to education of children with disabilities

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives developed a street-based activity to promote the right to education of children with disabilities, as part of their national inquiry into the issue.


Promoting understanding

While States are primarily responsible for promoting awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities, NHRIs also have an obligation to raise awareness and build understanding around human rights and disability.

Promotion efforts can address community perceptions around disability, or be focused towards certain sections of the community, such as legislators, service providers or law enforcement officials. They can also be directed towards people with disabilities,

Promotion efforts should consider the following questions:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What specific change do you want to see?
  • How will you get people's attention?
  • Do you have inspiring examples of positive change?
  • Are your materials in an accessible format?
  • Is your message clear?
  • Is your objective practical and achievable?

Reviewing laws, policies and practice

NHRIs have an important role to play in reviewing and assessing the human rights compliance of existing or proposed laws, policies, regulations and practices.

Many NHRIs are very active in promoting compliance in laws and policies with key articles in the Convention:

  • Equal protection before the law (article 12)
  • De-institutionalisation of people with psychosocial disabilities (article 19)
  • Use of coercive measures in psychiatry (articles 15 and 17)
  • Disability-related harassment and hate crime (articles 8 and 16)
  • The right to inclusive education (article 24):
  • Right of persons with disabilities to decent work (article 27)
  • Right to accessibility and universal design (article 9).

Providing technical assistance

NHRIs can provide technical assistance to their governments, public bodies and other agencies, including regulatory bodies and the private sector, regarding the rights of persons with disabilities.

Some have established formal working relationships with regulatory bodies, such as those relating to the health and social care systems, prisons or telecommunications and the media.

Engaging at the international and regional levels

Policy guidance and standards regarding human rights and disability are constantly evolving.

NHRIs are independent bodies, with credible and up-to-date information on issues relating to disability in their countries.

As such, they can make a valuable contribution to policy and legal discussions across the broad UN system, as well as at regional forums.

Their contributions are vital for building and maintaining understanding and support for the Convention.



Image credits

  1. Staff of Nepal's NHRI show their support for the rights of people with disabilities - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal
  2. Community discussion with the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities - New Zealand Human Rights Commission
  3. A street-based activity to promote the right to education of children with disabilities - Human Rights Commission of the Maldives