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Building knowledge and capacity to advance the rights of people with disabilities: Practice tips for NHRIs

Graphic: Working with people with disabilities in Samoa

  1. All NHRIs have a responsibility to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities.
  2. NHRIs need to consider the most appropriate organisational structure and staff training program to ensure they are equipped to undertake work on disability and human rights.
  3. NHRIs may need to find additional resources to help them conduct the additional work required of them as the ‘independent mechanism’ under the Convention.

All national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have a responsibility to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities. This is the case regardless of whether an NHRI has been designated as the 'independent mechanism' under article 33(2) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There is no right approach for NHRIs to undertake this work. All NHRIs are different, as are the contexts in which they work and the pressing issues that people with disabilities face in their respective countries.

In preparing to engage on disability issues, however, there are a number of common questions that NHRIs should consider:

  • Priority actions: What activities do we need to undertake?
  • Knowledge gaps: What knowledge and expertise do we need to do this work? Do we have this knowledge or do we need to source external expertise?
  • Relationship building: How will we go about building the strong working relationship with civil society required by the Convention?
  • Resource gaps: Do we have the capacity to do this work? Do we need to expand our financial and human resources to carry out these activities?
  • Strategy to grow: What is the best way to structure the NHRI to do this work effectively?

Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes addresses an event

In Australia, the position of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner is established by the federal Disability Discrimination Act. The Commissioner leads the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission on issues of human rights and disability.

Getting the right structure

A number of NHRIs have, on taking up the role of 'independent mechanism', established specialist or lead units on human rights and disability.

A specialist unit within the NHRI can help build understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as integrate a human rights approach [1] to disability, across the organisation as a whole.

It should provide leadership on issues related to the rights of people with disabilities – supporting and being supported by colleagues from other units – rather than operating as a 'stand alone' body within the NHRI.

An alternative to creating a specialist unit within the NHRI is to appoint a lead officer or a focal point on human rights and disability, with responsibilities distributed across existing teams.

Another option is to create dedicated positions within existing units responsible for key promotion and protection functions such as complaint handling, legal interventions, policy advice and education.

Staff training and development

NHRIs should establish a comprehensive program of staff training and development to build their understanding and expertise in promoting, protecting and monitoring the rights of persons with disabilities.Such a program should ideally include:

  • Disability equality training for all Commissioners and staff
  • Technical training on specific articles of the Convention and relevant national or regional legislation
  • Training for staff on non-discriminatory practices – including making reasonable accommodations – and accessibility in relation to employment and service delivery
  • Training and development in relation to technical skills, such as sign language or preparing easy-to-read information.

All NHRIs – including those with long-standing experience in human rights and disability – should establish a program of continuous professional development so that staff are aware of relevant case law, legislative developments and the jurisprudence of the UN treaty monitoring bodies.

Graphic: Staff of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal take part in a rally on International Day of

Disability awareness training tends to focus on the individual impairment or condition and will often use simulation exercises, such as putting people in wheelchairs or blindfolding them, to encourage non-disabled people to appreciate what it may be like to have that specific disability.

Disability equality training explores the concept that people are disabled by society's barriers and attitudes. It highlights the role that people and organisations can play to remove those barriers and change community attitudes. This training should always be provided by a person with personal experience of disability.

Securing additional resources

Monitoring implementation of the Convention will place additional costs on an NHRI. This can include the cost of hiring expert staff, costs related to staff training and development, costs associated with involving and consulting persons with disabilities, costs of conducting research, and the cost of engaging with the regional and international human rights systems.

Despite commonly designated NHRIs as the 'independent mechanism', States have not generally provided NHRIs with the resources they need to undertake this expanded role. If States are unable or unwilling to provide additional resources, NHRIs may need to look at other possible sources of funding.

Civil society groups do not generally have additional resources and should not be expected to co-fund relevant NHRI activities, although some may be in a position to provide expertise, data and other forms of support. However, there may be opportunities to connect with philanthropic bodies, as well as with development assistance programs, to bolster the capacities of NHRIs.


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

Image credits

  1. Working with people with disabilities in Samoa - Office of the Ombudsman of Samoa
  2. Australia’s former Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes addresses an event - Australian Human Rights Commission
  3. Staff of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal take part in a rally on International Day of - National Human Rights Commission of Nepal