See more: Sign Languages: the Future
Deaf Academics 2015: Joseph Murray, Maartje De Meulder & Delphine le Maire
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which was adopted in 2006, is often promoted as ‘the missing piece’ in human rights legislation. While persons with disabilities have previously been invisible in international human rights law, the Convention reaffirms that persons with disabilities are effective rights holders. The UNCRPD marks a paradigm shift in that it firmly departs from a social model, replacing the medical model on disability, and moves onto a human rights model of disability. The sustained involvement of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) during the drafting stages of the UNCRPD resulted in the Convention being the first international human rights treaty to include sign languages, mentioning them in five different articles, in addition to references to deaf culture and the deaf community.
This presentation will analyse what is, from a deaf perspective, one of the most important articles of the UNCRPD both during the drafting stages as well as when it comes to implementation, namely Article 24 on the right to education of persons with disabilities. Article 24 provides not only that children with disabilities should not be discriminated against but also that they should be able to participate in the general education system, via “inclusive education”. To this end, State Parties, countries which have ratified the CRPD, have to provide reasonable accommodations targeting individuals and adopt support measures, which targeting broader educational environments.
Article 24 contains both references to inclusive education and to an education in sign language. The principle of “inclusive education” is contested within deaf communities. Indeed, in practice, it often comes down to individual mainstreaming with subsequent risks and damage for deaf children’s linguistic and emotional development. During the negotiations about article 24, the WFD questioned this principle of “inclusive education” for deaf children, demanding greater attention for the diverse needs of diverse groups of persons with disabilities. They argued for an expanded interpretation of key concepts such as “reasonable accommodations” and “special education”. The latter in particular, shouldn’t be seen as special education (as understood by the disability movement) but as an education in one’s own language and culture, which should be inclusive for hearing children too. In the end, the WFD’s push for a “context-specific approach” was acknowledged by the State Parties although the formulation turned out not to be exactly what the WFD had originally desired.
This presentation will analyse the development of Article 24 with specific reference to the WFD’s work during the drafting of the CRPD and within the general framework of the UNCRPD as a human rights treaty. After that, it will look at how this Article is currently being interpreted by the CRPD Committee, countries appearing before the Committee and deaf associations. These different interpretations and the distinction between “reasonable accommodation” and “context- specific” approaches point to different interpretations of how deaf people can achieve full educational rights.