The importance of changing attitudes about disability

The importance of changing attitudes about disability

June 18, 2018

My name is Paula Tesoriero. I am the NZ Disability Rights Commissioner, responsible for protecting and promoting the human rights of disabled New Zealanders. 

Various international reports conclude that people with disabilities face worse outcomes than others: we generally have poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty.

This highlights more than ever that realising the CRPD is just as relevant today as a decade ago and we cannot afford to leave anyone behind in its full implementation. 

There is much work to be done. In New Zealand, our independent monitoring mechanism comprises myself, the Office of the Ombudsmen and a coalition of six DPOs. We are working in partnership with our government to progress, among other issues, six priority areas of: education, housing, employment, data, access to information and seclusion and restraint. 

To progress these and most policy areas, I believe changing attitudes is critical and that’s what I will focus on today and the work we are doing at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission on this. 

To truly make change we need to understand why people’s attitudes about disability exist. The Commission is leading a significant piece of research into the attitudes New Zealanders hold. This will provide a benchmark for the further work we intend to do to change attitudes. 

We know that many people worldwide still see disabilities as tragic or even ‘a fate worse than death’ and to be pitied or avoided. We see it in the media, we see it in how we are treated, and we see it in the systems, policies and structures that are put in place.

When discriminatory attitudes are overlaid with other identities such as indigenous peoples, LGBTI and gender these attitudes can be exacerbated. 

Although some countries have experienced improvements there are new risks, in the context of social media, which has forever made it easier to bully and discriminate against disabled people.

I believe attitudes are critical to changing outcomes for disabled people so that it becomes the norm to involve disabled people in design and policies in both the public and private sectors. It becomes the norm that we see disabled people in key roles because we have raised aspirations about what is possible. 

It’s about more than it being the right thing to do, the nice thing to do. It’s about duty bearers and the broader public worldwide having a different mindset so that it is automatic to design our world with barriers removed, because that’s best for everyone. 

It’s with this in mind that I believe Article 8 of the Convention is a real key to unlock the implementation of the rest of the CRPD.

This speech was made as part of an intervention from Paula Tesoriero at the opening of the 11th session of the Conference of State Parties, 13 June 2018.