By Oliver Mendoza, DFAT policy officer
The United Nations General Assembly was packed.
The occasion was the opening of the Conference of State Parties on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), which fellow DFAT officer Tim Balin and I attended in June as part of an International Skills Development Program.
A total of 174 countries have ratified the CRPD since it was adopted in 2006. A striking feature of this year’s Conference was the consensus on the need to collect disability-disaggregated data. There is considerable concern among many governments, including Australia, that a lack of data on people with disabilities will exclude them from the Sustainable Development Goals.
I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to hear from civil society organisations at the Conference, which have an explicit role in the CRPD to advocate for its ratification and monitor its implementation. Among other things, Australian organisations spoke about creating easy to read materials and efforts to improve evacuation procedures for people with disabilities during a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.
A speaker from the DAISY Consortium provided an interesting example of effective disaster risk management for people with disabilities. During the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the disaster readiness of Bethel House, a residence for people with severe psychosocial disabilities, emerged as an example of ‘best practice.’ In the months leading up to the tsunami, the residents read an evacuation manual featuring a manga character called ‘Tsunami Man.’ As a result of the manual and other efforts, such as coordinated town hall meetings, when the tsunami arrived everyone in Bethel House survived.
One of the most enlightening aspects of the Conference for me was the screening of the documentary Defiant Lives, about the disability rights movement. The documentary shows how activists have worked over several decades to change the perception of people with disabilities as individuals primarily needing charity or medical care. The fact that we talk today about the treatment of people with disabilities as a human rights issue is due in large part to the efforts of the people profiled in the documentary.
The Conference is the most significant and diverse annual international human rights conference on disability issues, and our delegation was busy meeting as many people as possible. The trip was the first experience Tim and I have had of a multilateral meeting. The days were long, but very rewarding.
Tim and I are grateful to DFAT and the department’s disability section for the opportunity to participate in the CRPD, which gave us our first valuable exposure to the work of multilateral institutions.
Oliver Mendoza joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2016. He worked previously at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he was a graduate trainee, as well as at former versions of the immigration and communication departments.