Discussing disability at the United Nations

oliver-mendoza  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.

‘Tsunami Man’ as featured in the Bethel House evacuation manual

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.

Mika Kontiainen, Director of DFAT’s Disability Section, and Alastair McEwin, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, with Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of people with disabilities, and the ‘Wombassador.’
Some of the Australian delegates outside United Nations headquarters: Sharon Stuart (Branch Manager, Disability and Carer Policy, Department of Social Services), Jade Cooper (Policy Officer, Disability Section, DFAT), Mika Kontiainen and Alastair McEwin.
Alastair McEwin, Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner, addresses the Conference in Auslan.

One thought on “Discussing disability at the United Nations

  1. Stephen Macras

    It’s a giant shame that there is no effective remedy for discrimination done by authorities in Australia as the courts here do anything to protect the Police, and refuse to treat such cases fairly and in accordance with law and procedural fairness.

    Notwithstanding the Police themselves use threats to advance political (legislation passed by politicians as part of political campaigns) and ideological (will of the majority) causes and these threats intimidate and coerce the public. Commonwealth law holds property includes rights, bundles of rights and every right within those bundles, and the courts have held numerous times that “a man has the right to do anything which is not prohibited by law”, making such legislation serious damage to rights and therefore property.

    It’s not protest, advocacy, dissent or industrial action, and misses out of being exempted under subsection (3) of s101.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 and there is no exemption under the regulations either.

    “Rule of law” is lies and fairy tales, otherwise the police, state judges and magistrates and state politicians would all be locked up for violating this commonwealth law, thanks to s109 of the constitution making it impossible to obey both laws.

    What do I know, right? I’m just a guy with Asperger’s that the authorities screwed over trying to take it through our incompetent courts that will always fail to give remedies.

    Thanks for the further lies on this blog, it really shows appearances are all anyone cares for in Parliament, no substance anywhere.

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