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How New Zealand Is Upholding the Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities

A map of which countries in the world have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

With the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approaching, how can we ensure the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is upheld in Aotearoa?

In November 2017, Annette Rotherham attended the Disability Matters Conference and, with Dean Sutherland, presented about the New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association’s (NZSTA) communication access principles. Both came away from the conference with enormous learning, confronted about their own ideas and beliefs, and enriched from meeting and hearing from some of the most passionate disability advocates in the world.

While many themes evolved at the conference, some had links to past NZSTA awareness campaigns, “Making connections — whakawhanaungatanga” and “Access for all — He waka eke noa”. The conference was also a perfect opportunity to discuss NZSTA’s aims about accessibility with others who share the same focus.

There have been gains over the past 10 years that need to be celebrated, and there is much work to be done.

A powerful keynote speaker was Dr. Sarah Gordon who states that advocacy is the key to making the convention real. Gordon articulated very clearly some wonderful definitions around advocacy.

  1. Individual advocacy: supporting individuals to exercise their human rights, especially the most vulnerable. Individual advocacy extends and applies to all areas of life. This is most often the role of family and carers.
  2. Systemic advocacy: Support to exercise human rights in response to the experience of disability. People being prepared to stand up to human rights breaches. This is an important role for health and disability professionals and organisations that represent those with impairments.

Robert Martin, disability rights advocate and member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, believes the soul of CRPD is Article 12, Choice and Control.

Martin acknowledges and believes how important all forms of communication are in decision making and that we need to accept and encourage the diversity and formats that communication can take. It raised many questions around how to involve people in decision-making. Supported decision-making in the new regime has huge implications for people with speech, language, and communication needs.

Article 12 of the UNCRPD states: “All persons inherently possess legal capacity and are supported to make decisions based on their will and preferences”. This raised the question about how speech-language therapists can advocate for people with communication needs and ensure they have the tools to communicate their will and preference as well as ensuring others have the skills and abilities to ensure communication success.

How is New Zealand faring in implementing the UNCRPD? That was the big question. There have been gains over the past 10 years that need to be celebrated, and there is much work to be done. “He waka eke noa”—we all need to be in the waka (canoe) together and have a united voice to make change.


This article was provided by the New Zealand Speech-language Therapists’ Association.

Read more about the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.