On International Human Rights Day, ÁT calls for each of us to play a role in securing equal rights for all

Today marks International Human Rights Day across the world, representing a significant opportunity to recognise the importance of human rights and raise awareness of how they bind us together as a global community.

The future of the disability and Independent Living movements rests on how disability is perceived, and how we value our rights.  Each of us has an important role to play in ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy access to the full set of rights that they are entitled to, and, to do that, we have to, as a society, think of disability as a human rights issue.

Seeing disability in this way enables us to understand how people with disabilities are disempowered as a result of being excluded and prevented from full participation.  This year’s theme for Human Rights Day, “Human Rights 365”, reinforces this, by emphasising that, in fact, every day is Human Rights Day.  We need to be aware of the barriers and challenges – both physical and cultural – that exist and are accepted in communities on a daily basis, and work together towards removing them.

Let’s use today to reflect on what we can do to make that happen.  2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, led by Martin Luther King, which led to the enactment of voting rights for African American citizens.  Just like society came together then 50 years ago, we at Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT) want everyone to unite and demonstrate a determination and commitment to having our rights secured.

In 2015, we will be bringing people together in a strong campaign to stand up for their rights, and for those of their families, friends and neighbours with disabilities.  By joining us then, you will mark your place on the journey towards a truly inclusive and equal society for everyone, and empower people with disabilities to realise their rights.

The campaign will also provide a strong opportunity for us to highlight how powerful our vote is in giving us crucial leverage to achieve our rights.  Ireland signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2007, for example, but has yet to ratify it.  To incite real change, we must vote.  By using your vote, you are using your voice, and saying that you demand change and equality.  There are almost 600,000 people in Ireland with a disability: if we come together and go to the ballot boxes when we are called to, that will be one very loud voice calling for our rights.

People with disabilities can no longer be seen as an isolated, vulnerable group in society; we must no longer focus on the disability but the potential that every person has for the future and the impact that they can make.  We must all take charge of our roles in empowering people with disabilities as strong, active members of society with rich life experiences and valued rights, enjoying the same opportunities as everyone else.

The impetus for change needs to come from us, and it’s a crucial step in shaping the equal and inclusive future we are working together to build.  Human Rights Day gives us the opportunity to consider what we need to do to achieve full human rights and equality for people with disabilities: the next 365 days are for working to make it happen.

To find out more about United Nations (UN) International Human Rights Day, please click here.

Image by Vlado used with courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net