Introduction to Disability, Rights and Law Reform in Australia: Pushing Beyond Legal Futures

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Journal Article
Law in context (Bundoora, Vic.), 2017, 35 (2), pp. 1 - 14
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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities1 (CRPD), which entered into force in May 2008, has been hailed by disability rights scholars and activists as effecting monumental shifts in the status of people with disability2 under international human rights law. A key reason is that the CRPD embodies a ‘social model’ understanding of disability, focused on systemic factors and barriers to equality, that is in contrast to the earlier reductive, individualised ‘medical models’ of disability apparent in international human rights law that legitimated differential treatment of people with disability on the basis of their purported internal, pathological deficits.3 Some have even claimed that the CRPD moves beyond a social model, to introduce a ‘human rights model’ of disability. Theresia Degener, the current Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the UN Committee), argues that although the social model holds strong explanatory power in identifying the formation of disability, it does not affirm the inherent human dignity of people with disability and attribute them with the capacity to hold human rights regardless of impairment.4 According to Degener, the human rights model creates a broader framework for achieving social justice, offering not just an explanation, but a prescription for change.5 Perhaps time will tell whether this is true or not, but it is certainly the case that the CRPD is among the longest and most detailed of all UN human rights treaties, elucidating rights in the disability context in a range of areas of life, including rights to work, education, health services, transportation, access to justice, and accessibility of the physical and social environment
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