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changing attitudes to persons with disabilities

Madeleine Brecher - UN Representative of the International Council of Jewish Women - reports on a presentation by the Permanent Missions of Israel and Germany to the UN during the Seventh Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 12 June,2014, at UN Headquarters in New York, entitled "Changing Attitudes and Fighting Stereotypes for an Inclusive Society".

Activities to implement the CRPD and create more inclusive societies are often met with segregated social environments, stereotypes and negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities. These create barriers for the implementation of many of the CRPD articles. This side event presented inter-sectorial public awareness and training programs from around the world, from both government and civil society organizations, aimed at assisting in the implementation of the CRPD articles as well as the full participation of people with disabilities in the process.

Chair : Prof. Michael Stein, Harvard University

Prof. Stein introduced the topic by describing the different stereotypes of persons with disabilities. He was an excellent moderator and held to strict time constraints so there was time for an important Q&A.

Panelists:

Verene Bentele, Commissioner for Matters relating to Disabled Persons, Germany

In the year 2000, Germany developed a national action plan for supporting persons with disabilities. It focused on three areas: media, human rights and employment. Because German states have different school systems, it was difficult to promote an overall inclusive education program. Their high schools were poor examples of inclusive communities. They distributed prizes for excellent inclusive programs that were successful at changing attitudes and fighting stereotypes. The winners were generally sports clubs and places of employment that brought persons with disabilities together with persons without disabilities in a collaborative working environment.

Ahiya Kamara, Commissioner for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Israel

Negative attitudes toward people with disabilities are developed in childhood. Legislation must be adopted to bring persons in the margins of society to full rights. There are difficult barriers, i.e.  it is costly to make environments accessible, there must be training campaigns to raise sensitivity. It is critical to change attitudes of those with disabilities so they develop self-respect and confidence, and they must raise awareness and educate the rest of society to dispel negative stereotypes.

Eric Mathews, Disability Rights International

Mr. Mathews pointed out that invisibility is another serious barrier hindering the full integration and human rights of people with disabilities. People simply do not recognize disabled persons. This discrimination causes severe isolation. Public awareness campaigns are critical and technical assistants to government can provide human rights oversight. We learned that 90% of the children in orphanages have living parents; kids are abandoned due to poverty and stigma. Eric Mathews is the Associate Director of Disability Rights International which brings these human rights violations to light. Media attention brings pressure and raises local awareness.

Klaus Lachwitz, President of Inclusion International/Board member, Intl. Disability Alliance

Inclusion International is a global federation of family-based organizations advocating for the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities. The global south is very isolated and has little understanding of persons with intellectual disabilities; there, it is called mental illness. Inclusion International trains at the local level and seeks to develop self-confidence and communication skills in those with intellectual disabilities. The goal is to make these persons self-advocates who are now able to make choices. One of the success stories is a self-advocate from New Zealand who will be on the CRPD panel. These self-advocates are able to help professionals set priorities to meet success.

Jean Judes, Executive Director, Beit Issie Shapiro

Headquartered in Ra’anana, Beit Issie develops and provides services for people with disabilities, and has played a leading role in promoting the inclusion of people with special needs in Israeli society. Not only do their professionals help train thousands of therapists in Israel in Beit Issie’s new therapies, they also conducts research and shares best practices internationally.  Jean Judes explained that they focus first on the child, then the core family, then the family, community and country. It is a holistic approach.  When children with disabilities are students in regular schools, they are isolated and enraged and this creates psychological and social barriers.

 Kids close their social attitudes by age 14. However, based on research, parents and teachers can change attitudes. Beit Issie develops models, shares the models and they are then implemented.  The models include structured programming. Government funding is required, parks and facilities are made handicap-accessible, workshops are developed with youth leadership and the media are included in the process.  There are three components to their best practices: trainers must have disabilities, there is long-term investment in the program, and there is direct interaction with all the players. The core mission is changing attitudes.

Rick Guidotti, Photographer

Rick is an award winning fashion photographer and founder of Positive Exposure, which utilizes photography, video and narratives to present the humanity and dignity of individuals living with genetic, physical, behavioral and cognitive differences.  It provides new opportunities to see those individuals living with disabilities first and foremost as human beings. Years back, Rick spotted a young girl with albinism. He could not get over her beauty and felt he had to photograph her.  His photographs displayed her inner beauty and she herself was astonished by this new vision of herself. The photos he showed the audience of people with disabilities were exquisite and the individuals living with differences who were photographed by Rick Guidotti developed strong feelings of self-acceptance, self-esteem and self-advocacy. We in the audience saw each person in a totally different light; it was their humanity that spoke to us. Rick’s enthusiasm was electric and all of us in the audience were smiling!

The parting words of the session were:

CHANGE HOW YOU SEE -  SEE HOW YOU CHANGE!