The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by RNIB

  RNIB welcomes the fact that the Joint Committee has raised a number of issues relevant to ratification with the Government. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities represents a historic point in the battle for disabled peoples' rights, and a potentially huge opportunity to increase the enjoyment of those rights both in the UK and worldwide.

  This brief submission cannot cover all the areas of the Convention that are important to blind and partially sighted people. We limit ourselves therefore to issues that the Committee is focusing on specifically.


  RNIB believes that the UK Government must ratify this Convention by end of 2008, as promised. We believe that the Government must not make its ratification contingent upon the UK's ability to immediately meet all the requirements of the Convention. Even as the Convention was being negotiated, it was accepted that the realisation of the rights in its articles would inevitably have to be progressive. Ratification without further delay will send a signal that the UK means business with regards to disabled peoples' rights.


  We believe that these should be avoided wherever possible. RNIB believes strongly that they should not be used to undermine the fundamental human rights the Convention identifies.

  RNIB understands however that in a small number of areas the Government might wish to clarify its interpretation of the Convention. In the field of education, we recognise that a reservation may be necessary to permit the continuation of special school provision for the most severely disabled people in a limited number of cases. This is in accord with Article 24.3 (C), but a reservation but may be desirable for the avoidance of doubt.

  Likewise there might be some need to interpret Article 27 on Work and Employment to ensure that some level of supported employment, for example Remploy and workshops for blind people, is allowed to continue where disabled people wish this to happen.


  RNIB is pleased to note that the European Commission has adopted the proposal for "a Council decision to conclude, on behalf of the European Community, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".

  We urge the UK Government to support this process with the aim of ensuring the strongest possible implementation for disabled people.


  Due to EU Internal Market rules, the Disability Discrimination Act does not prevent manufacturers from making goods that are inaccessible to blind people. This is particularly problematic for items with on-screen digital displays such as televisions, washing machines and even, increasingly, digital radios. Meeting the UN Convention requirements in article 9 regarding access to ICT would help to remove this problem, but will no doubt require changes of law at EU level.

  The EU Commission is considering the possibility of proposing regulation on "eaccessibility" in 2009. RNIB looks to the UK Government to support such a proposal so as to close this loophole in the area of ICT across the EU and better meet the goals of Article 9 of the UN Convention.

  There are too many other areas of life in the UK where practice—even if not the law—prevents blind and partially sighted people from fully enjoying the rights to which they are entitled under the UN Convention. Inaccessible information from the NHS, Councils, and from suppliers of goods and services, inaccessible transport and inadequate provision of social care are but a few such areas.

  RNIB understands that the Government is analysing the UK's compatibility with the UN Convention requirements. We expect that this exercise will identify a list of areas where more needs to be done for blind and partially sighted people, as well as many others. We look forward to working with the Government to help implement the changes needed to meet these shortcomings.


  We believe that the Government should ratify the Optional Protocol. This would demonstrate the seriousness of the UK government's commitment towards the UN Convention. It should be remembered that the Government took a lead role in the Convention negotiations. The Government says it does not normally sign optional protocols, but made an exception to this policy for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), so as to "test" whether it was useful to sign such protocols. However, the Optional Protocol of CEDAW has not been tested thoroughly enough to draw any conclusions, (only two cases have arisen from the UK under this protocol). This "test" should therefore be deemed irrelevant to the Government's deliberations about signing and ratifying the Optional Protocol.


  RNIB is a membership organisation with over 10,000 members who are blind, partially sighted or the friends and family of people with sight loss. Eighty per cent of our Trustees and Assembly Members are blind or partially sighted. We encourage members to be involved in our work and regularly consult with them on Government policy and their ideas for change.

  As a campaigning organisation of blind and partially sighted people, we fight for the rights of people with sight loss of all ages in each of the UK's countries. We work to:

    —  improve access to treatment for sight threatening conditions and raise awareness of eye health;

    —  improve provision within health and social care services;

    —  increase the amount and range of accessible information;

    —  promote equal access to learning throughout the life course;

    —  tackle discrimination in employment and get more blind and partially sighted people into work; and

    —  ensure a secure income for blind and partially sighted people unable to work or who have retired.

  We also provide expert knowledge to business and the public sector through consultancy on improving the accessibility of the built environment, technology, products and services.

30 October 2008

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