Last month, the Council for Disabled Children and the Special Educational Consortium hosted an evening of talks on Human Rights at the Sadlers Wells in Islington, London.
The event, ‘Special educational needs and disability: A human rights perspective’, arose from a suggestion from one of our members that we, and the SEN and disability sector more generally, needed to more clearly articulate the rights enshrined in the UN Conventions in our work (the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UCRDP)).
I found this an interesting question. While I understand this point, I do think that a human rights based approach is evident in the sector even though it may not be necessarily labelled as such. For example, the participation and involvement of disabled children and young people in the decisions that affect them has been a guiding principle at CDC since it was founded in 1974, as it has been with many other organisations that we work with. Do we all always explicitly link this back to the ‘right to be heard’ in Article 12 of the UNCRC? Probably not. Does making that link matter if the result is the same? I’m not sure.
But if making the link clear doesn’t necessarily matter, why should the voluntary and community sector and individuals then look to these human rights conventions at all? I believe it’s because human rights sets the bar and our aspirations higher. In order to progress and innovate we should look to the guiding principles in the Conventions, some of which are not embedded in national legislation, to help map out our journey towards better outcomes for children, young people and their families. Leo Cappella, a young disability campaigner, reminded us at the event what these human rights can be for young disabled people too; empowering and inclusive, as well as something to strive towards.
On the day of the event we had a great speakers and a great panel debate; it was amazing having lawyers, campaigners, disabled young people, Government officials, local government representatives, the voluntary sector, parents, and think tanks all in the same room debating the issues. At the end of the evening, Anne Fox, CDC’s chair, closed the event with a timely reminder of why we need a human rights framework: the scandal of disabled children and young people being held indefinitely in assessment and treatment centres, hundreds of miles away from their families, has not been solved; the preventable deaths of disabled young people in specialist care still happen. Unfortunately, the human rights frameworks we have were not able to prevent these human tragedies from occurring. They do, however, offer us a road map for preventing them happening again.