Sign Language gained the ground at the United Nations in New York

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Fourth Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the headquarter of United Nations in New York, USA.

Report by Colin Allen and Markku Jokinen

The Fourth Conference of States Parties to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is convening at the headquarter of United Nations in New York, USA this week from 7th to 9th September. WFD is represented at this session by both the newly elected WFD President Colin Allen and the WFD Honorary President Markku Jokinen. Prior to the actual Conference of States Parties Mr Allen and Mr Jokinen participated in the meeting of Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs) and Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) arranged by the International Disability of Alliance (IDA) in New York on the 6th September 2011. The purpose of this meeting was to share good national and international experiences and examples of work in supporting the CRPD implementation. During this meeting Mr Markku Jokinen address the audience describing the CRPD training in sign languages as an important part of the advocacy training done by WFD in Western and Central Africa. However, it is important to note that without proper capacity-building training it is hard to educate deaf people about the CRPD and human rights. A good number of other examples of CRPD training and implementation from all over the world were presented at this meeting.

During the Civil Society Forum NGOs and DPOs were engaged in discussion on the promotion of civil society involvement in the forthcoming High-level Meeting on Disability and Development which to be held the beginning of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly in 2012. This High Level Meeting could play an important role in raising awareness and lifting disability rights to be heard at a higher level in the international cooperation frameworks beyond 2015 which is the deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals. During the panel held in the Forum with representatives from IDA, the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability Mr Shuaib Chalklen, Friends of the CRPD, Bureau of the Conference of States Parties, DESA and OHCHR, WFD Youth Section President Ms. Jenny Nilsson gave a very good and thorough presentation discussing how important it is for young persons and youth representatives with disabilities to participate actively in the society.

Mr Jokinen and Mr Allen took part in the Opening of the Fourth Session of Conference of States Parties to the UN CRPD which was attended by an impressive number of participants on Wednesday 7th September. Presentations were made by the Chair of the COSP (Swedish Ambassador), the Deputy Secretary General, the Assistant Secretary General of DESA and the Assistant Secretary General of the OHCHR. Also, the Chair of the CRPD Committee held a short speech. In addition to the references to the High Level Meeting on Disability in 2012, two UN representatives who addressed the meeting referred to the Rio + 20 conference next year in Rio de Janeiro as an important opportunity to address disability rights issues. Altogether 42 States Parties addressed the meeting and IDA was also included in the list of speakers addressing the audience. Presentations from Hungary, Kenya, Mauritius, South Africa, Sweden, and Thailand were noted by WFD in particular as they reported on sign language interpreting services, use of sign language in educational settings and in news broadcasts but also about funding available for development of sign language. In addition, the South African Representative talked about WFD Congress organised in Durban earlier this year.

A number of side events were organised during the lunch break including one on international cooperation and another on inclusive education sponsored by IDA, Finland, UNICEF and Human rights Watch. Title of the latter event was “From Policy to Practice: Global Perspectives on Inclusive Education” and hosted Mr Jokinen as one of the presenters. The WFD Honorary President gave a presentation about deaf people’s view and approach on inclusive education. Another encouraging moment for WFD during the session was when Mr Yasunobu Ishii from the Nippon Foundation discussed the realisation and implementation of the CRPD through international cooperation. Mr. Ishii’s presentation made a strong impact on the audience by explaining how important it is to promote use of sign languages for deaf children and people in the developing countries illustrating his presentation with examples of the projects in Kenya and Vietnam.

The following the session convened to discuss for instance the specific article on how Persons with Disabilities are ensured an effective and full participation in political and public life. The State Party delegations from Hungary, New Zealand and Sweden confirmed that their country governments are committed to ensuring accessibility to deaf people also in elections. Delegations stressed that deaf people have a right to know how to vote at their elections by using sign language interpreting and that the election materials should be available also in sign language.

The afternoon session discussed the challenge of realising the right to work and employment for Persons with the Disabilities. This session was yet another milestone and important moment for WFD because it was the second time that a deaf person was chairing the COSP as Dr. Gergely Tapolczai, a Member of Parliament from Hungary chaired the panel. There were more than 600 delegates present at the meeting of COSP and Sign Language was strongly visible throughout the meetings through Dr. Tapolczai’s role as the chair.

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