United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities guide

Title of guidance:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities: What does it mean for you?

Author: Equality and Human Rights Commission

UNCRPD guideYear published: 2010
Length: 60 pages
Format: PDF, Word, British Sign Language, Welsh language and Easy Read 
Other formats: Contact the EHRC helpline for alternative formats: www.equalityhumanrights.com/about-us/advice-from-our-helpline/
Producer/ Publisher: Equality and Human Rights Commission
Type of organisation: Human rights commission in the UK

 Download guidance:


Generic (cross-sector) | Human Rights Act | Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities | GB wide| Case studies

Audience: Service management | Front-line service personnel | Policy managers and directors

Topics: Human rights | equality | home care | disability | blanket policies / individual assessment | involvement and participation | dignity | autonomy | mental capacity | privacy | torture/inhuman or degrading treatment | residential care | voluntary / third sector | private sector | sexuality / intimacy | personal relationships | education and learning | employment / workplace | independent living


This is a guide to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The guide explains what the Convention is, including a brief overview of its history. It considers why the Convention is important for people with disabilities and outlines the obligations the Convention places on government. It explains how the Convention works in relation to the UK’s Human Rights Act (HRA) and duties under anti-discrimination legislation. It sets out the key rights contained in the Convention, noting both what the Convention says and what it means. It uses hypothetical case studies to highlight the meaning and relevance of specific rights. The document provides guidance on monitoring and implementing the Convention and on how to make a complaint about a violation of the Convention. It is aimed at disabled people and disabled people’s organisations in England, Wales and Scotland.

Key human rights messages in this guidance

  • The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities recognises that disabled people have the same rights as everyone else to freedom, respect, equality and dignity.
  • The Convention brings together all our basic human rights in one place and describes what government has agreed to do to make these rights real. It requires government to take action to remove barriers and give disabled people real freedom, dignity and equality.
  • The Convention can be used by people with disabilities and their organisations to make sure rights are respected.

Full review of this guidance

The guide is divided into four sections:

  • what the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is;
  • the key rights contained in the Convention;
  • guidance on monitoring and implementing the Convention and on how to make a complaint about a violation;
  • further information and resources.

The Convention

The guide begins by explaining that the Convention is an international agreement about protecting and promoting the human rights of disabled people throughout the world. It defines human rights as basic rights and freedoms that everyone is entitled to, regardless of who they are. These rights are found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities does not give disabled people ‘new’ human rights – it was developed because action was needed to ensure rights were a reality for those with disabilities. The UK ratified the Convention in 2009.

The guide outlines eight reasons why the Convention is important for disabled people in Britain:

  • the government will be held to account;
  • the government should give disabled people a stronger say in the policies that affect their lives;
  • the Convention sets new standards on how government and public bodies should ensure that disabled people’s human rights are protected and promoted;
  • the Convention places responsibilities on government to take action to strengthen disabled people’s control over their own lives and participation in society;
  • the Convention can be used to interpret the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Equality Duty found in anti-discrimination legislation, to challenge failure to respect human rights and work towards disability equality;
  • the Convention can be used by disabled people and their organisations in negotiating and influencing national and local matters;
  • the Convention should help promote sensitive attitudes towards disabled people.

The guide explains whose rights are recognised by the Convention – elaborating the meaning of a ‘person with a disability’.

In clear bullet points the guide enumerates the obligations that the Convention places on governments that have ratified it – including the UK. These include obligations to:

  • abolish laws and practices that discriminate against disabled people;
  • ensure that the private sector and individuals respect the rights of disabled people;
  • gather information and statistics so that it can track progress and develop better policies.

The guide explains the concept of ‘progressive realisation’ contained in the Convention – noting that even if governments cannot make rights real immediately they must do everything in their power and use all available resources to make sure rights are enjoyed as quickly as possible.

The guide explains how the Convention relates to UK law. Individuals who believe their rights under the Convention have been breached cannot take such a claim, as such, to the courts. However the Convention can be used as an interpretive tool to support cases that are taken to court under the HRA or disability discrimination legislation.

This introduction to the Convention includes an outline of the role of various bodies in contributing to the implementation of the Convention. It looks at the role of:

  • the UK government;
  • the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission;
  • disabled people and their organisations;
  • the UN.

The rights

This is a useful and detailed section that provides an elaboration of the content of the Convention. It starts by outlining key principles that the government should adopt:

  • respect: every person is of equal worth and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect;
  • non-discrimination: disabled people must never be treated worse than others;
  • participation and inclusion: full and effective participation and inclusion in society must be supported;
  • respect for difference: disabled people must be accepted as part of human diversity and humanity;
  • equality of opportunity: positive action should be take to ensure barriers are removed;
  • accessibility: disabled people must be able to access buildings, housing, services, information and leisure on an equal basis to non-disabled people;
  • respect for disabled children.

The section then outlines the meaning of Articles 5-30 of the Convention. These articles cover:

  • Equality and non-discrimination
  • Women with disabilities
  • Children with disabilities
  • Awareness-raising
  • Accessibility
  • Right to life
  • Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies
  • Equal recognition before the law
  • Access to justice
  • Liberty and security of person
  • Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse
  • Protecting the integrity of the person
  • Liberty of movement and nationality
  • Living independently and being included in the community
  • Personal mobility
  • Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information
  • Respect for privacy
  • Respect for home and the family
  • Education
  • Health
  • Habilitation and rehabilitation
  • Work and employment
  • Adequate standard of living and social protection
  • Participation in political and public life
  • Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport

For each right the guide notes what the Convention says and what the wording means in practice. This includes, variously:

  • what the right in question means for disabled people;
  • what government must do;
  • an explanation of permitted limitations on the right;
  • an explanation of relevant reservations made by the UK government when ratifying the Convention;
  • how the relevant article can be used to hold government to account;
  • how the article relates to relevant UK laws, including the HRA and anti-discrimination law;
  • how the article relates to other international conventions – including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This section includes numerous case studies to illustrate these rights and how they apply in a variety of common situations.

Making rights a reality

The Guide provides advice on getting involved in making the rights contained in the Convention real. It looks at:

  • promoting the Convention among disabled people and public bodies;
  • using the Convention to improve lives of disabled people in Britain;
  • monitoring and reporting;
  • making a complaint about a violation of the Convention.

The guide includes a number of practical suggestions about awareness raising and campaigning. It includes some real life examples of successful activities, including the production of a play on the right to marry and a campaign to make the proposed new right to free personal care in England ‘portable’ when individuals move from one local authority to another.

The guide explains the process of reporting on the Convention, whereby states must submit reports to the UN Disability Committee. It elaborates the process of ‘shadow’ reporting which allows national human rights commissions and voluntary organisations to submit reports to the committee. It includes practical suggestions of how both individuals and groups can get involved and a detailed step-by-step guide to writing a shadow report.

The report also includes a step-by-step guide to making a complaint about a violation of the Convention. This covers the taking of a legal case in the UK (which cannot be directly under the Convention but must use laws such as the HRA or anti-discrimination legislation). The guide also provides details on how complaints may be taken to the UN Disability Committee. It includes case studies and ways in which the ECHR can help.

Further information

The final section of the report is a directory of sources of further information. This covers general information on the Convention, UK and regional sources of information and sources of legal advice.

Related equality messages

The Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities recognises that disabled people have the same rights as everyone else. This includes generic rights to freedom, respect, equality and dignity and a whole host of specific rights. Government has obligations to ensure equal respect of and access to these rights for disabled people. In particular, Article 5 of the Convention makes clear that:

  • Everyone is equal before the law.
  • Governments should outlaw all forms of discrimination on the basis of disability and ensure effective protection against disability discrimination.
  • Governments should ensure that reasonable accommodation is made for disabled people.
  • Specific measures are often needed to create equality for disabled people in practice and are permitted under the Convention.

Date of review

March 2012


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