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AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability

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UNCRPD – Are we just ticking a box?

Ireland has finally ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), but what does this really mean? The purpose of the Convention is to ‘promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity’. But the question is, will the ratification of the Convention change the social order or the way we think about disability and ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against and can enjoy the same rights as others?

Ann Heelan - AHEADThe answer is not without significant changes in attitudes at a national, institutional and personal level.  A recent case has exposed the huge gap between the ideals of the convention and the reality on the ground.  A young student from rural Ireland in contact with AHEAD is at a high risk of having to drop out of his Dublin based university course because his local health board thinks that the cost of supporting him is too high.  He has a serious condition which necessitates the accompaniment of a personal assistant at night time (out of hours), which is regarded under equality Legislation and the UNCRPD as a reasonable accommodation to enable him to continue with his college course.  

It is telling that the Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath, in correspondence with AHEAD, appears to agree that the cost of supporting this young man to continue his studies is too high for his local health board to sustain. Even putting aside the fact that this young man has a right to the same education opportunities as any other student, this decision does not make sense from a financial point of view. 

As a qualified graduate, this young person would gain the chance to seek quality employment in the future and live a happy, independent life.  Instead the local health board and government has now denied him dignity and the legal right to remain in education, and they have at the stroke of a pen, compromised his opportunity to have a successful career and contribute meaningfully to the economy and our society. 

Why?  Because they see him as a disabled and labelled person rather than a young person of value who deserves the opportunity to finish his education.

It is these difficult cases which test the true commitment of state bodies to equality for people with disabilities and their intent on delivering on the ideals of the UNCRPD.

Ann Heelan 
Executive Director, AHEAD

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