26. Disability rights: How ‘nothing about us without us’ powered a global treaty
Relative to other marginalised people, the disability community had to wait a long time for their rights to be globally asserted. But the adoption, 15 years ago, of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) marked a major step forward, from the language of charity and medical strategies to the language of rights. Now widely ratified, the Convention has had a remarkable effect: expanding protections and bringing together people from different corners of the disability movement to shift deeply entrenched assumptions about agency and capability. In a period when many have questioned whether investing in standard-setting is worthwhile – often arguing instead for a radical disruption of institutional approaches – the human rights framework seems successfully to have given agency to a community that badly needed it. Alberto Vasquez is a Peruvian lawyer with a history of activism around psychosocial disabilities in his own country and in the Latin American region, and for him, the question was not whether a Convention would prove worthwhile, but how the process of achieving it might build power for those whose rights were being abused. He reflects on both the solidarity and vibrant activism that emerged, and that even those under guardianship or coercion by mental health authorities are seeing the possibility of change.