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Human Rights Council - 19th Regular Session

Australian statement on Disabilities

1 March 2012


Australia thanks the panel for the opportunity to participate in today’s important discussion, and welcomes the thematic study of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on participation in political and public life by persons with disabilities.

Central to the empowerment, inclusion and non-discrimination of persons with disabilities is the right to vote and to be elected, a point highlighted in the Office of the High Commissioner’s thematic study. Despite this, the concept of equal participation in political and public life has, up until the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, been largely absent from the debate.

Australia acknowledges that people with disability face a range of challenges in enjoying the right to participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others.

We strongly support the need for accessible and inclusive environments, through universal design, to enable persons with disabilities to participate in public and political life. This includes physically accessible elections/polling stations, assistive communication and personal assistance.

Accessibility is a key to participation and should be taken in its broad sense including physical accessibility, accessible communication and information and personal support assistance (physical or cognitive). The issue of accessibility places positive responsibilities on parties to commit resources to create enabling environments. We would be interested in hearing from the panellists, or from States, on what changes parties are making to policies and service provision practices to enable persons with disabilities, particularly marginalised groups such as people with learning difficulties or those living in rural and remote areas, to participate in voting and in political and public activities.

We were also pleased that the thematic study highlighted the important role of international cooperation in supporting developing countries to move towards more accessible and inclusive environments for elections, such as our own aid funded projects in Indonesia, PNG and the Philippines. Active engagement of persons with disabilities is also a guiding principle of Australia’s disability-inclusive development strategy, and we are working hard to ensure that persons with disabilities are able to influence policy development and program implementation in our aid program.