“Live like others together with others,” said Bengt Lindqvist, special adviser to the Ministry for Social Affairs in the Swedish government and the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability. Lindqvist issued his challenge to the graduands of the Faculty of Health to regard disabilities as a matter of human rights. Lindqvist’s comments came during his convocation speech delivered Friday afternoon. He was at York University to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree for his advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Lindqvist said he was particularly happy that York University was awarding him an honorary degree. “York University represents to me a real, solid belief in human rights and social justice,” he said, noting his 10-year working relationship as co-director of the York-based Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI).
“The project Disability Rights Promotion International was formed as a consequence of the UN recognition that by the year 2000, disability would be seen as a human rights issue ,” said Lindqvist.
A language teacher by profession, Lindqvist lost his sight as a teenager. He served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability from 1994 to 2003. In that role, Lindqvist monitored the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, a global framework arising out of the UN recognition that was designed to further the equality and full participation of persons with disabilities in social life and development.
He made special note that for more than 25 years prior to the UN’s special recognition disability advocates had been fighting for the same rights. “Up to 2000, disability was seen as a social issue, a social development issue, not as a human rights issue.”
Working with Faculty of Health Distinguished Research Professor Marcia Rioux, DRPI was established as a collaborative project to implement a comprehensive, sustainable international system to monitor human rights of people with disabilities. Now, more than a decade later, a number of countries and organizations for people with disabilities are joining DRPI.
“Forty years ago,” said Lindqvist, “disabled people in the world were up to then treated as objects and it was ‘the experts’ and ‘professionals’ who decided the lives of persons with disabilities. We are human beings like everyone else; we have the right to participation in the society we belong to.
“There are thousands of obstacles in the way of making this possible,” he said, “because the building of society so far had not taken into account the need of persons with disabilities. W
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e must see action and planning by governments that will lead to the increase participation of persons with disabilities in society.
York Chancellor R. Roy McMurtry, Bengt Lindqvist and York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri
“We have enormous tasks ahead of us to create a society that is open to all people. We are talking about disability, but of course a society for all is a general vision that includes every person, which is built on the principles of equal rights and equal freedoms, integrity and respect for every living human being,” he said. “This was the vision that caught me as a young man.” Lindqvist spoke about his own challenges of trying to get books and pages of books during his university studies because there were no services for blind people.
“For me the idea, the vision of removing all of those obstacles to participation was the challenge and inspiration and the provocation for the future and it has remained in that way since then,” he said. “Many say that accessibility in the sense of access to the physical environment and to information by disabled people that is more or less a luxury in the rich countries. I say by no means. If you are a disabled person in a third-world country you have the right to participate in the society you belong to. What we want is to live like others, together with others.”
Lindqvist asked those gathered for convocation to view the realities of the world through the lens of human rights and work to create change. “I hope you will be part of a new army building a big world where all can participate and all can enjoy the good things of life.”
York’s 2013 Spring Convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. To view Lindqvist’s convocation address, visit the Convocation website.