Framework for Rights of Persons with Disability

“Seeking an inclusive, barrier-free, and rights-based society for men, women and children with disabilities, which embraces the diversity of all Pacific people.” – Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2016)


1.7 million people in Pacific Island Countries are living with a disability. This represents nearly 15% of the total population in the islands.

People with disabilities in Pacific island countries are among the poorest and most marginalized members of their communities. Disability limits access to education and employment and other basic social services and leads to economic and social exclusion, while disabled people and their families face prejudice, discrimination and rejection.

If people with disabilities in the Pacific are to be included in the national development process, then the development of policy, legislation and service provision must be established in full partnership with organizations of people with disabilities and other concerned agencies. Only when this collaborative process is undertaken will people with disabilities experience acceptance in Pacific societies.

Persons with disabilities in the Pacific are often excluded from the mainstream of the society and denied their human rights. Research has shown that discrimination against persons with disabilities takes various forms, ranging from invidious discrimination, such as the denial of educational opportunities, to more subtle forms of discrimination, such as segregation and isolation because of the imposition of physical and social barriers. The effects of disability-based discrimination have been particularly severe in fields such as education, employment, housing, transport, cultural life and access to public places and services. This may result from distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference, or denial of reasonable accommodation on the basis of disablement, which effectively nullifies or impairs the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of the rights of persons with disabilities.

There are cultural and social barriers that deter full participation of persons with disabilities in our Pacific community and discriminatory practices may be the result of social and cultural norms that have been institutionalized by law. Changes in the perception and concepts of disability involve changes in values, and increased understanding at all levels of society, and a focus on those social and cultural norms, that can bring about false and inappropriate myths about disability. One of the dominant features of legal thinking in twentieth century has been the recognition of law as a tool of social change. Though legislation is not the only means of social progress, it represents one of the most powerful vehicles of change, progress and development in society.

The Pacific Disability Forum acts as a peak body for Disabled People’s Organisations across the Pacific. As part of their mission to improve the situation of persons with disabilities, they run programs for women and youth with disabilities, research, advocacy, capacity building and development.

There are two key documents guiding the regional response to issues relating to disability– The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted by the UN in December 2006 and came into force in May 2008. The Convention, which is legally binding, provides a comprehensive framework for the realisation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities. It is also a tool for disability inclusive development.

To date, eleven Pacific Islands Forum countries have ratified the Convention: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. A further four have signed with the intention to ratify: Federated States of Micronesia,  Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga.

The Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was endorsed by Forum Leaders in 2016. It supports Pacific governments to promote, protect and fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities as outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with. It also provides a regional modality to strengthen coordination and collaboration in support of national initiatives.

The Framework has five broad goals:

  1. Livelihoods – promote opportunities through inclusive economic development and decent work.
  2. Mainstreaming – ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are included in development strategies, national and local policies and community services.
  3. Leadership and Enabling Environment – Develop leadership and an enabling environment for rights based disability inclusive development.
  4. Disaster Risk Management – Include persons with a disability in climate change adaptation measures and disaster risk management plans and policies.
  5. Evidence – Strengthen disability research statistics and analysis.

Promote opportunities through inclusive economic development and decent work


Economic development should be inclusive, and no group of people, such as persons with disabilities, should be left out. Inclusive development values and incorporates the contributions of all stakeholders, especially marginalised and vulnerable groups. It also seeks to ensure that the benefits of development are equitably shared.

Employment is an area where persons with disabilities experience significant discrimination and marginalisation. This is reflected in their much higher unemployment rates, their exclusion from the open labour market, their lower wages, and their greater susceptibility to poverty.

The 2012 UNESCAP report on Disability, Livelihood and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific found that amongst persons with disabilities, those with hearing impairments and psychosocial disabilities are the least likely to obtain employment. Women are also disadvantaged. The research noted that they are often provided unpaid labour or frequently work under the worst conditions and for less pay. Women with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination due to their being female, disabled and poor.

Economic exclusion not only pushes persons with disabilities into poverty, but also limits their effective participation and decision making, including access to important social services and increases the overall economic burden on governments. The research states that “Having a person with a disability in a household increases the incidence of household and individual income poverty. Likewise, household poverty is more likely to limit the access that persons with disabilities have to basic services, education and financial support. … The gap between having an income and being able to meet livelihood needs is magnified in the case of persons with disabilities who have to support dependents.” (Ibid)

Article 27 of the CRPD upholds the right to work on an equal basis with others, including the right to earn a living from a freely chosen and accessible workplace on the open market. States are required to take appropriate measures, including through legislation, to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in all aspects of employment and to protect the equal rights of persons with disabilities to just and decent working conditions, including equal pay, vocational training, and reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Reasonable accommodation, an important concept enshrined in the Convention, entails an obligation to make tailor made adjustments to the social or physical environment, including the workplace, in order to accommodate the particular needs of a person with disability.

Persons must be actively empowered and given every opportunity to obtain decent work to contribute to their own livelihoods as well as the livelihoods of their families and communities. “Promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the world of work is not only a matter of rights and social justice but also contributes to sustainable growth and development.” A 2009 ILO study found that economic losses related to the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the labour force are large and measurable, ranging from between 3 and 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Article 28 of the CRPD also calls for governments to recognise the right of persons with disabilities to “an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families” and “to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability.” Opportunities for both entrepreneurship and employment and decent work can help to improve the economic status and livelihoods of persons with disabilities. This can be better achieved by removing barriers to employment, including discriminatory law and inaccessible workplaces, and promoting private sector initiatives in support of entrepreneurial activities by persons with disabilities.


  1. Promote inclusive employment and decent work with reasonable accommodation;
  2. Promote entrepreneurship for persons with disabilities across the region.


  1. Work and employment opportunities in both the public and private sectors are improved for persons with disabilities (CRPD Article 27; Incheon Target 1.B);
  2. Persons with disabilities, particularly women with disabilities, are included in regional and national private sector organisations;
  3. Persons with disabilities (men, women and youth) participate in vocational training and small business training courses (Incheon Target 1.C);
  4. More FICs sign and ratify ILO Convention 159 on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Disabled Persons).

Ensure the rights of persons with disabilities are included in development strategies, national and local policies and community services


Mainstreaming is critical to achieving disability inclusive development. It refers to the process by which governments, civil society and other stakeholders ensure that disability is an integral part of the development process. In other words, mainstreaming is about bringing a disability lens and the perspective of persons with disabilities into all elements of development rather than setting them apart and addressing ‘disability’ as a separate concern. Practically this means all policies, programmes and services specifically make provision for and address the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. Therefore, governments need to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal recognition before the law (CRPD Article 12) and have access, on an equal basis with others, to justice (CRPD Article 13), education (CRPD Article 24), health (CRPD Article 25), work and employment (CRPD Article 27) and social protection (CRPD Article 28). Article 29 of the CRPD refers to participation in political and public life for persons with disabilities in all levels of government.

The Preamble to the CRPD emphasises “the importance of mainstreaming disability issues as an integral part of relevant strategies of sustainable development” and considers that “persons with disabilities should have the opportunity to be actively involved in decision-making processes about policies and programmes, including those directly concerning them.” Article 4.3 makes it a duty for governments to “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations” when developing and implementing legislation and policies to implement the CRPD, and in other decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities. As the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development has recognised in 2016, “bringing persons with disabilities explicitly into mainstream development discourse will … enable the world to realize that there is immense untapped potential to transform the world into a better place for all people.”

When mainstreaming disability into policies, programmes and services, it is important that women are explicitly identified. This is to ensure that they have equal access to development opportunities, representation in government decision making, and sexual and reproductive health services, and that their special vulnerabilities to intersectional discrimination including all forms of violence are addressed.

Mainstreaming should take place at all levels and across all sectors starting with National Development Strategies. It provides an opportunity to integrate the accepted recommendations of international human rights mechanisms such as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) into national development plans, strategies, legislation and programmes.

Inclusive education is a core component of disability mainstreaming and provides the key to building an inclusive society. Education also provides the best foundation for future livelihoods. Persons with disabilities with good literacy and numeracy skills and formal schooling as well as post-secondary education and training are more likely to gain meaningful employment and secure livelihoods.

Children with disabilities make up at least one third of all children who do not attend school. It has been estimated that globally up to 90% of children with disability in developing countries do not attend school (UNESCO, 2015). A far larger number of students with disabilities drop out of primary school because of various barriers and do not progress to secondary and tertiary education. The CRPD requires state parties to ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning. This means that persons with disabilities must have access to an inclusive, quality and free primary education, and secondary and post-secondary education on an equal basis with others, in the communities in which they live. (CRPD Article 24). The reviewed Pacific Education Development Framework also highlights the importance of disability inclusive education.

In 2012, the report of the Secretary General of the UN, on Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda: towards 2015 and beyond, to the Commission for Social Development, highlighted the lack of stakeholder capacity as a key obstacle to mainstreaming disability in development. Mainstreaming, therefore, also requires a focus on capacity development.

Target 2.A and 2.B of the Incheon Strategy can also be applied to this goal.


  1. Mainstream human rights of persons with disabilities across all policies, legislation, programmes and services;
  2. Promote and build awareness of mainstreaming the rights of persons with disabilities;
  3. Build capacity of all stakeholders to implement disability mainstreaming; d. Ensure that persons with disabilities are actively included in and are able to contribute to national and regional development as equal partners.


  1. Regional Organisations develop internal disability policies to ensure that their policies, programmes and budgets include and benefit persons with disabilities and that their monitoring and reporting are disability inclusive;
  2. All national sustainable development strategies, policies, programmes, budget and services address disability issues across all sectors, including as recommended by international human rights mechanisms such as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UPR;
  3. Inclusive education policies aligned to the CRPD are developed and implemented and persons with disabilities enjoy equal access to inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning;
  4. Persons with disabilities, including women with disabilities, actively participate in the development of new policy and are included in policy and programme reviews and evaluations at both national and regional levels (CRPD Article 29; Incheon Target 2.A);
  5. Civil society organisations (CSOs), including, churches and faith based organisations, integrate the needs of persons with disabilities into their programmes and services.

Develop leadership and an enabling environment for rights based disability inclusive development


If inclusive development and mainstreaming are to be effective, strong leadership in these areas must be encouraged and supported. Effective leaders, including church, educational, traditional, civil society, community, private sector and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) leaders, who can champion the rights of persons with disabilities as expressed through the CRPD, are essential to promoting a culture of inclusion and an enabling environment where plans, policies and programmes address the rights of persons with disabilities. Leadership development must include senior officers in sectoral and central ministries as key stakeholders and persons with disabilities themselves should be promoted into leadership positions as they are best placed to advocate for their needs. Article 19 of the CRPD refers to persons with disabilities’ “full inclusion and participation in the community.” Political and community leaders also need to understand their obligations under the CRPD to address the realisation of human rights for persons with disabilities.

Leadership also comes through institutions, particularly Parliament and committees of Parliament. Persons with disabilities can seek the support of their local Member of Parliament, or Congress to gain access to Parliament committees, especially select committees, to voice their concerns on issues affecting them. At the third FDMM in 2014, Ministers agreed to advocate for the establishment of parliamentary sub-committees on disability at the country level and develop a regional initiative supporting parliamentary committees on disability. Parliamentary committees, or select committees, can inquire into the status or issues surrounding certain community concerns. A parliamentary sub-committee on the status of persons with disabilities could inquire into the extent to which the articles of the CRPD are being upheld.

Women with disabilities should be encouraged to take leadership roles as their voice is the least heard, they generally have fewer leadership opportunities and tend to be underrepresented in national and provincial government. Article 6 of the CRPD refers to “full development, advancement and empowerment of women. “

The PRSD Tracking Report, as at July 2014, concluded that “very few persons with disabilities in the Pacific Region are in decision-making positions, at any level, and their lack of empowerment is reflected in almost every aspect of their lives” (page 5). Through strong leadership and active engagement of persons with disabilities as well as through their promotion, persons with disabilities can be empowered. Also, legal frameworks provide opportunities to mandate representation on decision making bodies at all levels and across all sectors.

Enabling institutional frameworks are essential to protecting and promoting disability rights and inclusion. Legal frameworks provide a foundation for promoting and protecting rights: they can define legal rights, stipulate the obligations of national governments and citizens, and establish governance mechanisms for implementation, enforcement and monitoring including procedures to deal with rights violations. Legal frameworks can also regulate accessibility to the physical, social, economic and cultural environment, as well as to services, information and communication.

Pacific countries that have ratified the CRPD have to fulfil certain legal obligations to implement, in their domestic law, all rights recognised in the Convention. They are required to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability by any person, organisation or private enterprise, to amend or abolish any existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that are discriminatory, and to guarantee to persons with disabilities equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds (CRPD, Articles 4 & 5).

The development of CRPD aligned legal frameworks is consistent with several key global and regional instruments and commitments including the Incheon Strategy, whose Target 9.B. calls for the harmonisation of national legislation with the Convention, and the post- 2015 development agenda, in particular Goal 10.3, which highlights the need to eliminate discriminatory laws and to promote appropriate legislation in order to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome. Goal 16.B also calls for non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development to be promoted and enforced in the context of creating peaceful and inclusive societies.


  1. Support CRPD training for political and community leaders as well as government ministries;
  2. Support leadership capacity building through DPOs, particularly for women with disabilities;
  3. Support the development, review, and strengthening of CRPD compliant national policy and legislation.
  4. Strengthen the representation of persons with disabilities in all relevant decision making bodies and ensure their active involvement in the development and monitoring of any policies and legislation affecting them.


  1. Political, civil society, church, faith based organisations, educational, private sector, traditional and women leaders are trained on the CRPD;
  2. All Government focal point officers for persons with disabilities are trained on the CRPD;
  3. Five FICs establish parliamentary sub-committees on disabilities;
  4. Women with disabilities appointed to leadership positions within government ministries, PSOs, DPOs and CSOs; v. National law reform processes are undertaken to harmonise national policies and legislation with the CRPD;
  5. Regional model legislative provisions are developed to guide national development of CRPD compliant legal frameworks.

Include persons with a disability in climate change adaptation measures and disaster risk management plans and policies


Most Pacific communities are vulnerable to natural hazards and disasters, particularly cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Very few communities have well equipped disaster response capabilities and rely instead on whole of-community mobilisation. Physical remoteness makes Pacific communities and persons with disabilities living in such communities particularly vulnerable. Recent experience of coastal and remote rural villages in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands have demonstrated the importance of having disaster management plans that address the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities, including persons with disabilities particularly women, children and older persons. Atoll countries are especially vulnerable given their limited land areas and limited options to escape the impacts of sea level rise and other natural hazards. All aspects of the disaster management cycle (mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery) must address the needs of persons with disabilities.

All Forum Island Countries are highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change is already affecting livelihoods through droughts and threats to food and potable water security (especially in the atoll countries). Coastal communities and low lying urban communities are also threatened through sea level rise and increased likelihood of severe tropical storms and cyclones. Article 11 of the CRPD refers to the need to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities during situations of risk, including humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters. Goal 7 of the Incheon Strategy in turn calls for disability inclusive disaster risk reduction and management, recognising that persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups face a higher risk of death, injury and additional impairments on account of their exclusion from disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes.

The UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030, notes that “governments should engage with relevant stakeholders including women, children and youth, persons with disabilities, poor people … [and] older people in the design and implementation of policies, plans and standards … disaster risk reduction requires an all-of-society engagement and partnership. It also requires empowerment and inclusive, accessible and non-discriminatory participation“(Paragraphs 7 and 19(d)). The Sendai Framework also notes that “empowering women and persons with disabilities to publicly lead and promote gender equitable and universally accessible response, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction approaches is key. “(Paragraph 32). The outcome of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the ‘Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action’ provide useful guidelines to support deliberate life-saving actions and ensure the protection, safety and respect for the dignity of persons with disabilities in situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies.

Post-disaster needs assessments should ensure that persons with disabilities are included, not only in recognition of their needs but also as members of assessment teams. For example, following Cyclone Winston in Fiji in February 2016, local DPOs were involved in assessing the needs of persons with disabilities in the affected communities. The PDF is advising a number of countries on disability inclusive disaster risk management planning.


  1. Promote the development of regional guidelines for disability inclusive disaster risk management plans;
  2. Promote awareness of disability inclusive climate change resilience programmes and disaster risk management plans.


  1. All national climate change adaptation strategies, disaster risk management plans, and legal frameworks specifically address the needs of persons with disabilities, especially women, children and older persons (CRPD Article 11 ; Incheon Target 7.A);
  2. Post-disaster needs and sectoral assessments conducted in the region are inclusive of persons with disabilities (Incheon Target 7.B);

Strengthen disability research statistics and analysis


The mainstreaming of issues concerning persons with disabilities in policies and programmes is supported and strengthened by a strong evidence base. There is a need to undertake a wider variety of qualitative and quantitative research to ensure that mainstreaming is well supported and policies and programmes accurately reflect the needs and aspirations of persons with disabilities.

Statistics can be improved by ensuring that national household census questionnaires and other national surveys, such as Household Income and Expenditure Surveys and Demographic Health Surveys, include questions on disabilities. The ‘Washington Group on Disability Statistics’ (Washington Group) has developed a short set of standard questions for national census surveys with the main objective of promoting and coordinating international cooperation on disability measures suitable for censuses and national surveys. The aim is to provide basic information on disability which is comparable throughout the world. A number of FICs have adopted the Washington Group of questions on disability for their national census surveys and ongoing support is being provided by development partners with other governments in the region.

Article 31 of the CRPD refers to the undertaking of governments to “collect appropriate information, including statistical and research data, to enable them to formulate and implement policies to give effect to the present Convention.” Similarly, the Incheon Strategy (Goal 8) has highlighted the need to enhance data collection (including baseline data) to support the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities.

Sex disaggregated disability data from statistics and social research is needed to develop evidence-based policies and plans, to justify budget allocations on disability programmes, to monitor implementation of disability initiatives and to evaluate the impact of policies to ensure that the quality of life for persons with disabilities is improving and their rights realised, particularly that of women and girls with disabilities.

Every government that has ratified the CRPD should undertake, in partnership with DPOs, regular monitoring and reporting of implementation to measure change, gather quantitative and qualitative data from persons with disabilities and compile a national database of evidence to inform future policy initiatives.

Special efforts need to be made to ensure that all research data is disaggregated, as required under Article 31.2 of the CRPD, to ensure that persons with disabilities, in particular women are fully counted and that their concerns are fully recognised in the data and analysis.

The 2012 UNESCAP study found that an “emerging trend in disability research recognises that the research process itself can give voice to persons with disabilities, building community understanding of the issues faced by persons with disabilities and their families, and feed information upwards to influence policy making.”

It is widely recognised that there is a need for more research to be undertaken on disabilities in the Pacific.


  1. Promote regional and national awareness of the need to strengthen and expand the disability evidence base;
  2. Promote the use of disability data.


  1. Continued regional support is provided to develop national census questionnaires that include questions on disability that meet the standards of the ‘Washington Group’ or similar internationally recognised data collection tools (CRPD Article 31; Incheon Target 8.A);
  2. Pacific island countries publish monographs on disability drawing on national survey and census data;
  3. DPOs in partnership with Disability Focal Points, regional and national educational institutions and research organisations design one piece of substantive research in the region every three years and seek funding to undertake and publish the research;
  4. National and regional research priorities identified;
  5. Database of disability research is compiled by national government focal point officers for persons with disabilities in partnership with national DPOs and shared with PIFS, SPC, PDF and other regional disability stakeholders; vi. Disability research is used to inform new policy development, policy reviews, evaluations and service provision.