Breaking down international disability rights and 3 ways to help

What is the UN CRPD and how are disability rights protected at an international level?

Child is held by her mother in an outdoor setting. The child rest her hand and her head on her mother's shoulder. The photo is connected to the article about international disability rights.

My humble call to action for you all is to believe that every child can learn. To believe that we teachers need more support to help children with disabilities learn. So then together, we can act to build a world where everyone belongs.”

— Daniela Gissara at the UN Transforming Education Summit

As a global NGO dedicated to helping children with disabilities find their place in the world, Perkins School for the Blind advocates for international disability rights in the United States and our programs worldwide. Perkins’ work is based on two conventions adopted by the United Nations (UN). 

Too often, children and young adults with disabilities are excluded from school, community, and work opportunities because of their disability. Additionally, some folks mean well and want to help, but don’t have the knowledge or support to make an impact. 

That’s why we’re here to clear up common questions about international disability rights like:

What does all this mean and why does it matter? Let’s start with human rights. 

International human rights: how did we get here?

It’s time for a flash history lesson! After the end of World War II in 1945, nations everywhere entered a rebuilding phase. The average family struggled to transition into a new world order after years of loss and violence. 

By 1948, the United Nations established an international human rights bill to protect peace and human lives for future generations. This bill included declarations and convents that outlined the rights of all humans and 48 countries signed this treaty. In June 1962, the Lantern, a quarterly Perkins publication, published an editorial on the recent international human rights efforts and what that could mean for all minority groups in the future.

In this progress we may all share — professionals and the laity alike, both blind and physically intact. Only by insisting that in our own lives we recognize and support the dignity and human rights of every individual can the social changes take place without which the status of the blind will always be that of second-class citizens.”

June 1962: The Lantern Vol. XXXII, No. 4, a Perkins publication

Since then, there have been more conventions added and ratified by countries in an effort to keep governments accountable and people protected. As of 2024, there are 18 human rights treaties, or conventions, which include international disability rights.

Enter the CRC: international child rights

If children are human, wouldn’t human rights laws apply to children? Well, yes and no. Yes, because children are humans. And no, because the articles in the original bill of human rights are too broad to cover the specific protections children need before reaching adulthood.

The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set a global human rights agenda for those under 18 years old. Children are identified in the treaty as “rights holders”— as are their parents. Countries that have signed on are identified as “state parties” in the legislation and are also known as “duty bearers,” meaning they have a duty and obligation to uphold these rights.

The rights in the CRC are established as “articles” and detail what applies to the rights holder. Articles within the treaty are organized under these four principles:

  1. Non-discrimination
  2. Best interests of the child
  3. Life, survival, and development
  4. Views given due weight

From here, they can be broken into five categories: 

  1. Civil rights and freedoms
  2. Family environment and alternative care
  3. Health and welfare
  4. Education, leisure, culture
  5. Special protection measures (emergencies, minority groups, or child exploitation)

These rights also depend on one another. For example, if State Parties don’t uphold health and welfare rights then other rights like education, leisure, and culture will be affected. 

You might be shocked to learn that the CRC wasn’t officially adopted until 1990 even though the topic had been under discussion and debated for decades before. Even more surprising, the United States is one of two countries that has not ratified this convention or the CRPD (but we’ll get to that). The USA did, however, include some of the language from this convention in its federal and state policies. 

Enter the CRPD: international disability rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted in 2006 to address the discrimination and marginalization faced by persons with disabilities globally. 

While the CRC protects children under 18, it left gaps in protections when it came to children with disabilities. Similarly, the original human rights bill did not protect adults with disabilities. In fact, the world’s view of people with disabilities is still largely ableist

The CRPD states that persons with disabilities should have the same rights as everyone else and should be involved in making decisions that affect their lives.

It also emphasizes that people with disabilities should have their dignity respected and their voices heard. The CRPD tells countries to remove obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from participating in all aspects of life.

Connecting the CRC and CRPD

Let’s take a closer look at three articles from the CRC and three articles from the CRPD. We chose these six articles because they cover different aspects of life for children and persons with disabilities. What’s more, some of the CRC articles created a foundation for the CRPD articles so it’s important to discuss both. 

CRC Article 3: Best interest of the child

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.


Everything must be in the best interest of the child. That includes decisions made by governments, public and private institutions — every decision must prioritize what is best for the child. 

Children are not property and their overall well being must be prioritized first in any decision about the child. 

CRC Article 23: Children with disabilities

1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.

2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.

3. Recognizing the unique needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development


Children with disabilities have the right to enjoy a full life, with dignity, and to participate in their community. State Parties agree that children with disabilities should have a good life, with support for their needs and opportunities to participate in society. They’ll provide free assistance whenever possible, including education and healthcare, to help them integrate into society and develop as individuals.

CRC Article 28: Right to an education

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

1a. Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

1b. Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

1c. Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

1d. Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

1e. Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.


Every child has the right to an education. Primary education should be mandatory and free. Different forms of secondary education should be available to every child. 

CRPD Article 19: Living independently

States Parties to this Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:

a. Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;

b. Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;

c. Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.


People with disabilities have the right to live independently and choose whom they live with. They must have access to the support and services they need to live independently. This also means they are not to be isolated from their community. 

CRPD Article 23: Respect for the home and the family

1. States Parties shall take effective and appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others, so as to ensure that:

1a. The right of all persons with disabilities who are of marriageable age to marry and to found a family on the basis of free and full consent of the intending spouses is recognized;

1b. The rights of persons with disabilities to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to age-appropriate information, reproductive and family planning education are recognized, and the means necessary to enable them to exercise these rights are provided;

1c. Persons with disabilities, including children, retain their fertility on an equal basis with others.

2. States Parties shall ensure the rights and responsibilities of persons with disabilities, with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship, adoption of children or similar institutions, where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the best interests of the child shall be paramount. States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to persons with disabilities in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities.

3. States Parties shall ensure that children with disabilities have equal rights with respect to family life. With a view to realizing these rights, and to prevent concealment, abandonment, neglect and segregation of children with disabilities, States Parties shall undertake to provide early and comprehensive information, services and support to children with disabilities and their families.


People with disabilities (of age) have the right to marry and start a family. They should have equal access to services, whether that’s through treatment, adoption, or others. Children with disabilities should have equal rights in their family life. Governments, institutions, and decision-makers should never tolerate any abuse or neglect.

CRPD Article 24: Education

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education. With a view to realizing this right without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity, States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and lifelong learning directed to:

1a. The full development of human potential and sense of dignity and self-worth, and the strengthening of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and human diversity;

1b. The development by persons with disabilities of their personality, talents and creativity, as well as their mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential;

1c. Enabling persons with disabilities to participate effectively in a free society.

2. In realizing this right, States Parties shall ensure that:

2a. Persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability, and that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability;

2b. Persons with disabilities can access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live;

2c. Reasonable accommodation of the individual’s requirements is provided;

3. States Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community. To this end, States Parties shall take appropriate measures, including:

3a. Facilitating the learning of Braille, alternative script, augmentative and alternative modes, means and formats of communication and orientation and mobility skills, and facilitating peer support and mentoring;

3b. Facilitating the learning of sign language and the promotion of the linguistic identity of the deaf community;


People with disabilities have the right to an education that is inclusive and supportive based on their needs. Do not exclude them from learning and teach them in a way that doesn’t dehumanize them or damage their self-worth. Children with complex disabilities should have their needs met with specific skills they need to live an equal life. 

Why this knowledge matters

Just because a country signs on to a treaty doesn’t mean everything is resolved. Governments need to be held accountable for human rights violations and the only way people can defend their rights is to become informed. International disability rights are still vulnerable and there are numbers to back it up.

Recent data from UNICEF shows there is still progress to make in securing rights for everyone in the world.

2.7m children in residential care

In Eastern Europe, the majority of children in residential care (orphanages) are children with disabilities.

86% of children with disabilities experienced violent discipline

Compared to 81% of kids without disabilities.

160m children involved in child laborOf this number 79 million do hazardous work. The number of children with disabilities involved in child labor is unknown.

3 ways to make an impact

The data is alarming and the time to act is now. International disability rights advocates need support. Here are three ways to help no matter where you are.

How Perkins upholds international disability rights

Perkins School for the Blind has reached children with disabilities in 97 countries. In 2023 alone, we reached over 1.2 million children worldwide. The CRC and more specifically, the CRPD, are at the core of our advocacy and programs, and why we continue that work.

The United Nations recognized Perkins’ Project Pixan in Mexico as a “SDG Good Practice,” or “Sustainable Development Goals Good Practice.” In 2024, our Model Programs Approach received the Zero Project Award at the Zero Project Conference in Vienna. By partnering with local and federal governments, school systems, communities, and other organizations, we’re helping children with disabilities find their place in the world and you can too.

Help children with disabilities find their place in the world.

Perkins School for the Blind teams up with partners worldwide to unlock opportunities for children with disabilities in school and life. Your support allows us to continue this transformative work.

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