Oliver Lewis addresses UN Disability Committee in Geneva

Oliver Lewis, new Professor of Law and Social Justice at the School of Law was a guest speaker at the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday 19 April.

Oliver attended the event in capacity as the Executive Director of the Mental Disability Advocacy Bureau (MDAC) and presented ideas on community living in relation to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He was asked to discuss the key challenges in the transition from institutionalisation to the use of support services in the community and these are the key points he shared:

  1. The operative verb in Article 19 is “recognise”. That means that governments must adopt legislation to make community a right in their domestic law. It needs to be a right that people are able to go to domestic courts and claim, and one that judges can order.
  2. It’s the experience of MDAC that deinstitutionalisation strategies often fail to set measurable indicators for progress. They can operate with unreasonably long timelines or exclude certain groups of people or institutions. For example, the Hungarian government adopted a strategy in 2011 with a 30-year implementation period that lacks intermediate measures and excludes children’s institutions and institutions for people with psychosocial disabilities. A time frame of 30 years is plainly unacceptable. It would be good if the Committee could offer guidance. Perhaps the process could be completed in 5 years, 7 or 8? Please give guidance.  
  3. Second, let’s not focus only on DI, which means evacuation. A19 means living in the community, with choice and control, access to mainstream services, and provision of individualised supports. This means community investments – in inclusive education, vocational training, supports for employment, access to housing stock and so on. 
  4. Governments should treat people who have lived in institutions as victims of torture, inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment or punishment. Such victims are entitled to physical, cognitive, psychological and legal recovery, rehabilitation and social reintegration measures mandated under Article 16(4) of the CRPD, coupled with Articles 25 and 26. 
  5. Finally, DI often ends up being trans-institutionalisation. This occurs when people are shifted from one institution into another, usually smaller, newer, warmer and less smelly. The second institution is always called something other than “institution”, usually the names sound lovely like social care home or living centre, or reassuringly clinical like assessment unit. Even in the new smaller residential set-up, an institutional culture often pervades. In Moldova MDAC is currently investigating how 14 young adults were transferred from an institution into “community homes” that are houses where the residents receive education and where most of their daily activities actually take place in isolation from the community. In Romania NGOs have raised concerns about a new governmental scheme that transfers people into “protected homes” where, again, an institutional culture pervades. Trans-institutionalisation results in violations of Article 19 and other provisions of the CRPD. 

To find out more about Oliver Lewis and work he is engaged in visit his profile on the Disability Law Hub web pages of our website.