As recently as fifteen years ago, disability was not broadly acknowledged as a human rights issue. Although there were prior cases decided in the United States and in Europe that, retrospectively, had been litigated from a human rights perspective1 the characterization of "disability rights" (especially the rights of persons with mental disabilities) was not discussed in a global public, political or legal debate until the early 1990s. Instead, disability was seen only as a medical problem of the individual requiring a treatment or cure. By contrast, viewing disability as a human rights issue requires us to recognize the inherent equality of all people, regardless of abilities, disabilities, or differences, and obligates society to remove the attitudinal and physical barriers to equality and inclusion of people with disabilities.
The recent ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Mental Disabilities (CRPD) has the potential to create the most significant tectonic plate shift in mental disability law since the United States Supreme Court, finally, in 1972, agreed that the due process clause of the US Constitution applied to persons institutionalized because of mental disability. I believe that this new international law truly has the potential to force us to reconceptualize everything that we have thought of as the "accumulated truths" of mental disability law.
Northern Illinois University Law Review, Vol. 29, Issue 3 (Summer 2009), pp. 483-498