Annual Conference Focuses on the Human Rights of People with Disabilities

Sep. 16, 2013

ST. LOUIS -  Webster University's 2013 annual Human Rights Conference will focus on the rights of those with disabilities, many of whom are legally discriminated against, abused and shunned in countries around the world. The conference, which is hosted by the College of Arts & Sciences Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, will be held on Oct. 9 and 10 on the Webster Groves campus.

 “Almost ten percent of the world's population has physical or mental impairments, yet discrimination against persons with disabilities is the norm rather than the exception,” said Andrea Miller, a fellow for Webster's Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies. “In many countries, persons with disabilities are warehoused in degrading and dangerous conditions, apart from their families and friends. The abuse of persons with disabilities, sometimes reaching the legal definition of torture, goes largely unseen or unacknowledged.”

Sight-impaired human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped from house arrest in China last year after several years of imprisonment and torture, is the keynote speaker.

The two-day conference will bring together issue leaders and pioneers in the struggle to recognize disability rights as an international human rights issue. They will discuss numerous topics, from conditions around the world to the failure of the United States to sign the United Nations' Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention, modeled in ways on the Americans with Disabilities Act, set a new standard for legal equality and equality of opportunity worldwide, but numerous countries have failed to ratify it.

“People often think about human rights issues as problems that happen ‘out there,' in far-away places,” said Lindsey Kingston, director of the Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies . “We want to stress that individuals with physical and mental disabilities face discrimination and various challenges at home and abroad. This year's focus on Disability Rights provides us with the space to talk about disability in a human rights context, and that includes discussing problems as well as solutions.”

Speakers and special guests at this year's conference include:

Chen GuangchengChen Guangcheng, who began his human rights advocacy working in rural China with people with disabilities. He first ­­­­­­petitioned the Chinese government over taxes levied against the disabled, including himself. Guangcheng, a self-taught lawyer, was arrested in 2006 and was sentenced to more than four years in prison. Upon his release in 2010, he was placed under house arrest and subjected to beatings and harassment. Guangcheng escaped to Beijing in April 2012, where he requested asylum at the United States embassy.

Marca BistroMarca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living, an organization that helps develop independent living skills, supports public education, and advocates for those with disabilities. She helped create the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and served as the presidential-appointed chairperson of the National Council on Disability from 1994-2002. She was also influential in negotiations for the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sofia GalvanSofía Galván Puente, director of Disability Rights International for Mexico and Central America. Galván has worked in both branches of the Inter-American Human Rights System: the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Galvan emphasizes protecting the right of children with disabilities.

Raul Montoya

Raúl Montoya Santamaría, executive director of the Colectivo Chuhcan, which was the first organization of people with psycho-social disabilities in Mexico. Santamaria stresses the importance of fully integrating people with disabilities into society, as well as the importance of reforming laws regarding the guardianship of institutionalized people with disabilities.


Jean Francois TraniJean-Francois Trani, an assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in Saint Louis. His work lies at the intersection of mental health, disability, vulnerability, and poverty. Trani's research has contributed to the policy papers of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Health in Afghanistan regarding disability issues.


Also appearing will be the DisAbility Project and Common Threads Dance Company, an organization of performing artists that empowers individuals, honors their stories, sparks imaginations, fosters community, encourages civic dialogue, and enhances public awareness about disability through innovative theater of the highest quality.

This is the sixth annual Human Rights Conference held at the University's Webster Groves Campus. Previous events have focused on women's rights, refugee and migrant rights, and the rights of indigenous and stateless people.

For more information about this year's Human Right's Conference or to register online, visit