Sheltered work and intellectual disability equality: Can the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities tackle this form of segregation?

May-Simera, Charlotte
This thesis is a theoretical study that addresses the enduring segregation of people with intellectual disabilities in sheltered work environments. Having identified that many people with intellectual disabilities remain in such institutions, the study addresses this problematic practice by reviewing the available literature on the subject. This review finds that sheltered work is an approach to employing people with disabilities that is replicated across the globe in some shape or form. Although strict definitions of sheltered work are difficult to agree on, these typically function as a type of institution and serve to exclude certain groups from participating fully in society. It is argued, therefore, that due to its segregated nature, sheltered work possibly constitutes a form of discrimination on the basis of disability that perpetuates intellectual disability inequality. Having identified continuing concerns with the practice of sheltered work, this thesis investigates how, from an equality perspective, the subject has remained largely unchallenged. The research finds that this lacuna is rooted in the common perception that most persons in sheltered work are regarded as fundamentally unequal. By exploring the liberal tradition of equality, which assumes that only eligible persons have an equal right to liberty, and by applying Rawlsian thought to the governance of societies, this research considers how members of society enjoy citizenship and rights. It is argued that people with intellectual disabilities are considered unequal, as they are incapable of engaging in the implicit social contract. Despite the evolution of the concept of equality over time, subsequent approaches to equality have failed to adequately embrace intellectual disability. It was envisaged that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) would help rectify the many persistent inequalities faced by people with disabilities. This study then explores its potential to achieve intellectual disability equality and examines its impact on sheltered work. The future of these work settings is considered by exploring how the CRPD can be interpreted in regard to sheltered work, using three pivotal sources: the travaux préparatoires, the State Reports, and a General Comment prepared by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CmRPD). This analysis has revealed that, despite its noble intentions, the CRPD is nevertheless a product of law and exists within the confines of existing binary tensions - between international and domestic levels, civil and political and socio-economic rights, and rights and protection. As a result, the CRPD’s ability to effectively challenge the practice of sheltered work is potentially limited. This is because the concept of equality it operationalises is not sensitive enough to specifically target segregation in sheltered work as a form of discrimination. Furthermore, the CmRPD has not sufficiently clarified its interpretation of the CRPD in relation to its application for sheltered work. This thesis proposes a more appropriate, intellectual disability-sensitive, model of equality that is based on a human rights model of disability.
NUI Galway
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland