The MS International Federation actively promoted and encouraged people and organisations to join the global campaign for the ratification of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the Convention) and the Optional Protocol by governments around the world.

The Convention was adopted by the United Nations’ General Assembly in December 2006 and opened for signing at the UN headquarters in New York on 30 March 2007.

When a government signs the Convention it indicates general support for the principles expressed in it and signifies a government’s intention to become legally bound by it. However, governments can sign the Convention without being required to take any domestic action.

Once it has signed the Convention a government can choose to ratify it and become a “state-party” to the Convention.

A UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities monitors implementation of the Convention and the Optional Protocol by governments. The Optional Protocol, which exists alongside the Convention, allows for the UN Committee to “receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals subject to its jurisdiction who claim to be victims of a violation by that State Party of the provisions of the Convention”. In other words, individuals and groups will have the right to petition the UN Committee once they have exhausted all avenues within their own country.


The purpose of the Convention is to:

  • Promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
  • The Convention defines ‘persons with disabilities’ as those with long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The Convention has the potential to have a major impact on the lives of people with disabilities, including many people with MS, around the world.

The Convention also reinforces the importance of the Principles to Promote the Quality of Life of People with MS published by the MS International Federation in 2005. Like the Principles, the Convention reaches far beyond medical care to a broad range of other domains.

However, unlike the Principles, the Convention is legally binding on the states that have ratified it, providing a framework for the development of policy and legislation and legal back-up for the Principles.

The Articles expressed in summary in the present Convention are listed as:

  • Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
  • Non-discrimination
  • Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
  • Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Accessibility
  • Equality between men and women
  • Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities.

The full text of the Convention and its Optional Protocol has detailed ‘Articles’, imposing certain duties on state parties, for example in relation to women with disabilities, accessibility, equal recognition before the law, support for living in the community, support for the family, rights to employment, providing accessible information, undertaking or promoting research and development of universally designed goods, services, equipment and facilities for people with disabilities.

Woman with MS in a car park in Napoli, Italy

Napoli, Italy, 03/2012. At present, Stefania Salzillo has no mobility problems; but she can see how poor infrastructure affects people who are more disabled. “There are very few parking lots for disabled, and most public and private buildings do not have the appropriate access facilities,” she says, leaving the Court of Justice in Napoli. “This forces disabled people to isolate themselves: they stop working, they give up their social life and even sports.” Credit: Walter Astrada. Published on this website by kind permission of the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform.

Woman using canes to descend steps to a public building in Italy

San Quirico D'Orcia, Italy, 02/2012. Martina Vagini has balance problems; in addition to using canes, she takes the trouble to go to the side of a wide staircase to be close to the railing. In a country like Italy, disability and history create a difficult barrier: laws that encourage (or even mandate) public buildings to improve accessibility often collide with laws that protect artistic heritage. Italy ranks fifth in the world as a tourist destination: in difficult economic times, beauty for the visitor often trumps access for the locals. Credit: Carlos Spottorno. Published on this website by kind permission of the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform.