Whose rights are they anyway?

5 November 2022

At Difference, we want to dismantle the barriers that exclude disabled people from participating. A rights-based approach seeks ways to respect, support and celebrate human diversity which means not only allowing, but supporting the full participation of disabled people.

A Human Rights-Based Approach

Last year we took part in a community research project with the Social Rights Alliance. Nic, Difference’s Project Officer was one of a group of activists from around the UK who used action research to explore what a Human Rights-Based Approach might mean to their campaign work on social justice issues in their communities. For us at Difference, the learning from that project has thrown up lots of questions about voice, influence, and participation for disabled people here in the North East. As a result of that learning we also began seeing our work through the lens of rights-based approaches and to use this to challenge discrimination through our campaign work.

The action research project, which you can find out more about in our film here, allowed that group of activists to delve into and play with the principles used in rights-based approaches across social justice work, known as the PANEL principles. These principles are a useful framework for looking at and thinking about what taking a human-rights based approach might be. PANEL stands for:

  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Non-discrimination
  • Empowerment
  • Legality

We came back to these principles again and again to ask ‘who owns these’ and how helpful are they in practice. We spent a lot of time picking them apart, questioning what they mean in practice for marginalised groups. We asked what a more meaningful approach could be and came up with a manifesto of points that went something like this:

  • Solidarity
  • Power
  • Access
  • Accountability
  • Intersectionality

These were not devised as a replacement to the PANEL framework but as focus points to aid us in claiming the right to talk about rights as a springboard for social change and inclusive action. You can read our manifesto in more detail here, to dig a bit deeper into what we meant by these focus points.

You can read a more in-depth report that came out of that project here: Whose-rights-are-they-anyway


Disability and Human Rights

A few weeks ago, we were joined by Sanchita Hosali from the British Institute of Human Rights, and Helen Flynn from Just Fair for an online discussion about human rights and disability. You can watch a recording of that event here.


‘We all live multiple identity lives and all of us experience the rights in more than one of these treaties… that’s a real strength of Human Rights. The way that they offer us protection exactly as we are in the really complicated overlapping lives that each of us lead.’ -Helen Flynn, Just Fair 

Sanchita talked about the importance of co-production and accessible information and how we can use our Human Rights Act every day through advocacy. She also highlighted the importance of centering the lived experience of disabled people in this work and using our Human Rights Act to challenge poor discriminatory treatment. We also looked at some of the ways we can challenge government attempts at implementing the Rights Removal Bill. You can access an Easy Read guide from BIHR here.

Helen talked about how important it is that we have the ‘Right to Talk about Rights’, and how this allows us to use our rights to challenge discrimination. She gave us an overview of the Human Rights obligations that are in place, including the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) and the ways in which rights-based approaches can help us enact change on the ground.

You can access some of the resources that Sanchita and Helen kindly shared here:

Sanchita BIHR Human Rights Slides 10 Oct 2022.pdf

Helen Flynn- Just Fair PowerPoint Slides

An illstration of a profile of a face with a heart shape blossoming from its mouth.

Human Rights Defenders

As we move forward as a very small organisation, but one that is passionate about social change for disabled people in the North East and beyond, we commit ourselves to a rights-based approach. We must ensure that disabled people enjoy meaningful participation. Enjoy the right to talk about their rights. Enjoy our human rights.

So, it is these focus points that Difference takes forward in using a rights-based approach in our work and we challenge those we work with to do the same. To refer back to the Eleanor Roosevelt quote that Helen mentions in the recording (insert recording here again), without the right to talk about rights, to be able to uphold them as our own ‘we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.’


Join us as a member to help dismantle discrimination based on disability.