Let’s talk with Colin Allen

colin allen wfd

This month we present the first part of a two part interview with the World Federation for the Deaf (WFD) President and newly elected Chair of the International Disability Alliance.

Colin is deaf and was raised in a deaf family in Sydney. He is a highly respected world leader in Deaf Community development, human rights and advocacy. In July 2011 Colin was elected President of the World Federation of the Deaf. He has worked in a number of development co-operation projects all over the world and has led local and national deaf associations in Australia. He was President of the Australian Association of the Deaf (now Deaf Australia) for nine years and has been a board member of the World Federation of the Deaf since 2003. In July 2014 he was elected First Vice-Chair of the board of the International Disability Alliance and this month will succeed Maryanne Diamond as Chair.

British Deaf News caught up with Colin to find out more about him and his new role with the IDA.

Why did you decide to stand for election as IDA Chair? 

The current chair of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) is Maryanne Diamond AO, who is the Immediate Past President of the World Blind Union. Her two year term will conclude at the end of June 2016 so a new Chair was needed. The IDA’s Constitution states any of the 8 Global DPO members can serve as Chair and all must elect the IDA Chair. WFD is one of the Global DPO members, so I decided to stand and the WFD Board endorsed my nomination at the WFD Board Meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland (November, 2015). The last time that WFD President was elected as chair was in 1999.  It is a strategically significant time for WFD to hold the position of Chair. As I stated in the WFD Press Release about this (5 March 2016): “I am very pleased that as a deaf sign language user, I will be able to advance IDA goals and promote its vision in my own language – sign language – and perhaps through my international leadership hasten the removal of barriers experienced by other deaf people in the world, thereby pursuing and fulfilling the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals.”

colin allen with 2 others presenting

While I am very concerned about the removal of barriers for the Deaf Community, as Chair of IDA, I am equally keen that current obstacles experienced by all people with disabilities are eradicated as only then will we have a truly inclusive community.

This year is the 10th Year of UNCRPD so please tell us what IDA has achieved so far? And also what the IDA can offer going forward. How many staff do they have and where they are based? Do they have any projects in developing countries, if so, what? 

IDA was instrumental in establishing the International Disability Caucus (IDC), the network of global, regional and national organisations of persons with disabilities and allied non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which was to become a key player in the negotiations of the UN CRPD. The WFD was one of the founding members of IDA upon its establishment in 1999 and WFD Honorary President Dr Liisa Kauppinen was the inaugural chair of the IDA Board during 1999-2000.

IDA has two offices – one based in New York and one based in Geneva. There is currently a total of nine staff members in the IDA Secretariat, led by the Executive Director, Mr Vladimir Cuk who is based in New York, and the team is expected to grow by at least two to three more staff this year. These staff work on an amazing array of activities related to human rights of people with disabilities at the global level.

ida logoIDA is an international organisation which represents 15 members (8 Global Members, 5 Regional Members and 2 Observer Members). The scope of IDA’s work is to support IDA members, ensure that the official submissions represent the view of members, lead advocacy work based on the concept of “Ensure No One is Left Behind”, provide training to empower the National DPOs as well as host the regional conference. IDA has been active in all the forums and with a number of partners, some of which I have listed below, which gives you an idea of the volume of work in which they are engaged:

CRPD Committee Sessions, Committee on the Rights of the Child, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Committee on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, Human Rights Committee, European Court of Human Rights, The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UN General Assembly Session, Human Rights Council, World Bank, NFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, OHCHR, ILO and WHO.

IDA mostly works at an international level, but they do for example attend sessions and meetings and visits in developing countries, and also inform members of special visits e.g. by UN personnel so that member countries can prepare in advance so that their issues are brought to the fore during these visits and meetings.

What have IDA achieved for WFD? 

There are a number of examples in which IDA has addressed WFD’s concerns and has supported our work. These include:

• Supporting WFD’s Inclusive Education Statement including the right to use Sign Language

• Supporting several Submissions by WFD for the UN CRPD Committees

• Allowing WFD to feed into several Statements to UN Agencies

• Ensuring that several IDA Position Papers included our key messages on core rights for Deaf people (including cultural and linguistic rights)

• Improving accessibility by providing International Sign Interpretation at UN Events including the UN CRPD Committee Session Webinars (funded by IDA) and advocating for sign language provision by UN agencies and in CRPD side events

• Sharing information on opportunities to feed into submission processes at the UN which allows WFD to put its policy position clearly.

As WFD President and IDA Vice-Chair, I was in the fortunate position of attending the 2013 UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, the APEC Summit (High-level meeting on Equal Access and Inclusive Development for Persons with Disabilities), the UN Conference of States Parties to COSP, UNICEF Meetings and panel sessions hosted by the UN Agencies. In the coming month, I will also have the opportunity to address the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey at the session to launch the charter on the inclusion of persons with disabilities into humanitarian action.

WFD Board members including WFD Honorary Presidents also often become involved in various IDA Panel Sessions or are nominated for UN Agencies Meetings.

WFD has close collaboration with the IDA Secretariat in supporting our country members to prepare for and attend the CRPD Committee Sessions in Geneva, Switzerland.

What is your vision for leading IDA in the next two years? What will be the main challenges and opportunities? 

One of the primary goals of IDA is to ensure member states (governments) accomplish their commitments under the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by ensuring each sector of the International Disability Community is involved and not left behind. This happens both in the development of indicators to meet human rights needs and in monitoring progress against these indicators.

During my time as IDA Chair, the CRPD will celebrate its 10th Year of operation – IDA is intending to flag issues that need to be better addressed to properly implement the provisions of the CRPD. I would also like IDA to ensure that positions within the UN – particularly in the UN Framework are open to every person with disability – not simply the CRPD Committee. The UN itself must undertake significant work to become more inclusive.

How can WFD and IDA work with each other in the future? What are the key areas where they can achieve successes?

The main area is to ensure that No One is Left Behind within the International Deaf Community. This means that as countries introduce new laws, policies, programs, and develop the economic, cultural and political spheres, they must include all citizens including Deaf people. Deaf people and all people with disabilities have a right to live in society, have the right to a high quality of life in access to health, education, social services, employment, government services, and deserve professional sign language interpreting services. Many people do not realise that deaf people in many developing countries are far behind in achieving their rights– it is part of the role of WFD to work with IDA to make sure that rights are achieved globally, and that ‘no one is left behind’.

We also really want to work together to increase the accessibility of the United Nations. At the moment, very few, if any, UN documents are provided in sign language, and many events are not interpreted. We want to change that situation for the better. It is important that deaf citizens are able to participate in important debates about human rights, peace, sustainable livelihoods, and the future of our humanity, by making the UN inclusive of, and accountable to us as well.

Any more you would like to tell our readers about IDA?

IDA was established in 1999 as a network of global and, since 2007, regional organisations of persons with disabilities and their families. The aim of the Alliance is to promote the effective and full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities worldwide, as well as compliance with the CRPD within the UN system, through the active and coordinated involvement of representative organisations of persons with disabilities at national, regional and international levels.

ida board

With member organisations around the world, IDA represents the estimated one billion people worldwide living with a disability. This is the world’s largest – and most frequently overlooked – minority group. IDA, with its unique composition as a network of the foremost international disability rights organisations, is the most authoritative representative voice of persons with disabilities and acknowledged as such by the United Nations system both in
New York and Geneva.

It is great to have WFD work with IDA to help us achieve our strategic goals globally, which also means working collaboratively with other disability groups to help them achieve theirs. I think that this ultimately makes for a more diverse, more inclusive and better world.

The WFD is an international non-governmental organisation representing approximately 70 million Deaf people worldwide. WFD is a federation of 133 nations; its mission is to promote the human rights of deaf people and full equal access to all spheres of life, including self-determination, sign language, education, employment and community life.

NEXT MONTH in BDN Colin addresses the issue of tension among Deaf and disabled activists over such issues as: “I am not disabled, I am language minority” and “Deaf children should be in inclusive education, not specialist”.