2019-2020 - Autonomy and Empowerment

The Initiative

The CHRLP is pleased to present the 2019-2020 Disability and Human Rights Initiative. Building on the disability seminar series launched in 2012, this year’s events year will continue to explore compelling issues in disability with a focus on law and policy, in keeping with the Faculty of Law’s tradition of analysis, scholarship and promotion of human rights and social justice.

Autonomy and Empowerment: Exploring the Role and the Limits of Technology


The adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities marked a turning point in acknowledging and highlighting the importance of autonomy in the context of disability. Over the past several years, activists, advocates, communities, institutions and governments have all contributed to challenging legal norms and influencing attitudinal change with the aim of fostering an inclusive society. As we approach the third decade of the twenty-first century, technological advances increasingly play a role in enabling more meaningful autonomy, empowerment and dignity for persons with disabilities. This can take the form of liberation, assistive and rehabilitative technologies.

Autonomy is a central theme in the U.N. Convention. With the rapid advancement in artificial intelligence, we strive to understand how new technologies enable individuals to enjoy the rights promised by domestic and international law. Through technology, persons with disabilities (PwD) may overcome significant social, institutional and economic barriers, yet at the same time these same kinds of barriers restrict access to technological advancement to many. With the aim of informing law and policy, the series will explore both the potential of technology as well as the limits and ethical considerations.

Seminar objectives

We seek to spark a discussion on how technology can engender greater autonomy and independence, enhancing social participation and inclusion and playing a role in decision-making and advocacy––from self-expression, to everyday choices, and to the exercise of legal rights. Continuing with the tradition of an interdisciplinary approach, this year’s seminar series strives to identify applications of communication and assistive technologies and seeks to explore how the liberating possibilities they offer are also to be measured against ethical and legal limits and the social, economic and institutional barriers that restrict their accessibility.

Roundtable - Disability & the Individual: Capacity, Communication and Self-Expression

16 October 2019 – 13:00-15:00
Old Chancellor Day Hall, Stephen Scott Seminar Room (Room 16)

This roundtable attempts to shed light on the power of modern, communication-enhancing technologies in enabling PwDs to be self-advocates. Social media and other online platforms have opened the gates of digital activism and advocacy, which facilitates PwD to assert their autonomy, to take over their own narratives, to create vast online networks and to raise awareness of their rights, priorities, concerns and achievements. In the age of the internet, we invite speakers to elaborate on how e-advocacy and innovative uses of digital networks in general are shaping social participation for PwD. We also aim to expand the discussion on the limits of digital empowerment and digital presence, including any possible adverse effects to the overuse of digital platforms.

International Day of Disability

3 December 2019 – Universal Break, Atrium

Viewing of short film & U.N. poster show.

Conference - Institutional Dimensions of Assistive Technology: Disability, Ethics and Technology

20 March 2020 – 12:00-16:00
New Chancellor Day Hall, room 312 & 316

Building on the Fall 2019 seminar that focused on individual perspectives, this seminar will aim to assess the potential of assistive technology from the institutional point of view. In particular, we want to focus on how technology enables one to participate in the social, cultural and political life. The panelists are invited to speak to the integration of assistive technology in the workplace and educational institutions, to promote inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities. We also seek to address the state’s interest in investing in assistive technology, given its responsibility toward disability rights in light of the U.N. Convention as well as domestic legislation such as the Accessible Canada Act. We recognize that access and availability of cutting-edge technology is often determined by economic, cultural and social factors. The dynamics these factors play in widening (or narrowing) access to liberation technology, along with the realization of inclusive citizenship, will be topics of discussion.

This conference will begin with a keynote address by Christopher Kaposy, Professor of Bioethics at Memorial University, followed by roundtable presentations where students will share their research and scholarship on disability, specifically through the lens of law, policy, and technology. The closing remarks will be by Professor Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry.

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