20 September 2013
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Development Agenda


For too long, persons with disabilities had been excluded from development planning and it was time to recognize their enormous potential to create a more inclusive and equitable world, top United Nations officials said today, highlighting an unprecedented event aimed at dismantling the barriers to their full participation in society.


Speaking at a Headquarters press conference, Daniela Bas, Director, Division for Social Policy and Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said that on 23 September, the General Assembly would hold a High-level Meeting on Disabilities and Development under the theme “The way forward:  A Disability Inclusive Development Agenda Towards 2015 and Beyond”.  Heads of State and Government were expected to adopt a historic outcome document that had been negotiated extensively over the last year, through informal, online and regional consultations around the world.


Ms. Bas said persons with disabilities — the world’s largest minority — comprised 1 billion of the world’s 7 billion people; 80 per cent of them lived in developing countries and 20 per cent in developed countries.  “But does that matter?” she asked.  “We’re talking about people.”  Many were excluded from equitable access to education, employment, health care and social support.  As a result they experienced disproportionately high rates of poverty.


According to Ms. Bas, the High-level Meeting would take place as the 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals nears and as a sustainable development agenda was being formulated — a perfect opportunity to promote an inclusive world vision.  The event would mark “the beginning of greater and more focused” international cooperation to promote a disability development agenda.


Joining Ms. Bas on the panel were Rosangela Berman Bieler, Senior Adviser on Children with Disabilities, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); and Jacob Kumaresan, Executive Director, World Health Organization (WHO) Office at the United Nations.


Ms. Bieler said UNICEF was focused on bringing children with disabilities to the forefront, notably by dedicating The State of the World’s Children report to that topic.  Children with disabilities had less access to information and education.  She recounted several stories to drive home the importance of investing in a person’s life cycle from the start, describing first how gender discrimination against indigenous girls in Latin America affected their opportunities in every sphere.


“Our role is to view children with disabilities from the perspective of a human rights-based approach to development,” she said.  Noting that those children had been left out of the Millennium Development Goals, she asked how universal education could ever be achieved if one third of the world’s children were excluded.


Rounding out the panel, Mr. Kumaresan focused on the disparities between people with — and without — disabilities, saying that their health-care needs were the same.  Yet, persons with disabilities faced barriers in accessing adequate services:  stigma, discrimination and the inability to pay among them.  People with disabilities were two times more likely to find health-care services inadequate and three times more likely to be denied adequate care.  Fifty per cent of them were likely to face catastrophic health expenditure, pushing them into poverty


“These barriers are avoidable,” he stressed.  Citing examples, he noted that Mongolia had introduced disability friendly health centres.  The Solomon Islands provided wheelchairs to anyone in need.  In the United States, third-year medical students were taught how to interact with persons with disabilities.


According to Mr. Kumaresan, there was a strong need to advocate for the needs of the disabled.  With that in mind, WHO was devising a seven-year global action plan, which it would take to its governing bodies in May 2014.  In the post-2015 agenda, “no one should be left behind”.


In response to a question on how disabled persons could contribute to society, Ms. Bas described her experience of becoming paraplegic at the age of six.  There were no laws at that time allowing a child with a disability to attend normal schools.  Her parents had tried to provide her with the tools to become healthy, including through social integration.


Mr. Kumaresan described a 25-year old construction worker in the Philippines who, in 1995, had been unable to receive rehabilitation services after he lost his leg at work.  In 2012, the country changed its health insurance policy, and the man was able to get a prosthesis and go back to work.  “That is how Governments can help an individual and a society become productive,” he said.


Ms. Bieler added that the economic and social costs of exclusion were higher than investing in one service for one person.  “This is our responsibility,” she stressed.


To another question on how the United Nations agencies coordinated their efforts, Ms. Bas said DESA and UNICEF collected information, which it provided to the Office of the President of the General Assembly in order to elaborate the outcome document for the High-level Meeting.


Ms. Bieler added that UNICEF had suggested the language for the outcome document and had participated in all consultations with Member States.  It had provided technical support and helped States locally to develop and implement their positions.  The Fund also had an interagency support group, as well as a partnership person to coordinate with other agencies and work with civil society to ensure their voice was heard.  By way of example, she said that the partnerships would come together on 24 September to call for the implementation of the outcome document by all stakeholders.


To another question, Ms. Bas said the United States had done “whatever was needed to ensure that the energy focused on the content of the document, rather than overcoming obstacles such as physical access to the building”.  As for the Secretary-General’s bulletin on accessibility, she said it had been drafted.  The Task Force on Accessibility and DESA had shared their recommendations and it was now up to senior officials to decide on a final formulation.  Such efforts showed the United Nations was making positive efforts to achieve the concept of equality and non-discrimination.  Further, there were almost 140 Member States that had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


To a final question on the percentage of people with disabilities who were employed, Ms. Bas cited the major problem of “invisibility” due to a lack of data.  “We do not know how many people with disabilities are employed.”  Another problem was that each country had a different definition of disability.  She urged States to collect data, ensure that it was used to design social policies and to implement those policies.


Ms. Bieler noted that many did not have access to employment because they lacked everything it took to enter the job market:  transport, a wheelchair or access to education.  “The system is not there for them,” she said.


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For information media • not an official record