Opening the door for people of all abilities

The global community took a giant step forward during the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development in September to break down barriers for the more than 1 billion persons living with some form of disability. With a historic outcome document adopted, this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, aims to kick-off an action-filled course towards an inclusive society, embracing all human beings.

About 15 per cent of the global population live with some form of disability, making up the largest and most disadvantaged minority in the world. 80 per cent are of working age and the majority are from developing countries. Many of them live in poverty, face discrimination and are denied opportunities to participate in development.

“All of us suffer when communities are divided; just as all of us benefit when communities are united”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

“All of us suffer when communities are divided; just as all of us benefit when communities are united,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he addressed some 800 representatives that had gathered at UN Headquarters in New York for the high-level event in September. “We must remove barriers to equality of opportunity so that all people can be free from poverty and discrimination,” he added.

In addition to making physical environments, transportation and information accessible to everyone, the challenges at hand also involve removing barriers in attitudes, that fuel stigma and discrimination. Instead, focus needs to be shifted towards every person’s ability. This was also something that Daniela Bas, Director of UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development, underscored as she spoke in conjunction with this high-level event.

Tools for action and change

In order to realize an inclusive society where everyone’s rights are protected and equal opportunities are ensured, the United Nations is working side by side with governments and civil society. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is both a human right and social development instrument available to make a difference. Since its entry into force in 2008, 138 countries have ratified or acceded to the Convention, and 158 have signed it.

Another important tool for transformation became available following the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development in September when a landmark document was adopted. Entitled “The way forward, a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond,” this document underscores the need for “urgent action” towards the adoption and implementation of more ambitious disability-inclusive development strategies.

“To turn these commitments into reality on the ground, stakeholders must implement more ambitious disability-inclusive national development strategies and efforts”

Under-Secretary-General
Wu Hongbo

“To turn these commitments into reality on the ground, stakeholders must implement more ambitious disability-inclusive national development strategies and efforts,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo as he addressed the meeting. “DESA stands ready to provide cooperation and partnership to Members States and other stakeholders in the elaboration, implementation and monitoring of inclusive and sustainable development policies and programmes, towards 2015 and beyond,” Mr. Wu added.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Celebrations and new UN Accessibility Center

Every year on 3 December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is commemorated worldwide to promote awareness and mobilize support on critical issues to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in society and development.

Under the theme “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all,” various activities will take place to underscore the importance of accessibility and inclusion in the contexts of development. With only two months passed since the high-level event, the celebrations this year offer an ideal platform to transfer the outcome document into actions and to mobilise support to national efforts.

The program at UN headquarters in New York will feature “Messages of Inclusion” to be delivered by Member States, UN system and civil society, highlighting how the outcome document can be translated into action. The event will also present a UN Enable Theatre performance by the Broadway Group “Breaking through Barriers,” several panel discussions on emerging issues in the disability-development nexus, and the screening of the documentary “Gold: You can do more than you think”, telling the story of three Paralympic athletes from Kenya, Germany and Australia, who took part in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In addition to the commemoration at UN Headquarters, people from across the world are encouraged to take part in a Thunderclap, lending their social media channels to show support for this international day and what it stands for (follow this link to sign up).

The United Nations Foundation and GivingTuesday.org will also join the celebrations to promote volunteerism by taking concrete steps to create enabling environments within communities and across the world for persons with disabilities. Also, on 4 December, the Secretary-General will inaugurate the new UN Accessibility Center, created to make the United Nations more accessible and to facilitate the full participation of persons with disabilities in the work of the organization.

Embracing the abilities of all people

“I make an earnest plea and call upon all of you to look at people with disabilities as differently-abled”

Emmanuel Elisha Ford

Recent events provide additional resources to facilitate change towards a society that includes persons with all kinds of abilities and disabilities. This was also something that a young speaker from last year’s celebration expressed a wish for. Addressing the event on 3 December 2012, 10-year-old Emmanuel Elisha Ford, blind since birth, urged, “I make an earnest plea and call upon all of you to look at people with disabilities as differently-abled.” Determined to achieve his dream of becoming a meteorologist one day, Emmanuel also encouraged nations across the world to make the most of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

And the international community is moving forward in this direction. The new landmark outcome document sets the vision beyond the Millennium Development Goals target date and underscores the need for disability-inclusive development strategies in the post-2015 setting. Taking aim at breaking down barriers and opening up doors, so that every human being can live their life to the fullest potential.

This is the vision of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in his concluding remarks to the high-level meeting said, “Let us work together so everyone, everywhere has the chance to live their dreams and use the gifts that they have been given. Let us advance disability-inclusive development, inspire change on the ground and ensure a life of dignity for all.”

For more information:

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Show support of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities via Thunderclap

United Nations Enable website

High-Level Meeting on Disabilities and Development, 23 September 2013

Video interviews with civil society representatives from High-Level Meeting on Disabilities and Development, 23 September 2013

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