Global Policy Summit on the Well-being of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, on the Occasion of the Special Olympics World Summer Games

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Global Policy Summit on the Well-being of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities, on the Occasion of the Special Olympics World Summer Games Shanghai, 3 October 2007

I am honoured to participate in this Global Policy Summit, on the occasion of the Special Olympics World Summer Games—here in my home country of China, and in this great city of Shanghai.

Approximately 650 million persons with disabilities make up the world’s largest minority. This is increasingly recognized. Within this group, however, the Special Olympics estimates that there are more than 190 million persons with intellectual disabilities. And they often face additional exclusion and marginalization.

The Special Olympics represents one of the largest ongoing efforts to improve both the quality of life of persons with intellectual disabilities and their integration into wider society.

Most of you are aware of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted last December by the General Assembly. The Convention offers the world an unprecedented opportunity to promote the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities.

The Convention highlights the human right to participate in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport. And it requires its signatories to ensure that persons have equal access to participation in such activities.

Take sport, for example. Under the Convention, States must “encourage and promote the participation, to the fullest extent possible, of persons with disabilities in mainstream sporting activities at all levels”. At the same time, States are obliged to “ensure that persons with disabilities have an opportunity to organize, develop and participate in disability-specific sporting and recreational activities….”

Persons with disabilities should be involved not only as participants in mainstream and disability-specific sporting events, but also in their organization and management. For this to occur, communities need to increase their knowledge and skills in enabling persons with and without disabilities to collaborate—to build, together, environments that are inclusive and that provide reasonable accommodation for all community members.

The Convention is the response of the international community to the persistent discrimination and denigration of persons with disabilities. It embraces the ideals, hopes, and values of a society where persons with disabilities enjoy their full human rights.

The Convention covers several fundamental areas of particular importance to persons with intellectual disabilities. These include their rights to an education and employment; to marriage and a family; and to equal recognition before the law. In each of these areas, the Convention offers a framework for creating national policies and practices to construct a society that is inclusive of persons with disabilities.

By way of illustration, let me say a few words on education and employment.

States who are party to the Convention commit to providing an inclusive education system at all levels. They must ensure “that persons with disabilities can access inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live”.

Special education systems are still a favoured method of providing education to persons with disabilities in far too many societies. There remains much work that needs to be done to embrace the goal of fully inclusive education.

In the employment sector, persons with intellectual disabilities are often set apart from others in society, and excluded from the labour market. The Convention recognizes “the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities”.

With this year’s International Day of Disabled Persons, on 3 December, the UN will focus world attention on “Decent Work for Persons with Disabilities”. Many opportunities and areas of growth exist within the public and private sector employment markets. A partnership approach amongst the various stakeholders has great potential for the future.

All the areas I have mentioned involve multifaceted legal and societal issues. The Convention provides the framework within which governments and civil society can work together towards innovative and appropriate responses—to ensure equal access, opportunity and recognition of persons with intellectual disabilities.

At the United Nations, we see in the Convention, and in its implementation, enormous potential to advance the great goals of human rights and development for all. Including family members, there are over 2 billion persons directly affected by disability. Thus, ensuring equality of rights and access for all these persons with disabilities will make an enormous contribution to social and economic development in countries around the world.

Indeed, the principle of inclusion permeates the entire United Nations development agenda, as it does the wonderful work of the Special Olympics.

These Games celebrate the rich diversity of the human experience. Each person with disabilities represents a unique part of this rich human heritage and potential, as does every person in the world.

Using the Convention as a vehicle, I encourage us all to continue working diligently and energetically to create policy environments and practices that lead to societies in which all people are fully appreciated, acknowledged, and encouraged to flourish.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I wish the Special Olympics organizers and athletes a very successful World Summer Games!

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