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United Nations Global Issues

Persons with Disabilities

Some 10 per cent of the world’s population, approximately 650 million people, live with a disability.  They are the world’s largest minority, and some 80 per cent of them live in developing countries.  Among the worlds poorest people, 20 per cent have some kind of disability.  Women and girls with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to abuse.  Persons with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence or rape, and are less likely to obtain police intervention, legal protection or preventive care. Some 30 per cent of street youths have some kind of disability, and in developing countries, 90 per cent of children with disabilities do not attend school.

Amputees play in a football game

In the developed world, a 2004 United States survey found that only 35 per cent of working-age persons with disabilities are in fact working — compared to 78 per cent of those without disabilities.  In a 2003 study by Rutgers University, one third of employers surveyed said persons with disabilities cannot effectively perform the required job tasks.  The second most common reason given for not hiring persons with disabilities was the fear of costly special facilities.

The needs and rights of persons with disabilities have been high on the United Nations agenda for at least three decades.  Most recently, after years of effort, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted in 2006 and entered into effect on 3 May 2008.

 “UN Enable”, which gives voice to the United Nations commitment to uphold the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, describes the Convention as marking a paradigm shift.  It takes to a new height the movement away from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection, towards viewing them as subjects having rights.  And as such, they are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent, as well as of being active members of society.

Persons with disabilities have the right …

to respect for their human dignity …

[to] the same fundamental rights as their fellow-citizens …
[to] the same civil and political rights as other human beings …
[to] measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible …

to medical, psychological and functional treatment [and]
to develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum [and]
hasten the processes of their social integration or reintegration …

to economic and social security and to a decent level of living …

according to their capabilities, to secure and retain employment
or to engage in a useful, productive and remunerative occupation
and to join trade unions [and] to have their special needs taken into
consideration at all stages of economic and social planning …

to live with their families or with foster parents and to participate in all
social, creative or recreational activities [and not to] be subjected, as far
as his or her residence is concerned, to differential treatment other than
that required by his or her condition …

[to] be protected against all exploitation, all regulations and all
treatment of a discriminatory, abusive or degrading nature …

[and] to avail themselves of qualified legal aid when such aid proves
indispensable for the protection of their persons and property …”

from the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, proclaimed by
the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1975

The Convention, according to UN Enable, is a human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension.  It reaffirms that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms — and it clarifies exactly how those categories of rights must be applied.  Moreover, it specifically identifies areas where adaptations have to be made to enable persons with disabilities to effectively exercise their rights, as well as areas where their rights have been violated and where protection of their rights must be reinforced.

In a statement welcoming the Convention’s entry into force, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a concerted effort to translate its vision into reality, to address “the glaring inequalities experienced by persons with disabilities”.  The UN is continuing its efforts to that end.

The UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed every year on 3 December.