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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

Implementation of the World Programme of Action
concerning Disabled Persons

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I. Introduction

II. Overview of recent policy and programme activities

III. International norms and standards related to persons with disabilities

IV. Data and statistics concerning persons with disabilities

V. Accessibility at United Nations Headquarters

VI. United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability


I. Analytical review of progress in equalization of opportunities by, for and with persons with disabilities

II. United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability


I. United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability: projects supported

II. Projects co-financed in cooperation with the Arab Gulf Programme for United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND)

II. Overview of recent policy and programme activities

A. Activities of Governments

2. In paragraph 4 of its resolution 52/82, the General Assembly encouraged Governments to examine key social and economic policy issues related to equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities, in particular (a) accessibility, (b) social services and safety nets, and (c) employment and sustainable livelihoods. In response to a note verbale, replies were received from 24 countries or areas: Armenia, Austria, Argentina, Belarus, China, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Honduras, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Malta, Mongolia, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, Singapore, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. Information provided suggests that much governmental action centres around formulation of national plans of action and the establishment and strengthening of national coordinating bodies, legislative measures and cultural activities, both to promote awareness of disability issues and to engage persons with disabilities in cultural and social life.

1. Accessibility

3. Replies from States members of the European Union indicate that a number of national codes have been adopted for accessibility and barrier-free environment based on the principles of securing mobility and full accessibility for persons with disabilities. In this regard, implementation of accessibility codes and regulations aims to create an obstacle-free, safe environment for persons with disabilities. For instance, many roads and public areas have been designed with a view to responding to the needs of persons with disabilities. Most public buildings are now easily accessible to persons with disabilities in Germany. In Austria, accessibility codes and regulations have been adopted, by which architects and buildings engineers are required to receive training in accessibility standards as parts of their professional qualifications. To meet the requirements for persons with disabilities with regard to accessibility, Greece has enacted law 2430/96 implementing the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, stressing the importance of integrating disability in the policies of the Government. In this regard, a new institutional framework has been created to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and to guarantee their equal rights in various aspects of social and economic life. During the biennium 1998-1999, the reforms of the general building codes were adopted to improve accessibility to public buildings and other public areas removing architectural obstacles and barriers. New public transports provide full accessibility to persons with disabilities. In Finland, the disability policy programme prepared by the Finnish National Council on Disability in 1994-1995 is based upon the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. In an effort to enhance awareness and develop accessible transportation, the Ministry of the Environment has set up working groups on accessibility and launched pilot efforts throughout the country. Spain has created a special commission, whose functions encompass the competencies of all Ministries of Government.

4. A number of countries or areas are addressing accessibility of persons with disabilities by means of new legislative measures to change infrastructure in rural areas as well as in urban communities, as reported by Armenia, Belarus, China, Cyprus, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Israel, Japan, Malta, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Singapore. For example, Belarus reports on modification of construction codes for public areas, which build upon earlier national legislation on social protection and rehabilitation of disabled persons. In Japan, governmental support has been given to independent regional programmes to improve the well-being of people with disabilities. Following the proclamation of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002), the Government of Mongolia adopted in 1998 the national plan of action for the improvement of the situation of persons with disabilities 1999-2004. The Government of China is improving environmental accessibility for persons with disabilities through adoption of the design code of urban roads and buildings for the accessibility of persons with disabilities; and barrier-free design has been introduced in the academic curriculum of the construction design. The Ministry of Home Affairs of Malta recently declared that all new public buildings of "major use" must be accessible, with immediate effect; the Ministry also is speeding the process of implementing building regulations to promote access for all.

5. The data indicate that countries in Latin America are emphasising the importance of engaging persons with disabilities in all aspects of social life. Special committees have been created in Argentina to improve the coordination of disability issues, in close cooperation with the governmental and non-governmental communities; and catalytic activities are being undertaken in such areas as transportation, housing and telecommunications.

2. Social safety nets and social services

6. Replies from Governments suggest concern with establishing legal protection and guarantees regarding social safety nets for persons with disabilities. The replies also indicate a focus on medical, social and psychological rehabilitation services to improve the lives and well-being of persons with disabilities. The Government of the Republic of Moldova reports on the development of social networks, involving both governmental and non-governmental bodies and organizations, and the decentralizing of social services for persons with disabilities. The Government of Armenia reports that it has taken numerous measures to guarantee a social safety net for persons with disabilities.

7. Innovative arrangements by many Governments have been introduced to provide for long-term care through a combination of benefits in cash and in kind. These may be provided as an integral part of social services, such as measures to assist persons with disabilities to participate in community life. Other approaches include legislation and measures to promote social integration of persons with disabilities. For instance, in Georgia, legislation has been adopted on medical and social expertise concerning persons with disabilities. The Philippines promotes policies on access to education, health care, professional training, and information towards the integration of the concerns of persons with disabilities in various agenda and plans. The Ministry of Health of Israel reports that it has enriched rehabilitation services for persons with mental disabilities, occupational rehabilitation, and social and housing services. The Government of Honduras is supporting the introduction of classes on rehabilitation and disability in the curriculum of the primary and secondary schools as well as in the universities.

8. The Government of Sweden reports that in many respects, Swedish society has become more accessible to persons with disabilities over the last decade, mainly through the development of the general welfare system, which takes specially directed efforts to advance the status of persons with disabilities. In Norway, the main goal of Government policy concerning persons with disabilities is full participation and equality. Disability is integrated in the policy-making of all branches of the Government and is not exclusively a question of health and social affairs. The Government of Singapore has also adopted the goal of full participation of persons with disabilities and equality. Singapore has initiated several measures based on the principle that the care and welfare of persons with disabilities should be the concern of the family, the community and the Government. To further implement the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, Uruguay focuses on promoting equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities, and has created a national commission for persons with disabilities to pursue the goal of raising public awareness and integrating persons with disabilities in society.

3. Employment and sustainable livelihoods

9. Replies suggest a number of innovative measures taken to integrate persons with disabilities in a social and economic life. For instance, several countries or areas reported on recently enacted legislation or amendments concerning the employment of persons with disabilities. For example, Austrian policies are based on the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities and their integration into the mainstream labour market. Germany reports that persons with disabilities are guaranteed to enjoy a "social right", independent of the cause of their disability, to be secure of their place within the community, particularly in employment. In Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the Equal Opportunities Commission, a statutory body, promotes equalization of opportunities, inter alia, by means of assisting in advocacy, monitoring and initiating catalytic actions within the framework of relevant legislative instruments. The Parliament of Greece enacted law 2643/98 to promote employment of persons with disabilities in the public and private sectors. The law provides an innovative ways for persons with disabilities to be part of the mainstream workforce and strengthens opportunities for self-employment through subsidy programmes. The Government of Cyprus reports on the recent adoption of a policy to promote full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in the social and economic life of the country. In Mexico, a new programme of scholarships was designed for persons with disabilities to facilitate their integration in the labour market during their unemployment.

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B. Activities of the United Nation system

10. Within the United Nations Secretariat, the Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations Secretariat reports that, at its forty-second session, in 1998, the Commission on the Status of Women considered a report on older women and support systems (E/CN.6/1998/6), which noted that women aged 65 and above could expect to spend a greater portion of their remaining years with functional disabilities than men and the need for specialized support systems. In its conclusions on the issue of "violence against women", the Commission recognized that women and girls with disabilities, among other priority groups, could be particularly affected by violence and recommended development of special assistance programmes. At its forty-third session, in 1999, the Commission considered the critical area of "women and health". In its agreed conclusions, the Commission recommended, inter alia, that special attention be accorded to women with disabilities to empower them to lead independent lives.1 The Department of Public Information and the system of United Nations information centres report organizing periodically book exhibitions and lectures, seminars and special events to publicize activities of the United Nations to promote equalization of opportunities of persons with disabilities. The United Nations Radio Service has produced more than 11 radio magazines on selected disability issues; and the United Nations Visitors Service has ensured that the public tour route at the New York Headquarters is accessible. The Department distributes its guide to the United Nations buildings and services for persons with disabilities at all major meetings and briefings at Headquarters. Since the adoption of the "Habitat Agenda",2 the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements has intensified activities related to persons with disabilities. Its journal Habitat Debate (vol. 4, No. 4, 1998) had the theme "Cities for all", and included an article entitled "Disabled but not unable". Promotion and protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities is an important element in the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The High Commissioner cooperates with the Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development. In its resolution 1998/13, the Commission on Human Rights expressed concern that the situation of armed conflict has devastating consequences for the human rights of persons with disabilities, and encouraged non-governmental organizations to cooperate closely and provide information to the concerned human rights monitoring bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner.

11. The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) reports that at a subregional follow-up conference to the World Summit for Social Development that it organized in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme, participants recommended, inter alia, enhanced social protection systems for vulnerable people including persons with disabilities. ECA reports that member States in eastern and southern Africa have instituted measures to protect and create employment opportunities for vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has created a Web page on the Internet on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002) at:

ESCAP supports the Agenda for Action of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002) through close collaboration with the Subcommittee on Disability-related Concerns of the Regional Inter-Agency Committee for Asia and the Pacific (RICAP). The Subcommittee meets biannually as a consultative forum, with working group meetings convened to develop joint action on priority issues. Subcommittee efforts have resulted in (a) formulation of targets for implementation of the Agenda for Action; and (b) identification of annual Decade campaigns, hosted by an ESCAP member Government, and projects to address critical regional issues and promote full participation and equality of persons with disabilities. ESCAP has directed special attention to promotion of accessible environments in its support of the Decade. During 1998, ESCAP issued a revised edition of its guidelines on promotion of non-handicapping physical environments. In cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO), ESCAP organized a regional technical consultation on developing effective placement services for persons with disabilities (Singapore, March 1999). The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) co-organized, with the Saudi Center for the Rehabilitation and Training of Blind Girls at Amman, a vocational training project to upgrade the skills of blind girls and women in the ESCWA region. The Center now is a permanent regional training facility with high quality technical equipment. Thirty-nine Arab blind girls and women have been trained to date in basic computer skills; a training manual has been published in Braille, Arabic and English. As discussed in more detail in the following section, ESCWA cooperated with the Ministry of Social Affairs of Lebanon and the Lebanese Company for Development and Reconstruction of Beirut Central District (SOLIDERE) to publish Accessibility for the Disabled: A Design Manual for a Barrier-free Environment (Beirut, SOLIDERE, 1998). The Manual documents planning for reconstruction and development of a barrier-free Beirut central district. United Nations headquarters at Beirut was designed and constructed in accordance with accessibility standards discussed in the Manual.

12. Treaty bodies of the United Nations system continue with their efforts to improve the situation and human rights of persons with disabilities. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers the situation of persons with disabilities in the general trend of development and discusses promotion and protection of their rights (see E/1999/22). The Committee on the Rights of the Child examines the situation of children with disabilities while considering reports of States Parties (see A/53/41). The Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women adopted general recommendation No. 24 on article 12 (Women and health) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women at its twentieth session in 1999, which acknowledges that women with disabilities often do not have physical access to health services. The Committee noted that States Parties should take appropriate measures to ensure that health services are sensitive to needs of women with disabilities and respectful of their human rights and dignity.

13. Among the funds, programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nations system, the United Nations Children's Fund reports that it is directing special attention to disability prevention and to the care and protection of children with disabilities. Major progress is reported in addressing vitamin A deficiency, a leading cause of blindness, mental retardation and stunting; in accelerating polio vaccination; and in preventive measures for elimination of guinea worm. Efforts also focused on improving access to basic education and community-based services for children with disabilities, which included (a) training teachers in Mali to detect disability among school children, assisting teacher training in Bosnia and Herzegovina; (b) conducting a national disability study in the Gambia; (c) assisting studies on childhood disability in Armenia, Jordan, Rwanda, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the United Republic of Tanzania; (d) supporting a pilot initiative to include children with disabilities in mainstream schools in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Egypt undertook an evaluation of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)-supported community rehabilitation efforts for children with disabilities. UNICEF continued support of mine-awareness programmes in several countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched on 28 May 1999 a World Wide Web-enabled database on the rural disabled located at the following location:

The aim of the database is to provide users with access to selected information on the rural disability issues worldwide. FAO observed the 1998 International Day of Disabled Persons, on 3 December, with a seminar in cooperation with the Italian Red Cross on the theme "Anti-personnel mines: a major cause of handicaps; what can we do about it?". The International Civil Aviation Organization continues development of international standards and recommended practices, which address accessibility by persons with disabilities in all aspects of the air transport chain. The standards require contracting States to take all necessary steps to ensure that persons with disabilities have adequate access to all air services. The International Labour Organization reports that an emerging area of concern is rapid responses to employment needs of persons with disabilities in countries emerging from armed conflict. The ILO code of practice on the management of disability-related issues in the workplace, scheduled for completion by 2000, combines all areas of ILO action on disability issues and provides guidance on effective management concerning disability issues. In connection with preparations for the upcoming global conference on the theme "Education for all: assessment 2000", the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will include a thematic study entitled "inclusive education" to highlight developments worldwide over the past 10 years with respect to the participation of disabled learners in education. The disability and rehabilitation programme of the World Health Organization (WHO) reports special attention is directed to low-income countries in its global disability and rehabilitation activities. WHO established in 1998 a global network for monitoring disability issues and trends in rehabilitation. During 1998, WHO initiated cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on disability of the Commission for Social Development to collect information for monitoring the implementation of four of the Standard Rules - medical care, rehabilitation, support services and personnel training. WHO circulated for comments during 1999 its draft "policy on disability" that addresses medical and social aspects of disability.

14. The World Bank reports that it has identified a total of 11 ongoing projects, as well as several others in the pipeline, that directly benefit persons with disabilities, and is currently preparing a brochure on this topic for public distribution. A major goal of the World Bank is to raise the quality and quantity of Bank products serving persons with disabilities, which is to include strengthening the link between the United Nations Standard Rules and the poverty alleviation mission of the Bank.

15. Inter-agency cooperation during the period under review was task-based and involved projects of interest to selected programmes and specialized agencies of the United Nation system. For instance, UNICEF and WHO report co-sponsoring training workshops for East and West Africa (Zimbabwe and Benin, respectively) on community-based rehabilitation. UNICEF and UNESCO collaborated in the organization of an international consultation on "Early childhood education and special educational needs". ILO, UNESCO, UNICEF and WHO co-sponsored a Central Asia subregional seminar on the theme "Multi-sectoral collaboration for equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities" at Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

16. The International Initiative Against Avoidable Disability (IMPACT) is a joint initiative and continues under co-sponsorship of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), WHO and UNICEF. IMPACT reports that its current priorities include: immunization in areas of low coverage; control of disabling consequences of micro-nutrient deficiency; safe motherhood initiatives, including the training of traditional birth attendants; early identification, treatment and curative interventions; and research on the link between disability and ageing.

17. On 15 and 16 June 1999, UNDP convened at Geneva an inter-agency consultation on disability, with representatives of selected United Nations programmes and specialized agencies, the World Bank and the Special Rapporteur on disability of the Commission for Social Development. However, a report on the proceedings and the results of the consultation have yet to be issued.

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C. Activities of non-governmental organizations

18. Inclusion International, which is concerned with intellectual disability issues, supports its membership by focusing on human rights issues, organizing seminars and conferences in developing countries, and promoting information exchanges. Inclusion International representatives participated in discussions on the design of policies on bio-ethical concerns, family support, inclusive education, employment and health promotion. The International Disability Foundation (IDF) reports that its advocacy and action programme directs special attention to increase awareness and support for implementation of the United Nations Standard Rules in developing countries. IDF used the occasion of the 1998 observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons to launch its World Disability Report. The World Blind Union (WBU) is developing strategic options to address the full spectrum of blindness, such as youth, blind women, the elderly and the multiple handicapped. International and regional WBU leaders have been contributing to the implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons (1993-2002). The World Federation of the Deafblind was established in 1997 with the objective of advancing the rights of deafblind persons at the international level. Information is disseminated through publication of The International Newsletter of the Deafblind. As a result of its promotional efforts, the World Federation reports increased interest in deafblind issues; for instance several Latin American countries have formed national organizations. The World Federation is scheduled to hold its first General Assembly in 2001, in connection with the sixth Helen Keller World Conference on the Deafblind. The World Federation of the Deaf cooperated substantively with a number of international organizations, including the UNDP assistive technology project.

19. The Open-ended International Working Group on Disability and Development represents a hybrid form of cooperation between the non-governmental community, bilateral donor agencies and interested international organizations. The Working Group was established following the 1997 Global Workshop on Children with Disabilities in Developing Countries (Washington, D.C., 5-7 February 1997), which was co-financed by the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability.3 The Division for Social Policy and Development represents the Department of Economic and Social Affairs in meetings of the Working Group and provided a venue for its spring 1998 meeting. UNESCO provided the venue for the April 1999 meeting of the Working Group.

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1 See Economic and Social Council, Official Records, 1999, Supplement No. 7 (E/1999/27), chap. I.

2 Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), Istanbul, 3-14 June 1996 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.97.IV.6), chap. I, resolution 1, annex II.

3 The report of the workshop is available at:

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