Skip navigation links Sitemap | About us | FAQs

UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

[Return to World Programme of Action Overview] [Previous Page] [Next Page]

World Programme of Action Concerning
Disabled Persons

Page 2 of 10

Objectives, Background and Concepts


A strategy of prevention is essential for reducing the incidence of impairment and disability. The main elements of such a strategy would vary according to a country's state of development, and are as follows:

Measures should be taken for the earliest possible detection of the symptoms and signs of impairment, to be followed immediately by the necessary curative or remedial action, which can prevent disability or at least lead to significant reductions in the severity of disability and can often prevent its becoming a lasting condition. For early detection it is important to ensure adequate education and orientation of families and technical assistance to them by medical social services.

^Return to top


Rehabilitation usually includes the following types of services:

In all rehabilitation efforts, emphasis should be placed on the abilities of the individual, whose integrity and dignity must be respected. The normal development and maturation process of disabled children should be given the maximum attention . The capacities of disabled adults to perform work and other activities should be utilized.

Important resources for rehabilitation exist in the families of disabled persons and in their communities. In helping disabled persons, every effort should be made to keep their families together, to enable them to live in their own communities and to support family and community groups who are working with this objective. In planning rehabilitation and supportive programmes, it is essential to take into account the customs and structures of the family and community and to promote their abilities to respond to the needs of the disabled individual.

Services for disabled persons should be provided, whenever possible, within the existing social, health, education and labour structures of society. These include all levels of health care; primary, secondary and higher- education, general programmes of vocational training and placement in employment; and measures of social security and social services. Rehabilitation services are aimed at facilitating the participation of disabled persons in regular community services and activities. Rehabilitation should take place in the natural environment, supported by community-based services and specialized institutions. Large institutions should be avoided. Specialized institutions, where they are necessary, should be organized so as to ensure an early and lasting integration of disabled persons into society.

Rehabilitation programmes should make it possible for disabled persons to take part in designing and organizing the services that they and their families consider necessary. Procedures for the participation of disabled persons in the decision-making relating to their rehabilitation should be provided for within the system. When people such as the severely mentally disabled may not be able to represent themselves adequately in decisions affecting their lives, family members or legally designated agents should take part in planning and decision-making.

Efforts should be increased to develop rehabilitation services integrated in other services and make them more readily available. These should not rely on imported costly equipment, raw material and technology. The transfer of technology among nations should be enhanced and should concentrate on methods that are functional and relate to prevailing conditions.

^Return to top

Equalization of opportunities

To achieve the goals of "full participation and equality", rehabilitation measures aimed at the disabled individual are not sufficient. Experience shows that it is largely the environment which determines the effect of an impairment or a disability on a person's daily life. A person is handicapped when he or she is denied the opportunities generally available in the community that are necessary for the fundamental elements of living, including family life, education, employment, housing, financial and personal security, participation in social and political groups, religious activity, intimate and sexual relationships, access to public facilities, freedom of movement and the general style of daily living.

Societies sometimes cater only to people who are in full possession of all their physical and mental faculties. They have to recognize the fact that, despite preventive efforts, there will always be a number of people with impairments and disabilities, and that societies have to identify and remove obstacles to their full participation. Thus, whenever pedagogically possible, education should take place in the ordinary school system, work be provided through open employment and housing be made available as to the population in general. It is the duty of every Government to ensure that the benefits of development programmes also reach disabled citizens. Measures to this effect should be incorporated into the general planning process and the administrative structure of every society. Extra services which disabled persons might need should, as far as possible, be part of the general services of a country.

The above does not apply merely to Governments. Anyone in charge of any kind of enterprise should make it accessible to people with disabilities. This applies to public agencies at various levels, to non-governmental organizations, to firms and to private individuals. It also applies to the international level.

People with permanent disabilities who are in need of community support services, aids and equipment to enable them to live as normally as possible both at home and in the community should have access to such services. Those who live with such disabled persons and help them in their daily activities should themselves receive support to enable them to have adequate rest and relaxation and an opportunity to take care of their own needs

The principle of equal rights for the disabled and non-disabled implies that the needs of each and every individual are of equal importance, that these needs must be made the basis for the planning of societies, and that all resources must be employed in such a way as to ensure, for every individual, equal opportunity for participation. Disability policies should ensure the access of the disabled to all community services.

As disabled persons have equal rights, they also have equal obligations. It Is their duty to take part in the building of society. Societies must raise the level of expectation as far as disabled persons are concerned, and in so doing mobilize their full resources for social change. This means, among other things, that young disabled persons should be provided with career and vocational opportunities - not early retirement pensions or public assistance.

Persons with disabilities should be expected to fulfil their role in society and meet their obligations as adults. The image of disabled persons depends on social attitudes based on different factors that may be the greatest barrier to participation and equality. We see the disability, shown by the white caner crutches, hearing aids and wheelchairs, but not the person. What is required is to focus on the ability, not on the disability of disabled persons.

All over the world, disabled persons have started to unite in organizations as advocates for their own rights to influence decision-makers in Governments and all sectors of society. The role of these organizations includes providing a voice of their own, identifying needs, expressing views on priorities, evaluating services and advocating change and public awareness. As a vehicle of self-development, these organizations provide the opportunity to develop skills in the negotiation process, organizational abilities, mutual support, information-sharing and often vocational skills and opportunities. In view of their vital importance in the process of participation, it is imperative that their development be encouraged.

Mentally handicapped people are now beginning to demand a voice of their own and insisting on their right to take part in decision-making and discussion. Even those with limited communication skills have shown themselves able to express their point of view. In this respect, they have much to learn from the self-advocacy movement of persons with other disabilities. This development should be encouraged.

Information should be prepared and disseminated to improve the situation of disabled persons. The cooperation of all public media should be sought to bring about presentations that will promote an understanding of the rights of disabled persons aimed at the public and the persons with disabilities themselves, and that will avoid reinforcing traditional stereotypes and prejudices.

^Return to top

[Return to World Programme of Action Overview] [Previous Page] [Next Page]

Home | Sitemap | About us | FAQs | Contact us

United Nations, 2006
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development