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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
Theme: Statistics, Data and Evaluation, and Monitoring
Programme Monitoring and Evaluation; The Disability Perspective in the Context of Development

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B. Trends in policies and programmes from the disability perspective since 1992

1. The disability perspective on development

In adopting the World Programme of Action, the General Assembly took care to define equality for persons with disabilities as a parity of opportunities with those of the whole population. This parity is actually a "...process through which the general system of society, such as the physical and cultural environment, housing and transportation, social and health services, educational and work opportunities, cultural and social life, including sports and recreation facilities are made accessible to all."[59]

By viewing equalization as a process, the General Assembly made clear that parity is not a static phenomenon but one that would be fostered and maintained as countries engaged in economic and social development. This implies that the attainment of equalization of opportunity must be ongoing, because, unless care is taken, such equalization may be threatened by different stages in economic development. Since circumstances can change, the process must be designed in a manner to account for and adjust to a variety of changes. Such changes could occur in the economy or in technology or in some other important facet of the environment.

By stressing the importance of change, the General Assembly envisioned consideration of development issues in policies and programmes to implement the World Programme of Action. This, in turn, implies what can be termed the "disability perspective" on development has to be taken into account as policies for development are established. This implies a synergy, where development policy impacts on disability policy and visa-versa.

In recent years, the necessity for considering disability issues as a critical part of policies and programmes to foster development is being recognized. Increases in both the number of disabled persons and the percentage of the population with a disability in many countries has caused a number of Governments to pay attention to these issues, whether they are responding to the political power of disabled persons and their advocates or are responding to an economic or other considerations.

As developing countries create various societal structures as a part of development and as developed countries are replacing many of their institutions, new approaches to the development of societal structures are being proposed to meet the needs of larger numbers of and more diverse segments of the population. Such new institutions may be very flexible while being cost effective. In recent years, disability advocates have urged that an increased emphasis be placed on universal design - the creation and re-creation of environments flexible enough to meet the needs of an entire population. If such designs are incorporated into development plans, developing countries can bypass some of the costs inherent in modifying structures that do not meet the needs of all.

For example, if schools are designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities, developing countries can save on costs inherent in institutionalizing people throughout their lives, as well as achieving potential revenues from members of the labour force who might not have participated otherwise. Societies also save costs accruing from trying to modify such schools at a later date. At the same time, such structures can often benefit other students who might not have been considered disabled.

The perspective that views disability issues as an essential part of a development plan parallels recent reports of the Secretary-General that examined the gender perspective and issues related to advancement of women. In the 1994 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development[60] evidence was provided to demonstrate that development and growth appears to be intricately related to the advancement of women. Thus, the inclusion of disability issues as a necessary part of development planning recognizes that the advancement of people with disabilities, as well in the case of women, may constitute an essential prerequisite for future economic growth. To achieve this advancement, universal design approaches to development have a high priority. The 1994 World Survey also raises issues related to women in poverty that may have applicability to person's with disabilities. The report notes, "One approach to understanding poverty from a gender perspective is based on the concepts of entitlements and endowments. An entitlement is a right to command resources. An endowment consists of the skills, access and other resources that make it possible to exercise an entitlement. In that sense, poverty is a failure to ensure entitlements because of inadequate endowments. In gender terms, this can be seen in terms of asymmetries between women and men in their entitlements and endowments."[61]

Using the concepts of entitlements and endowments, one can define disability as a failure to ensure entitlements, not only because of inadequate endowments but because of erroneous societal assumptions about the capacity of disabled individuals to take advantage of those endowments. This perspective views disability not as a medical but as a social phenomenon. In this sense, individuals are disabled not by their personal endowments but by the failure of society to endow them with skills, access and other resources that make it possible to ensure entitlements.

Universal design concepts thus approach development from the question of how institutions can be structured to maximize the endowment of all individuals. With encouragement from a human rights approach to disability, there is a growing recognition that some entitlements or rights to command some resources must be granted to individuals with disabilities and their families as a necessary prerequisite for their endowment. By doing so, a vicious cycle of the lack of endowments and of entitlements causing each other can be broken for disabled persons and their families.

2. Issues in full integration and mainstreaming of disability

The disability perspective on development focuses on economic issues, emphasizing the cost savings of the universal design approach. While this trend is relatively new, as noted earlier, a longer term trend has been the emphasis on disability as a human rights issue. This long-range trend was given a stronger emphasis in the 1993 "Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities" through the provision of detailed disability measures to promote human rights of persons with disabilities.[62]

In recent years, initiatives in disability and human rights have occurred from two policy perspectives. First, the promotion of disability-specific policies has continued, with renewed emphasis by the Standard Rules, as well as the "Long-term Strategy to Implement the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons to the Year 2000 and Beyond"[63]. Second, a new focus is placed on the presentation of disability issues within broader human rights efforts and within broad efforts to promote the rights of other groups, such as women and children. To draw the parallel to the economic issues discussed earlier, such a viewpoint stresses that the advancement of the human rights for people with disabilities, as well as other groups, comprises an essential prerequisite for the promotion of universal human rights for all. As noted earlier, the two approaches of advancing disability issues in mainstream policy initiatives and advancing disability-specific policy comprise two essential elements of the human rights approach.

Though inclusive of disability specific elements, the human rights approach represents a shift from the early social welfare perspective towards disability. The new approach stresses modifications to the environment to promote the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons. For example, sign language interpreters might be provided at public events for persons who are deaf. The social welfare perspective emphasized helping the individual to change to fit into so-called normal societal structures. In this perspective, a deaf person might only be taught how to read lips.

The human rights framework also requires the involvement of disabled persons in decision-making related to development, in contributing to efforts at development and in equal sharing of the results of development. When applied to development the framework views disability issues not as the concern of a special group but as a necessary prerequisite for advancing both the human rights and the developmental aspirations of all people.

In recent years, the human rights approach has expanded into areas not traditionally viewed as human rights concerns. In the World Programme of Action, the first two objectives, of prevention and rehabilitation, are viewed from the human rights perspective. Two examples from the Standard Rules demonstrate this point. In the area of prevention, Standard Rule 2 offers several provisions for States to ensure the provision of effective medical care to persons with disabilities. Moreover, persons with disabilities have expressed strong interest in programmes to prevent secondary conditions. In the area of rehabilitation, disabled persons and their families have stressed the importance of community based rehabilitation (CBR) programmes to facilitate integration into the community. Standard Rule 3 provides a consumer-based approach to the provision of such services. Even programmes that have traditionally focused on changing the person have recognized the importance of taking account of environmental issues better to design programmes to achieve their goals.

Growing interest of disabled persons in prevention and rehabilitation programmes does not represent a return to the social welfare perspective. The old perspective emphasized the professional as the individual empowered to make decisions for disabled persons and their families. Now emphasis is placed on the role of disabled persons and their families as consumers of services designed to meet Programme goals. Instead of being passive recipients of services, disabled persons urge that they be empowered to make decisions about the quantity and services they receive in all three areas: prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunity.

One outcome of the integration of the human rights approach into all Programme goals and objectives, as well as of the mainstreaming of disability issues into broader development, human rights and empowerment concerns, is an observed blurring between the three objectives. For example, one way to promote the equalization of opportunity is through the prevention of discrimination. At the same time, the promotion of equal access to medical care for persons with disabilities may prevent secondary disabilities or reduce the severity of disability through rehabilitation.

This blending of goals and objectives has led to the recognition that the World Programme efforts need to be integrated to a greater extent then recognized at the time of its drafting and adoption. A key to this integration is an accurate focus on the role of the environment in producing facilitators or barriers to Programme goals. This focus requires not only an understanding of environment variables in the broad sense but of those points where a person's interaction with the environment can produce differences in opportunities in all spheres of life, such as in the exchange of information, independence, mobility, use of time, social integration, economic self-sufficiency, use of societal resources and in transitions in experiences throughout life.

Examination of these areas of life represents an evolution in the construct of Handicap from a focus on an individual's abilities to participate in their environment to that of the opportunity costs of loss, as had been anticipated earlier by expert studies conducted during the Decade.[64] As shown in Figure 1, the original categories elaborated in the WHO's Handicap Classification are used but there are three points of distinction. First, the definitions change from ability- to an opportunity-based focus. Second, the unit of analysis could be a person, family, community or even an environmental structure. Finally, preparation for life course changes or transitions are considered, allowing for a view of opportunity as a life course process, not merely a static event at one point in time. A brief review of these distinctions may clarify the evolution of the construct.


Handicap Category Ability of Individual Definition Access to Life Situation
Orientation Receive and respond to surrounding signals Exchange of information
Physical Independence Sustain existence without aids or assistance Choice
Mobility Move about effectively in surrounding Travel
Occupation Occupy time in a customary manner Actual use of time
Social Integration Participate in customary social relationships Actual relationships
Eceonomic Self-Sufficiency Sustain socioeconomic activity Economic resource control
Transition*   Preparation for life changes

*Transition is not an original Handicap category.

Source for Handicap Categories and Ability of Individual Definitions: World Health Organization, International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities, and Handicaps: a manual of classification relating to the consequences of disease (Geneva, World Health Organization, 1980) pp 181-207.


First, the shift from individual ability to an opportunity focus shifts attention from an activity to the day-to-day results for an individual operating in his or her environment. Thus, the original physical independence construct focused on an individual sustaining a physical existence without aids or assistance. In this view, aids or assistance may be viewed negatively. In a new construct, an individual can be viewed as independent even with aids or assistance. The key issue becomes the individual's access to choice in the decisions made about aids or assistance. The more choices the individual has, the more positive the result is viewed. Likewise, economic self-sufficiency is not viewed in terms of an individual's ability to earn income but rather as an individual's actual control over economic resources.

Second, these opportunity variables need not be applied merely to individuals. The effect of disability policies and programmes on a family's access to choice, travel, use of time, social relationships and control of economic resources can also be examined with the goal of influencing these outcomes in a positive direction. For example, if a woman in a rural area has to spend a great deal of time obtaining services for her child, even though services are available for the child, her control over her time may be severely curtailed. In such a new construct, the family is also viewed as a consumer of services.

Finally, just as the World Programme originally considered equalization of opportunity as a process occurring in development, so, too, the delivery of disability services often occurs in the process of a person's or family life course. Thus, a person's involvement in his or her life situation may be reduced as they age from childhood to adulthood, because the environmental expectations of work are different from those of school. By examining readiness or preparation for such changes, the delivery of effective transition services can be enhanced, whether they relate to school, work, marital or retirement changes.[65]

Systematic analyses of areas of opportunity for involvement and of environmental variables fosters understanding of differences between persons with and without disabilities in the target areas for equal participation, as provided in Standard Rules 5 through 12: accessibility, education, employment, income maintenance and social security, family life and personal integrity, culture, recreation and sports and religion. The precise areas for change to foster full integration and the mainstreaming of persons with disabilities can be identified and altered. This is considered in greater detail in Annex I, "Accessibility".

Application of the human rights approach to all of the target areas for persons with disabilities by assessing meaningful involvement in those areas reflects the recognition that social, economic and cultural rights compliment civil and political rights and visa-versa.

3. Trends in policies and programmes since 1992

(a) Disability-specific policy instruments adopted since 1992

The Standard Rules and the Long-term Strategy were both adopted in a period of less then a year between 20 December 1993 and 27 September 1994. A third major policy instrument was adopted at the World Conference on Special Needs Education, which was organized by UNESCO in co-operation with the Ministry of Education and Science of the Government of Spain from 7 to 10 June 1994: "The Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy and Practice in Special Needs Education and the Framework for Action on Special Needs Education.[66] Elaboration and adoption of these three documents represents the greatest output of disability policy instrumentation in the international arena since the adoption of the World Programme of Action in 1982. A review of each of these instruments follows.

The purpose of the Standard Rules, shown in Figure 2, is " ensure that girls, boys, women and men with disabilities, as members of their societies, may exercise the same rights and obligations as others."[67] The Rules, although not compulsory, offer an instrument for policy-making and action to persons with disabilities and their organizations while providing a basis for technical and economic cooperation.[68] The Standard Rules have three points of distinction from the World Programme of Action: the Rules are more concentrated and concrete in form, they directly address Member States' responsibilities, and they include an independent and active monitoring mechanism.[69]

There is a good correspondence between the original target areas for equalization of opportunities identified in the World Programme and the Standard Rules:

  • legislation - Rule 15;
  • physical environment - Rule 5 on accessibility;
  • income maintenance and social security - Rule 8;
  • education and training - Rule 6;
  • employment - Rule 7;
  • recreation - Rule 11;
  • culture - Rule 10;
  • religion- Rule 12 and
  • sports - Rule 11 (with Recreation).

Rule 9 deals with family life and personal integrity, a target area not stressed in the World Programme.[70] The Rules thus provide important details on target areas of the Programme.


I. Preconditions for Equal Participation

Rule 1. Awareness-raising - States should take action to raise awareness in society about persons with disabilities, their rights, their needs, their potential and their contribution.

Rule 2. Medical care - States should ensure the provision of effective medical care to persons with disabilities.

Rule 3. Rehabilitation - States should ensure the provision of rehabilitation services to persons with disabilities in order for them to reach and sustain their optimum level of independence and functioning.

Rule 4. Support services- States should ensure the development and supply of support services, including assistive devices for persons with disabilities, to assist them to increase their level of independence in their daily living and to exercise their rights.

II. Target Areas for Equal Participation

Rule 5. Accessibility - States should recognize the overall importance of accessibility in the process of the equalization of opportunity in all spheres of society. For persons with disabilities of any kind, States should a) introduce programmes of action to make the physical environment accessible and b) undertake measures to provide access to information and communication.

Rule 6. Education - States should recognize the principle of equal primary, secondary and tertiary educational opportunities for children, youth and adults with disabilities, in integrated settings. They should ensure that education of persons with disabilities is an integral part of the educational system.

Rule 7. Employment - States should recognize the principle that persons with disabilities must be empowered to exercise their human rights, particularly in the field of employment. In both rural and urban areas they must have equal opportunities for productive and gainful employment in the labour market.

Rule 8. Income maintenance and social security - States are responsible for the provision of social security and income maintenance for persons with disabilities.

Rule 9. Family life and personal integrity - States should promote the full participation of persons with disabilities in family life. They should promote their right to personal integrity and ensure that laws do not discriminate against persons with disabilities with respect to sexual relationships, marriage and parenthood.

Rule 10. Culture - States will ensure that persons with disabilities are integrated into and can participate in cultural activities on an equal basis.

Rule 11. Recreation and sports - States will take measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities for recreation and sports.

Rule 12. Religion - States will encourage measures for equal participation by persons with disabilities in the religious life in their communities.

III. Implementation Measures

Rule 13. Information and research - States assume the ultimate responsibility for the collection and dissemination of information on the living conditions of persons with disabilities and promote comprehensive research on all aspects, including obstacles that affect the lives of persons with disabilities.

Rule 14. Policy-making and planning - States will ensure that disability aspects are included in all relevant policy-making and national planning.

Rule 15. Legislation - States have a responsibility to create the legal bases for measures to achieve the objectives of full participation and equality for persons with disabilities.

Rule 16. Economic policies - States have the financial responsibility for national programmes and measures to create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Rule 17. Condition of work - States are responsible for the establishment and strengthening of national coordinating committees, or similar bodies, to serve as a national focal point on disability matters.

Rule 18. Organizations of persons with disabilities - States should recognize the right of the organizations of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities at national, regional and local levels.

Rule 19. Personnel training - States are responsible for ensuring the adequate training of personnel, at all levels, involved in the planning and provision of programmes and services concerning persons with disabilities.

Rule 20. National monitoring and evaluation of disability programmes in the implementation of the Rules - States are responsible for the continuous monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of national programmes and services concerning the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Rule 21. Technical and economic cooperation - States, both industrialized and developing, have the responsibility to cooperate in and take measures for the improvement of the living conditions of persons with disabilities in developing countries.

Rule 22. International cooperation - States will participate actively in international cooperation concerning policies for the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Source: General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex of 20 December 1993, The Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.


For example, Rule 6 on Education states that special attention should be given to (a) very young children with disabilities, (b) pre-school children with disabilities and (c) adults with disabilities, particularly women. Stressing the need for accommodations in the mainstream, the Rules note that States should have clearly stated policies and allow for curriculum flexibility, addition and adaptation, and provide for quality materials, ongoing training and teacher support. This detail provides a specific identification of constituencies to receive special attention and guidelines on accommodating persons with disabilities in the educational mainstream.

Other Rules also set priorities to guide their implementation. For instance, Rule 7 on employment, recommends that action programmes of States should include accessible workplace designs and adaptations, technology support, assistive device development and training.

Rule 15 on legislation notes different mechanisms - exclusive disability legislation, inclusion of disability issues within other legislation and mentioning persons with disabilities in interpretations of existing legislation.

Rule 21 on technical and economic cooperation gives priority to skill/ability/potential development, employment-generating activities and technology development and dissemination.

The Rules urge establishment of specific monitoring mechanisms. These mechanisms should identify obstacles and suggest measures for implementation, recognizing the particular features of each State. The establishment of a Special Rapporteur to monitor the Rules at the international level is recommended. A panel of experts from international organizations of persons with disabilities would advise the Special Rapporteur. Activities of the Special Rapporteur are to survey the States, dialogue with and provide advice to NGOs and prepare reports. States should establish national coordinating committees to monitor the Rules, cooperation with organizations of people with disabilities.[71]

In contrast to the Standard Rules, the core element of the Long-term Strategy is a series of national plans with specific target dates. The Strategy provides a framework for collaborative action in implementing the World Programme of Action and the Standard Rules. The guiding vision of the Strategy is the concept of a society for all.

The Strategy takes notes achievements of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons that provide a springboard for the long-term: (a) an increasing willingness by societies to adjust to diversity, including people with disabilities, (b) greater international recognition on the need to equalize opportunities for people with disabilities, (c) widespread agreement on the effectiveness of CBR and (d) greater involvement of disabled persons in programme design, implementation and evaluation.[72] The Strategy envisions a lead-in period during 1995-1996, a medium-term plan for 1997-2002 to be evaluated in 2002 at the quinquennial review and a second plan for 2002-2007. During the lead-in period, the current situation would be assessed and medium-term targets would be set at the national level. Then, the plan would be implemented and monitored during the medium term.

The Strategy identifies the following activities for its proposed the lead-in period:[73]

  1. establishing a task force to prepare for a broad-based national forum;
  2. convening the forum to obtain input and long-range commitment to a national disability strategy;
  3. review existing policies and programmes to determine priority needs and resources;
  4. formulating or updating a long-range policy statement, stipulating the conceptual framework, stating overall objectives and essential principles;
  5. setting medium term targets encompassing the issues in the World Programme of Action and the Standard Rules and clarifying who is responsible.

Possible targets could include:

  1. institutional/organizational - set medium-term plan by 1997;
  2. human rights - by 1998, a) implement ILO Convention 159 concerning employment of disabled persons and b) applying the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
  3. equalization of opportunities - adopt the Standard Rules by 1998 and select certain Rules for implementation by 2002;
  4. rehabilitation - by 1999, CBR will be established in a certain number of rural areas; and
  5. prevention - by 2002, reduce the causes of avoidable impairment by a particular percentage.

In terms of measures for the medium term planning, the Strategy urges the designation of a lead agency, the strengthening of national coordinating committees and organizations of disabled persons, establishing partnerships, integrating disability issues into national policies affecting all people, setting standards, generating awareness, mobilizing resources (both monetary and non-monetary), decentralizing programme implementation and monitoring progress.[74] The perspective plan for 2002-2007 would build on the evaluation of the first five years of implementing the Strategy.[75]

The Strategy notes that monitoring and evaluation needs to be considered from two perspectives: national data disaggregated by socio-economic and demographic variables. and aggregated national-level data in terms of regional or global measures.[76] Clear indicators should be selected and include input, use and results indicators. Monitoring should occur periodically, at 1997, 2002 and 2007, and with the involvement of organizations of people with disabilities. With national-level monitoring at the core, strategies can include a special effort or be incorporated into ongoing procedures. Regional-level monitoring would build on national-level findings. The Long-term Strategy envisions a comprehensive monitoring plan.

As noted earlier, although not adopted by the General Assembly, the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action is a third major policy instrument which focuses on education and draws attention to the needs of children, although adult education is also discussed. The purpose of the Framework is to implement the Statement.

The Statement proclaims that every child is unique and has a fundamental right to an education. Education systems must take into account diversity and those with special needs must have access to the regular schools with an inclusive orientation. Governments are called upon to prioritize improving education and adopt as a matter of law or policy the principle of inclusive education. Governments are urged to develop demonstration projects, to invest in early intervention and vocational education and to establish decentralized and participatory mechanisms for planning, monitoring and evaluation. They are also urged to facilitate participation by parents, communities and organizations of people with disabilities in the planning and decision making process., as well as to ensure that teacher education programmes, both preservice and inservice, address the provision of special needs education in inclusive schools.

In terms of responsibilities, Governments and the international organizations are called upon to endorse inclusion and to strengthen technical cooperation inputs while NGOs are urged to strengthen collaboration.[77] UNESCO is requested to ensure that special needs education is a part of all educational discussions, that teacher organizations are mobilized to enhance education in the provision of special needs, that research is stimulated, that a clearinghouse for information is provided and that funds are mobilized through its medium-term plan (1996-2002) to establish demonstration efforts and to develop indicators.

The Framework defines 'special educational needs' as needs arising from disabilities or learning difficulties.[78] The guiding principle is that schools should accommodate all children with a child-centred pedagogy. Guidelines at the national level are issued for policy and organization, school factors, educational personnel recruitment and training, external support services, priority areas, community perspectives and resource requirements. Guidelines for action at the regional and international level are also provided.[79]

In terms of school factors, the Framework emphasizes curriculum flexibility, school management flexibility cognizant of community needs and the promotion of information and research.[80] Priority areas identified are: (a) early childhood education to promote to promote development and school readiness, (b) education for girls with access to information, guidance and role models, (c) preparation for adult life with appropriate training technologies, direct experiences, transition programmes and vocational training and (d) adult and continuing education programmes with adults with disabilities being given priority access to such programmes.[81] Community perspectives consider partnerships with parents, community involvement, the roles of voluntary organizations and raising public awareness.[82]

With an emphasis on country action and monitoring, all three instruments place new emphases on four main areas:

  1. commitment to specific objectives for persons with disabilities, which will then be monitored;
  2. importance of a gender perspective in setting and monitoring goals for disabled persons;
  3. establishment of a customer-centered approach to service delivery to disabled people and
  4. need to focus on children with disabilities, not only for their formal education but for their involvement in preparing for changes in their lives as they grow older.

In many respects, these policy initiatives implement the shift discussed earlier to a new orientation where prevention and rehabilitation are viewed as natural components of the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons.

(b) Treatment of disability issues by major United Nations conferences and summits

International policy instruments have considered gender, child or economic perspectives in disability policies. In recent years, United Nations initiatives concerning global policies and programmes in areas such as the environment, human rights, population and development, social development, advancement of women, and housing have incorporated disability issues as substantive concerns in their declarations, frameworks and strategic action programmes.

In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna reconsidered universally recognized human rights issues and produced a "Programme of Action" to guide human rights efforts. The Conference recognized that "...all human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal, and thus should unreservedly include people with disabilities."[83] Any discrimination, intentional or unintentional against persons with disabilities is per se a violation of human rights.

The International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 recognized the importance of equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities. Objectives endorsed by the Conference include ensuring participation in all aspects of social, economic and cultural life to promote conditions to equalize opportunity and dignity, while promoting self-reliance. The Conference's "Programme of Action" addresses the situation of disabled people in its chapter on family, its roles, rights, composition and structure.[84]

The treatment of disability in the Cairo Programme of Action influenced the way in which disability issues were considered in the subsequent review and appraisal of progress towards the goals and recommendations of World Population Plan of Action, originally adopted at the World Population Conference held in Bucharest in August 1974. The fourth review and appraisal, in its review of population growth and structure, addressed the needs of particular groups of the population, including persons with disabilities, and refers to the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, the "Long-term Strategy to implement the Programme" as well as the way in which the 1994 International Population Conference addressed issues and activities pertaining to persons with disabilities.[85] In examining socio-economic support for the family, the report recognizes that among the social issues affecting the performance of family functions are those families with members who have disabilities.

The World Summit for Social Development noted that people with disabilities are often forced into poverty, unemployment and social isolation in its March 1995 "Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development".[86] The Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development,[87] which aims to fulfill the commitments elaborated in the Declaration, provides a framework for action in which disadvantaged groups are included in social development and societies respond to the consequences of disability by securing legal rights and making different aspects of the environment accessible. Disability issues are specifically addressed in programmes for the eradication of poverty and the expansion of productive employment and reduction of unemployment, as well as social integration issues.

In relation to poverty, the Copenhagen Programme calls for policies ensuring that all people have adequate economic and social protection during disability, that the access of rural farmers with disabilities to water, credit, extension services and appropriate technology be increased, that special measures are taken to protect disabled persons in urban poverty and to ensure that they are integrated into their communities and that efforts be made to protect older persons, including those with disabilities. To monitor the performance of poverty eradication plans, Governments are urged to develop, update and disseminate data and indicators of poverty and vulnerability disaggregated by disability.

The Copenhagen Programme calls for non-discrimination in all spheres of employment policy on the basis of disability and to give a special priority in the design of policies to the problems of structural, long-range unemployment and underemployment of persons with disabilities, including improving employment and training opportunities. Governments are to strongly consider ratifying ILO conventions regarding persons with disabilities.88] Broadening the range of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities includes ensuring that laws and regulations do not discriminate, taking proactive measures to promote employment, making workplace accommodations, developing alternative forms of employment and promoting public awareness.[89]

In addressing social integration, the Copenhagen Programme urges that basic education be expanded for children looking after disabled parents, as well as children and youth who are disabled themselves and that appropriate attention to children of different abilities be given.[90] Governments are urged to promote the Standard Rules and to promote policies that focus on the abilities of disabled persons, not their disabilities, to ensure their dignities as citizens.[91]

The Fourth World Conference on Women, held at Beijing in 1995, expressed strong commit to promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women who face barriers to advancement and empowerment because of disability and other factors. Disability issues and gender perspective are considered in both the Platform for Action and Beijing Declaration adopted by Conference participants in September 1995.[92]

The Beijing Declaration states a determination to eliminate discrimination due to multiple barriers, meaning discrimination due to both gender and other factors, including disability. Efforts to ensure equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls would be intensified, including those who face empowerment and advancement barriers because of factors, such as disability.[93]

The Platform for Action recognizes that women often face barriers to full equality and advancement, because of factors such as their disability. To address these barriers, disability issues are specifically addressed in objectives related to poverty, education, health, violence against women, employment and human rights.

  • Strategic Objective A.1 addresses the needs and efforts of women in poverty; NGOs and women's groups are called upon to mobilize all parties involved in the development process, including women with disabilities:[94]
  • Strategic Objective B.1 addresses equal access to education; Governments are urged to advance equal access to education through measures to eliminate discrimination on the basis of both gender and disability, as well as other factors.[95]
  • Strategic Objective C.1 addresses women's health issues; Governments are urged to design and implement gender-sensitive health programmes, including decentralized health services, that address the special needs of women with disabilities,[96] and to ensure that girls and women of all ages with any disability receive supportive services.[97]
  • Strategic Objective D.1 addresses violence against women; Governments are urged to ensure that women with disabilities have access to information and services;[98] special efforts should be taken to eliminate violence against women with disabilities.[99]
  • Strategic Objective F.5 addresses employment, and calls for the implementation and monitoring of positive programmes to address systemic discrimination against women in the labour force, particularly against women with disabilities and for special employment, education and training programmes in accordance to the Standard Rules;[100] working conditions would be adjusted to suit their needs and legal protections against job loss on account of disability.
  • Strategic Objective I.2 addresses equality and non-discrimination under the law and in practice and calls for strengthening and encouraging implementation of the Standard Rules.[101]

Research issues related to women and disabilities are also addressed in the Platform for Action:

  • Strategic Objective C.4 addresses research and information on women's health and calls for increased financial and other forms of support for research on women's health, especially with respect to disability.[102]
  • Strategic Objective H.3 addresses gender disaggregated data and information and urges improvements in concepts and methods of data collection on women and men with disabilities, particularly in the area of access to resources.[103]

The United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) adopted the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements and the Habitat Agenda.[104] The Habitat Agenda includes among its commitments promoting full accessibility for people with disabilities. The Agenda recognizes disability as a part of normal life and declares that barriers should be removed and persons with disabilities should be fully integrated into shelter and sustainable human settlement plans and policies to create access for all.[105] In its statement of goals and principles, the Agenda proclaims the goal of universal and equal access to high standards of health, primary health care, equitable housing and quality education, without distinction as to disability.[106] To ensure adequate shelter for all, the Agenda commits to designing and implementing standards to provide accessibility to disabled people in accordance with the Standard Rules.[107] Related to sustainable human settlements, a commitment is made to promote equal access to persons with disabilities in all spheres and providing protection against discrimination.[108] To promote empowerment of persons with disabilities, a participatory approach to sustainable human settlements development and management is encouraged, including a continuing dialogue with disabled persons, as well as education and training for persons with disabilities on human settlements planning, management and development.[109]

In its global plan of action, the Agenda recommends specific strategies for implementation related to disabled persons. To ensure access to basic infrastructure and services, Governments at appropriate levels should involve, encourage and assist local communities, particularly women, children and persons with disabilities, in setting standards for community facilities and in the operation and maintenance of those facilities.[110] Governments are urged to abide by the Standard Rules, as well as work with the private and non-profit sectors to provide shelter, making special efforts to remove all physical constraints to the independent living of persons with disabilities.[111] Participatory approaches to sustainable human settlements and to services for persons with disabilities are encouraged.

Disability-sensitive planning and management of human settlements obtain specific treatment in the action plan. Governments are urged to promote and encourage adoption of laws and policies ensuring access to all public facilities and housing, to recognize that people with disabilities have expertise should be decision makers in their own housing, to promote services to enable disabled persons to be housed in community-based settings as needed and to consider in planning processes that persons with disabilities often use their homes for business or market activities.[112] An integrated transport policy approach is encouraged and that pays attention to groups whose mobility is constrained.[113] Accessibility concerns are to be incorporated in conservation and rehabilitation projects, as well as in all rescue, resettlement and reconstruction efforts.[114] Provision of new and accessible information and communications technologies to persons with disabilities is promoted.[115] The involvement of organization of disabled persons and the provision of assistance to disabled persons for activities in the field of shelter and human settlements development are encouraged throughout the global action plan.

The inclusion of disability issues in other policy areas recognizes the complexity of implementing change, unless the needs of all segments of society, including women, children, people in different geographic or socio-economic groups and persons with disabilities, are considered. This inclusion may imply that to achieve the goals of the World Programme, consideration must also be given to issues related to the environment, human rights, population and development, social development, advancement of women, and shelter and habitat.

(c) Progress reports of the Secretary-General and action by intergovernmental bodies

As noted earlier, on 16 December 1992, the General Assembly expressed its strong commitment to continuing Programme implementation activities by adopting resolution 47/88, "Towards Full Integration of Persons with Disabilities Into Society: a continuing world programme of action".

In the Asia and Pacific region, member States of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific proclaimed the period 1993-2002 the "Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons" to expand opportunities for full participation of people with disabilities in society and their equality in the development process.[116]

The next year, on 20 December 1993, the same day that the Standard Rules were passed, the General Assembly passed two other resolutions related to persons with disabilities:

  • General Assembly resolution 48/95, "Positive and Full Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities In All Aspects of Society and the Leadership Role of the United Nations Therein" urged the Secretary-General to strengthen, through the redeployment of resources, the United Nations programme on disabled persons and to report biennially on efforts to ensure the equalization of opportunities and full inclusion of persons with disabilities within the UN system.
  • General Assembly resolution 48/99, "Towards full integration of persons with disabilities into society; a continuing world programme of action" requested the Secretary-General to continue to give higher priority to disability issues within the programmes of work of the United Nations system and to report to the General Assembly at its forty-ninth session on relevant developments in the area and in the context of his report on the development of a plan of action to implement the Long-term Strategy to further implement the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons.

In response to resolution 48/99, the Secretary General submitted to the forty-ninth session of the General Assembly, in 1994, a report describing measures undertaken by the United Nations system to implement the World Programme of Action and co-operation with Governments and the non-governmental community.[117] Among the accomplishments noted in the report was designation of Mr. Begnt Lindqvist, former Minister for Social Affairs of Sweden as Special Rapporteur on Disability of the Commission for Social Development to promote and monitor implementation of the Standard Rules. The position is funded by voluntary contributions.[118]]

Within the United Nations Secretariat, the Statistics Division focused on the design of statistical methodology and standards for data collection, as well as the production of statistics and indicators for disability. The Statistics Division co-sponsored with WHO and UNICEF further development of disability indicators. The United Nations Development Programme, through its Interregional Project for Disabled People, focused on CBR through the production of documents. UNICEF developed a mid-term plan for childhood disability, with 70 countries participating, which focuses on: (a) consolidating prevention measures such as immunization and the control of micro-nutrient deficiencies, (b) early detection systems and (c) supporting CBR as part of a system of basic services. The United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) focused on CBR programmes to prevent disabilities. The regional commissions of the United Nations organized workshops, promoted disability organizations, developed regional strategies; a notable activity was the UN ESCAP project on promoting "barrier-free" design in Asia and the Pacific. ILO issued publications and supported 31 technical cooperation projects. The Food and Agricultural Organization supported Vitamin A deficiency projects and held technical conferences. WHO supported CBR projects.

The Secretary-General proceeded with plans to establish a panel of persons with wide experience in the disability field to provide advice, as envisaged in the Standard Rules (chapter IV, paragraph 3) to the Special Rapporteur.

The major part of the progress report was the presentation of the "Long-term Strategy to Implement the World Programme of Action to the Year 2000 and Beyond". The Strategy was endorsed by General Assembly resolution 49/153 of 23 December 1994

Thus, by the end of 1994, the General Assembly had adopted - or endorsed - two major disability policy instruments.

In resolution 50/153, of 21 December 1995, the General Assembly urged all Governments and organizations to continue to strengthen their efforts to implement the Standard Rules. Governments were called upon to take into account the elements suggested in the Long-term Strategy to Implement the World Programme of Action; and the Secretary-General was requested to ensure appropriate support for the effective functioning of the Long-term Strategy.

The General Assembly also "Encourage[d] the Secretary-General, and the United Nations organizations concerned, particularly the United Nations Development Programme, to continue their efforts to facilitate the collection and transmission of relevant data to be used to finalize, in consultation with member States, the development of global disability indicators, and request[ed] the Secretary-General to submit a report on this question to the General Assembly at its fifty-second session."[119] A discussion of global disability indicators appears in Chapter IV of the current report.


[59] World Programme of Action …, para 12.

[60] United Nations, Women in a Changing World; 1994 world survey on the role of women in development (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.IV.1).

[61] United Nations General Assembly, "1994 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development; report of the Secretary-General (A/49/378)" paras 35-36.

[62] General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, para 15 states: "The purpose of the Rules is to ensure that girls, boys, women and men with disabilities, as members of society, may exercise the same rights and obligations as others."

[63] United Nations General Assembly, "Implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons; report of the Secretary-General (A/49/435, annex)" [http:/].

[64] See for instance, "Report of the Expert Group on Development of Statistics on Disabled Persons (Vienna, 2-6 April 1984) pp 19-20.

[65] See Robert L. Metts, "Planning for Disabililty"; paper presented to the Panel Discussion on Independent Living of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 3 December 1998) [].

[66] UNESCO, "Report of the World Conference on Special Needs Education" (Salamanca, 7-10 June 1994).

[67] General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, para 15.

[68] Ibid., para 14.

[69] United Nations General Assembly, "Monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities; note by the Secretary-General; annex, Final report of the Special Rapporteur of Commission for Social Development on monitoring the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (A/52/56)" para 10. [].

[70] Ibid., para 112, which discusses the role of parents in educational decisions.

[71] General Assembly resolution 48/96, annex, "Chapter IV, Monitoring Mechanism".

[72] "Long-term strategy (A/49/435, annex)" para 6.

[73] Ibid., para 21.

[74] Ibid., para 22.

[75] Ibid., para 23.

[76] Ibid., para 28.

[77] UNESCO, "The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action", pp x-xi.

[78] Ibid., p 6.

[79] Ibid., pp 45-47.

[80] Ibid., pp 22-25.

[81] Ibid., pp 33-35.

[82] Ibid., pp 37-40.

[83] Report of the World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 14-25 June 1993 (A/CONF.157/24 (Part. I)), chap. III, section b, number 6, para 63.

[84] Report of the International Conference on Population and Development, Cairo 5-13 September 1994 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.XVII.18), chap. I, resolution I, annex.

[85] United Nations, Review and Appraisal of the World Population Plan of Action (ST/ESA/SER.A/152) (New York, 1995) p 44.

[86] Report of the World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen 6-12 March 1995 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.IV.8) chap I, resolution I [htp://].


[88] Ibid., para 54 (c).

[89] Ibid., para 62.

[90] Ibid., para 74 (h & i).

[91] Ibid., para 75 (k).

[92] Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 4-15 September 1995 (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.96.IV.13), chap.I, resolution I, annexes I and II.

[93] Ibid., para 46.

[94] Ibid., para 60 (a).

[95] Ibid., para 80 (a).

[96] Ibid., para 106 (c).

[97] Ibid., para 106 (o).

[98] Ibid., para 124 (m).

[99] Ibid., para 126 (d).

[100] Ibid., para 178 (f & i)

[101] Ibid., para 232 (p).

[102] Ibid., para 109 (d).

[103] Ibid., para 206 (k).

[104] Report of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II), Istanbul, 3-14 June 1996 (A/CONF.165/14), chap I, resolution I.

[105] Ibid., para 16.

[106] Ibid., para 36.

[107] Ibid., para 40 (g).

[108] Ibid., para 43 (v).

[109] Ibid., para 45 (h & i).

[110] Ibid., para 86 (b).

[111] Ibid., paras 96 (e) and 97 (b).

[112] Ibid., para 121.

[113] Ibid., para 151 (a).

[114] Ibid., para 154 (j).

[115] Ibid., para 191 (g).

[116] See Official Records of the Economic and Social Council, 1992, Supplement No. 11 (E/1992/31), chap. IV. resolution 48/3 [].

[117] United Nations General Assembly, "Implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons; report of the Secretary-General (A/49/435)".

[118] Ibid., para 4.

[119] General Assembly resolution 50/144, para 8.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development