As States Parties Open Fifth Conference, Speakers Stress Need for United Nations to Advocate Daily on Behalf of People with Disabilities
As States Parties Open Fifth Conference, Speakers Stress Need for United Nations to Advocate Daily on Behalf of People with Disabilities
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
States Parties to Convention
on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
1st & 2nd Meetings (AM & PM)
As States Parties Open Fifth Conference, Speakers Stress Need for United Nations
to Advocate Daily on Behalf of People with Disabilities
Meeting’s President, Under-Secretary-General Stress Focus on Women, Children
Even as the number of States signing on to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities continued to grow at an “exhilarating” pace, there remained a critical need for the United Nations to act as a “real, practical and daily advocate” for those who had once been all but invisible on the world stage, delegates stressed today.
“We must keep this steady pace to meet the mark of universal ratification in the near future,” said Mårten Grunditz ( Sweden), President of the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, referring to the landmark instrument adopted by the General Assembly in December 2006. With 153 signatories — including 16 since the last Conference of States Parties — the treaty was widely regarded as one of the fastest-growing international agreements. Moreover, the Convention was, at its core, an instrument designed to unlock potential, he said. The theme of the Conference, “Making the CRPD Count for Women and Children”, was, therefore, particularly appropriate, as the talent and potential of women and children with disabilities was regularly overlooked and wasted around the world.
Concurring, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said: “Today’s investment in children with disabilities is tomorrow’s progress for all of us.” With the Convention’s adoption and the subsequent efforts of stakeholders, hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities had overcome obstacles to live productive lives and contribute to the well-being of their societies. However, a gap remained between the aspirations and the daily experiences of persons with disabilities, he cautioned, noting that the latter were still much more likely to live in poverty, and that many still lacked access to social services and jobs.
Lenin Moreno, Vice-President of Ecuador, said the international community could expect no less than universal ratification of the Convention in the near future. Sharing his personal story of living in a wheelchair for the last 14 years, he said his disability was not just a physical fact; it provided an entirely different perspective. Life was seen from a different angle from which one could better see the “daily holocaust” inflicted on people struggling to realize their right to development. In that regard, solidarity — not to be confused with charity — was the noblest asset of humankind, and it was helping persons with disabilities worldwide to realize their rights.
Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, echoed references by other speakers to a “paradigm shift” in the way in which the world addressed disability issues. Turning to the theme of women and children with disabilities — groups subjected to further exclusions based on gender and age — he said current legislation failed adequately to address barriers to education and employment, and the disproportionate poverty faced by those groups, among other issues. Children were the most marginalized of all, he added, urging respect for their evolving capacities in particular.
A related theme resounding throughout the Conference was that of full and meaningful participation by persons with disabilities in decision-making at all levels. “We are the rights holders of the rights enshrined in the Convention,” emphasized Yannis Vardakastanis of the International Disability Alliance, an umbrella organization of global and regional disability groups. Referring to the disability movement’s main rallying cry, he said that the words “Nothing about us without us” were not a mere slogan, but a way of living. Indeed, the post-2015 international development agenda must be disability-driven, and, in order to counteract the “invisibility” they had faced in the past, persons with disabilities must themselves lead the way forward in the future. “Let them speak first,” he stressed, adding that the United Nations must also continue to be a “real, practical and daily advocate of the [Convention] everywhere in the world”.
Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disability, also underlined the “non-negotiable nature” of self-representation. Turning to the Conference theme, she said implementation of the Convention “must give children with disabilities hope”, adding that “hope is what keeps us going and striving for the lives we deserve”. Protecting children and women with disabilities from exploitation and sexual abuse was an obligation for all, she said. In that respect, education remained a critical tool for liberating people from marginalization and exploitation, and particular attention must be paid to the existence of safe and inclusive schools.
Sheilabai Bapoo, Minister for Social Security, National Solidarity and Senior Citizens Welfare and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, warned against a “growing conspiracy of silence” about the needs of women and children with disabilities, and called for fully-fledged efforts without compromise. The Government of Mauritius had amended a law to ensure that businesses gave persons with disabilities 3 per cent of the positions on company payrolls, she said. Meanwhile, the Social Aid Act provided national pensions and assistive devices, and the National Assembly Act made voting easier for persons with disabilities.
Also speaking during the general debate was a Government minister from Burkina Faso. Others participating were representatives of Thailand, Australia, Argentina, Egypt, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Austria, Jamaica, El Salvador, Jordan, Costa Rica, Germany, Colombia, United Kingdom, Chile and Canada.
Later today, the Conference held a round-table discussion on the theme “Accessibility and Technology”.
In other business, it held two rounds of secret balloting to fill upcoming vacancies on the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after the tenure of nine members expire on 31 December. The terms of the newly elected members would begin on 1 January 2013 and end on 31 December 2016.
In the first round of voting, the following seven candidates were elected: Monthian Buntan ( Thailand), Mária Soledad Cisternas Reyes ( Chile), László Gábor Lovászy ( Hungary), Diane Mulligan ( United Kingdom), Safak Pavey ( Turkey), Ana Pelaez Narvaez ( Spain) and Silvia Judith Quan Chang ( Guatemala).
In the second round of voting, the Conference elected Martin Mwesigwa Babu ( Uganda) and Mohammed Al-Tarawneh ( Jordan).
The Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities opened a three-day meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York today, under the theme “Making the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities count for Women and Children with Disabilities”. Participants were expected to discuss, among other issues, inclusive education, accessibility, and the integration of the rights of persons with disabilities into development plans. It is expected that more than 30 side events will be held on the margins of the meeting.
Following its adoption by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006, the Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008. Of the instrument’s current 153 signatories of the instrument, 119 States parties have acceded to or ratified the treaty, while 72 out of 90 signatories have acceded to or ratified its Optional Protocol, which allows individuals and organizations of persons with disabilities to submit complaints to an expert United Nations committee on non-compliance.
For additional information, please see Press Release HR/5105 of 12 September.
MÅRTEN GRUNDITZ ( Sweden), President of the Conference, opened the session by reviewing the Convention’s standing. Marking six years since its adoption, the instrument’s membership continued to grow at an “exhilarating” pace, with no fewer than 16 new States parties since the last Conference, he said. “We must keep this steady pace to meet the mark of universal ratification in the near future,” he stressed, urging those States that had not yet done so to consider acceding to the treaty and its Optional Protocol.
This year’s theme highlighted the Convention’s importance in improving the lives of women and children with disabilities, he said, describing it as an instrument designed to unlock potential. “It tells us that neglect is a bad policy and that empowerment must be the bedrock of our efforts to make societies inclusive,” he noted, emphasizing that focusing on women and children with disabilities was, therefore, imperative. They faced aggravated forms of discrimination and other major obstacles. “It’s here that most talent is wasted — but also where most opportunities can be seized and explored.”
WU HONGBO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that, during the recent Summer Olympics in London, Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee runner from South Africa, had made history by advancing to the 400-metre semi-finals despite his disability. Six other athletes with disabilities had also competed in London, and their success bore testimony to their courage, as well as the triumph of the human spirit. Hundreds and thousands of persons with disabilities had overcome numerous obstacles to live productive lives and contribute to the well-being of their societies. The Conference would highlight children with disabilities, among other topics, he said. “Today’s investment in children with disabilities is tomorrow’s progress for all of us.”
Over the past decades, thanks to the commitment and efforts of millions, much progress had been made in improving the lives of persons with disabilities, he said, stressing the need to strengthen international legal instruments, as embodied by the Convention. Governments had adopted empowerment measures facilitating the integration and participation of persons with disabilities in economic and social activities. Many businesses had responded to the calls of the United Nations and civil society by giving equal opportunities to persons with disabilities. “Indeed, in a recent survey of small and medium-sized enterprises, over 90 per cent of managers state that persons with disabilities perform well in managerial positions.” Despite the many advances, however, there remained a gap between the aspirations and the daily experiences of persons with disabilities, he cautioned, pointing out that persons with disabilities today were still much more likely to live in poverty, facing multiple barriers. Many still lacked access to social services and employment. With the deadline for attaining the Millennium Development Goals only three years away, “you have a historic opportunity to promote a disability-inclusive post-2015 development agenda”, he said.
LENIN MORENO, Vice-President of Ecuador, said the international community could expect no less than universal ratification of the Convention in the near future. Sharing his personal story of living in a wheelchair for the last 14 years, he said his disability was not just a physical fact; it provided an entirely different perspective. Life was seen from a different angle, and some realities “seem to vibrate on a different frequency”, he said, adding that one could better see the “daily holocaust” inflicted on people struggling to realize their right to development.
In response to those challenges, the Government of Ecuador had pledged to seek solutions to the problems suffered by the most sensitive segments of society, he said, making a personal commitment to help every person with a disability in the country. The Government had gone to the farthest reaches of rural Ecuador, where persons with disabilities lived in terrible conditions, often under the care of a single kindly neighbour, “if they are lucky”. The participation of all society — including civil society, non-governmental organizations, the media and private citizens — was needed to address the crisis, he stressed.
Together, Ecuadorean stakeholders had been working hard on all fronts to defend the rights of persons with disabilities, he said. They had acquired wheelchairs, hearing aids and other technical equipment, in addition to having enshrined in its Constitution the right of persons with disabilities to decent work. Hopefully there would be full employment for those with disabilities within a year. The Government was also providing a monthly minimum-wage voucher to caretakers, and building accessible homes for the families of persons with disabilities. “In Ecuador, persons with disabilities are recovering their dignity,” he stressed, adding that solidarity — not to be confused with charity — was the noblest asset of mankind, and was helping persons with disabilities realize their rights.
CRAIG MOKHIBER, Chief, Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed the importance of implementing the Convention, and of the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as equality for all without any distinction. However, the reality was that persons with disabilities were still invisible, continued to suffer stigma, and remained locked out by decision makers, he said.
There had been a paradigm shift in addressing disability issues, from a medical approach to one driven by human rights and dignity, he noted. “They are visible and equal members of our family.” Since the last Conference, 16 new States had signed the Convention and 9 had ratified it. He called for State parties to elect nine new members to the expert Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with a view to choosing those with the right qualifications, particularly expertise in human rights, so that the Committee could discharge its duties more effectively.
Turning to the issues of women and children — groups subjected to exclusion on the basis of sex and age — he said women, disadvantaged in terms of education and employment, were disproportionately poorer compared to men, adding that current legislation failed to address such issues. Children were the most marginalized, he added, urging respect for their evolving capacities. To make the Convention count for children, States parties must identify, according to their age and maturity, steps that would make them equal members of the community. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights complemented each other, he said, recalling a slogan for persons with disabilities: “Nothing about us without us.”
YANNIS VARDAKASTANIS, International Disability Alliance, declared: “We are the rights holders of the rights enshrined in the Convention.” Noting that the organization comprised eight global and four regional organizations of persons with disabilities, he said he wished to discuss, among other things, the “double discrimination” faced by women and girls with disabilities, as well as the obstacles faced by those with psycho-social and other disabilities. Indeed, they were “the first to pay” in the shadow of the current global financial turmoil, though they had not caused the crisis.
“We need to renew our commitment” to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, calling for a new plan to ensure those rights in an environment that was dangerous for human rights as a whole, and for those of persons with disabilities first and foremost. Such a strategy would entail several crucial elements, the first being the mainstreaming of disability rights and the Convention into all programmes, initiatives and policies of the United Nations system, both at the intergovernmental and country-team levels. The United Nations must be the “real, practical and daily advocate of the [Convention] everywhere in the world”, he stressed.
Secondly, the Convention could be properly implemented only if organizations of persons with disabilities were consulted and involved in all phases of planning and implementation at all levels, he continued. That involvement could be substantial only if it were connected to capacity-building, he added, calling on States parties and the United Nations to take that seriously into consideration. In addition, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities needed more practical support, including more meeting time, in order to be in a position to influence real, practical implementation of the Convention at the national level.
Finally, the disability movement should not allow a repeat of what had happened with the Millennium Development Goals, he cautioned, emphasizing that the movement “will never accept to be invisible, to be forgotten”. The post-2015 development agenda must be disability-driven, he said, noting that “nothing about us without us” was not merely a slogan, but a way of living. Moreover, it was the only way in which persons with disabilities could counteract their past invisibility, he said, calling upon Member States and private donors to support that very important initiative. “We can make a difference, even in this difficult, turbulent world that we live in today,” he said, calling on persons with disabilities to lead the way. “Let them speak first,” he stressed.
CLÉMENCE TRAORÉ/SOMÉ, Minister for Social Affairs of Burkina Faso, said her country’s Government had ratified the Convention and its Optional Protocol in 2009, and was taking measures under its five-year programme to implement them. Specifically, Burkina Faso had enacted a law in April 2010 that had led to the creation of a body mandated to protect persons with disabilities, which was also charged with following up on the Convention’s implementation. Steps taken by the Government included measures in vocational training and transportation, she said, adding that a framework of partnership was in place to promote advocacy, as was a pilot project to bolster inclusive education.
SHEILABAI BAPPOO, Minister for Social Security, National Solidarity and Senior Citizens Welfare and Reform Institutions of Mauritius, said that her country, a small island with a population of 1.2 million, provided citizens, persons with disabilities among them, with various free services, including education until the age of 13 years and free public transportation. The Conference was particularly important for three reasons: first, it was being held against the backdrop of a global economic crisis; second, its theme focused on women and children with disabilities; and third, the deadline for achieving Millennium Development Goals, including alleviating poverty, was approaching rapidly.
Warning against a “growing conspiracy of silence” regarding women and children with disabilities, she called for fully-fledged efforts without compromise. Measures by the Government of Mauritius to implement the Convention included a programme to boost training for persons with disabilities, she said, stressing that the Constitution provided fundamental rights. “The able and disabled enjoy the same rights.” One law had been amended to ensure that businesses devoted 3 per cent of positions on company payrolls to persons with disabilities. The Social Aid Act provided national pensions and the National Assembly Act made voting easier for them. Mauritius had created a forum for women’s networks, in line with the slogan “nothing about us without us”, she said. “Dreams of citizens with disability must be turned into reality,” she emphasized, calling on Member States to contribute financially, taking into account the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, which was gripped by the global economic and other crises.
HENDRIETTA BOGOPANE-ZULU, Deputy Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disability of South Africa, said her country’s Government had ensured that its Constitution prohibited discrimination on grounds of disability. It had put the relevant legislation in place and stood ready to share it with other Governments. Implementation of the Convention “must give children with disabilities hope”. Quoting a prominent activist, she said “hope is what keeps us going and striving for the lives we deserve”, adding that today was indeed better than yesterday, and tomorrow would be even better. Protecting children and women with disabilities from exploitation and sexual abuse, as well as other societal ills, was an obligation placed on all.
“We can do more to build a truly inclusive society” free of such evils, she said, emphasizing that education remained a critical tool for liberating people from marginalization and exploitation. Particular attention should be paid to ensuring the existence of safe and inclusive schools, with the aim of raising children who were active contributors to society, rather than citizens in need of handouts, she stressed. “No country can afford that,” she added. The world had become a global village, but for those with disabilities, it remained “very vast, and as rural as ever”. She challenged every leader, activist, industrialist and journalist present to challenge their own inner attitudes towards persons with disabilities.
NAPA SETTHAKORN, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, said her country had gradually shifted from a charity-based and disability-specific approach towards a more rights-based and disability-inclusive approach. For that, it had received the international Franklin Delano Roosevelt Award in 2001. The Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities Act, passed in 1991, was Thailand’s first disability-specific legislation, she said, adding that it aimed to promote rehabilitation services, particularly vocational rehabilitation, for persons with disabilities. It had led to Government programmes designed to help people with disabilities acquire skills that would enable them to earn a living, contribute to the economy and take their rightful place in society. Later, Thailand had passed the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Act of 2007, the country’s first non-medical and rights-based disability law, she continued. Under those laws, persons with disabilities were entitled to education, employment, medical services, and social welfare services on an equal basis. Their entitlements included a monthly disability allowance, personal assistance and care, sign language interpretation services, and home modification. The Fund for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities provided opportunities for access to loans. In terms of policy, Thailand was on its way to implementing its fourth National Plan on Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2012-2016, she said.
EVAN LEWIS (Australia) said the core of his country’s National Disability Strategy would be a lifetime approach, enabling choice and control, a focus on early intervention, a comprehensive information and referral service, including the mainstreaming of disability and community support, and support for social and economic participation. Under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, people would be able to choose how to obtain support and enjoy control over when, where and how they received it. They would also have a long-term plan so that the support received could be adjusted as changes arose, or as transitions were successfully implemented over their lifetime. “People will be supported in understanding how to take advantage of their choice and options,” he said.
Australia was also committed to upholding and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities internationally, as a contributor to both funding and policy in the field of disability-inclusive education, he continued. Enhancing the lives of persons with disabilities was one of the 10 key objectives of Australia’s aid programme, he said, describing the strides made in that respect. However, more remained to be done, he cautioned. In June, the Foreign Minister had announced new initiatives to improve the rights of persons with disabilities in developing countries, including $3 million for the Disability Rights Fund and a $4.5 million partnership with the Pacific Disability Forum covering the period 2010-2016.
SILVIA BERSANELLI ( Argentina) said her country’s Government had made important progress in recent years by putting the Convention into practice in its public policies. The new approach superseded the former “segregating” approach, which disregarded their real needs. Citing several specific advances, she said they included a new law on accessible audio-visual media, and a new programme on the application of technologies for health. The Ministry of Education had enacted a programme, “Connecting Inequality”, intended to provide technologies for students with disabilities. In addition, the Ministry for Justice and Human Rights had established a programme to enable persons with disabilities to participate in judicial proceedings and realize their right to justice. An “observatory on disabilities” had been established, and Argentina was engaged in both South-South cooperation and regional cooperation in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities, she said.
AHMED ABUL KHEIR ( Egypt) said the convening of the Conference was timely, coming as it did on the heels of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. The inclusion of five specific references to disability issues in that meeting’s outcome document was a positive step towards disability-inclusive development in the work of the United Nations and beyond. Governments should take measures to translate their commitments into specific actions, and all stakeholders should work to ensure that the rights, needs and concerns of persons with disabilities were included in sustainable development policies and practices everywhere, he said.
Noting that the General Assembly planned to convene a high-level meeting on disability and development under the theme “The way forward: a disability-inclusive agenda towards 2015 and beyond” on 23 September 2013, he said it would result in a concise, action-oriented outcome document. It was important to use the current momentum on disability issues to maximize the results of the high-level meeting, he said. Egypt welcomed the launch of the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by six United Nations entities, and proposed the inclusion of a new agenda item during the sixth Conference of States Parties on efforts to promote that partnership. He briefly reviewed his country’s efforts to harmonize national legislation with the Convention, including plans to issue “smart cards” that would facilitate services for persons with disabilities, the establishment of new centres for the early detection of disability, genetic services, surgical intervention and rehabilitation for children with disabilities under the age of 18 months.
JAIME HERMIDA CASTILLO ( Nicaragua) said that his country, in collaboration with Cuba, sent doctors to diagnose disability in the population. “We have made 132,000 visits to people with disabilities and many were able to receive wheelchairs and food rations.” Citing the “Mission Miracle” itinerant programme, he said it had reached 715 people in a remote area. In addition to a programme for helping the blind, companies must employ at least two disabled Nicaraguans for every 100 employees, he said, also describing measures taken to help children with disabilities through specialized centres.
YUSRA KHAN ( Indonesia) said the recent Paralympic Games had shown that people with disabilities could have fulfilling lives. Deploring the fact that women and children with disabilities were among the most disadvantaged in society, he said his country had launched a national action plan to support people with disabilities and also sought to improve access to social services. In addition, the Government had devoted the decade 2011-2020 to people with disabilities, adding that disability issues required more funding.
MARTIN SAJDIK ( Austria), associating himself with the European Union, said that, since the Convention’s adoption, a paradigm shift had been seen in policies relating to persons with disabilities. Austria had elaborated its National Action Plan for the period 2012-2020, with full civil society participation throughout the process. Concerning the current Conference theme, he said Parliament had adopted a law on the rights of the child, and a project known as “Youth Coaching” aimed to help young people, including those with special needs, navigate the transition from school to work. Austria also supported several projects to enhance the self-reliance and empowerment of women with disabilities, he said, adding that his country was interested in sharing its experiences on implementation of the Convention and learning from the experiences of others.
CHRISTINE HENDRICKS ( Jamaica) her country had made several advances and was currently in the advanced stages of drafting a legislative framework to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Government had amended the Road Traffic Act in May, allowing persons with physical disabilities to obtain a driver’s licence. It was also conducting a needs assessment and gathering data on persons with disabilities in order to drive developmental planning, she said, adding that an electronic database would be compiled to help with those plans. Another plan entailed raising public awareness of disability issues and to increase the national registration of those affected. Jamaica remained committed to advancing and implementing the provisions of the Convention, and to improving the quality of life of vulnerable individuals.
CARLOS ENRIQUE GARCÍA GONZÁLEZ ( El Salvador) emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to matters related to disability, saying his country’s Government had made progress in boosting its legal capacity, with more data collected and a special rapporteur compiling a manual of best practices. El Salvador was harmonizing national laws with international standards, and the Government had submitted its first report on persons with disabilities in January 2011. It was currently drafting a national policy on persons with disabilities. Progress had also been made in democratic participation, with the Electoral Code having been amended to allow persons with disabilities to run for public office. Stressing the need for particular attention to older persons with disabilities, he said he expected that the Conference outcome would feed into future discussions, including the high-level meeting scheduled for September 2013.
ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL HUSSEIN (Jordan) pointed out that the 26 members comprising the high-level panel tasked with recommending a post-2015 development agenda to the Secretary-General had not included individuals with disabilities. “We encourage our hosts, the UN, to once again begin to reflect in its own staffing, at all levels in the Secretariat, and including in the advisory bodies, the complexity and diversity of the very world it represents,” he said. The principle of inclusion must also find better expression within all respective Governments. In Jordan, the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities promoted that approach, and 7 of its 19 board members had disabilities. Following a BBC investigative report early this year on the appalling abuses committed in a few privately-run care centres, King Abdullah II had ordered the formation of an investigative committee to examine the alleged violations in detail, he said. Like all Jordanians who had been shocked by the BBC reports, the members of the Higher Council believed that they only underscored the need to continue the quest to de-institutionalize every Jordanian with an intellectual disability, so they could then take up their rightful place as functional citizens in society.
JENNY ESQUIVEL MESEN ( Costa Rica) restated her country’s commitment to implementing the Convention, noting that its National Council for Rehabilitation and Special Education, the relevant prime authority, was readjusting its approach to the formulation of disability-related public policy. The fact that persons with disabilities could function on an equal footing with all others should not be taken lightly, as it was in community life that solutions to the problems affecting them could be found. Costa Rica was already engaged in South-South cooperation with Honduras, and would participate with 11 other Central American countries in a seminar next year, with support from Japan.
Appropriate and inclusive education must be a priority for all States, she said, emphasizing that women and children must be able to participate, particularly in matters affecting them directly, such as sexuality and empowerment. Describing technology as the “new frontier of human interaction”, she said it was tied in with the ideas of citizenship and removing obstacles to full and equal participation by all people. “We see increasingly equal participation on the horizon,” she said, noting that her country had introduced several related initiatives. They included improving the conditions for participation in electoral processes, promoting the political involvement of persons with disabilities, improving mechanisms for collecting and compiling data on persons with disabilities, training non-governmental organizations, and including persons with disabilities in charting the way forward.
RICHARD FISCHELS ( Germany) said that in many areas, his country followed the “design for all” concept, which took into account the full range of human abilities, skills, requirements and preferences. Another important area of Germany’s National Action Plan dealt with accessible information and communication. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had issued a second ordinance on barrier-free information technology, and Germany now had its first representative data. First, a survey of the living situation of, and the strains on, women with disabilities showed a high incidence of violence among them, he said, adding that, compared to the average female population, twice as many women with disabilities had been found to have experienced physical violence in adult life. Secondly, the rate of sexual violence among the respondents was two to three times as high as that found among the average female population.
MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ ( Colombia) said his country had been consolidating its national system on disability, and the Convention had been the “best road map” in that regard. Colombia’s national policy incorporated the principle of achieving full equality for persons with disabilities through their full participation. The Ministry of Education had created a plan for inclusive education, under which institutions that enrolled children with disabilities received a 20 per cent budgetary increase in order to ensure accessible and appropriate education. The training of teachers and other educational personnel had been initiated, he said. In addition, the different types of disabilities — visual, cognitive, physical and others — had been studied, and unique approaches to education had been incorporated as a result. The Convention’s focus on rights, as well as possibilities for development, had encouraged the Government to consult directly with women with disabilities. The Ministry of Information Technology was undertaking a national public policy for populations with disabilities, working for a sustainable increase in the use of communications technologies by persons with disabilities across Colombia.
STEPHEN THROWER ( United Kingdom) said his country had made good progress in implementing the Convention since the last Conference. It had submitted its first periodic report to the expert Committee in 2011, in which it set out its national strategy. “Our thinking has been evolving this year,” he added, noting that the national plan was increasingly based on the goal of helping people with disabilities fulfil their potential. A document titled “Fulfilling Potential” had recently been published, with the involvement of persons with disabilities, and follow-up documents tackled the need to ensure the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities, he said. Establishing a non-governmental, cross-sector alliance on disability would bring the expertise and experience of persons with disabilities directly to decision makers. The United Kingdom’s approach to disability matters had recently been demonstrated by the London Paralympics Games, he said. For the first time ever, the Olympics and Paralympics had been conceived and designed as one, with equal priority placed on each. Hopefully, the worldwide popularity and impact of the Paralympics Games could help achieve the aspirations of the Convention itself, he said.
XIMENA RIVAS ASENJO ( Chile) said her country’s Government had submitted its basic report on the Convention’s implementation to the United Nations Secretariat in August. More than 2 million persons with disabilities currently lived in Chile and the State had made firm commitments to respect and promote their rights. For example, efforts were being made to improve legislation on that subject, with a view to meeting the standards set in the human rights instruments to which Chile was a party. Regarding insertion into the labour market, she said efforts were under way to redefine job-brokering programmes while holding business circles and the public administration jointly accountable in that task and eliminating discrimination against persons with disabilities in the world of work.
GUILLERMO RISHCHYNSKI ( Canada) said all his compatriots, including women, children and those with disabilities, enjoyed the country’s strong human rights protection through the domestic legal system and, in particular, as a result of the federal and provincial human rights legislation and constitutional guarantees enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among Canada’s various Government programmes were the Child Disability Benefit, which offered support to families with children suffering severe and prolonged disability, as well as higher tax deductions for families who had children with disabilities. The Government also continued to improve the Registered Disability Savings Plan, a long-term initiative to help people with disabilities and their families save for the future. Canada also had a number of programmes and initiatives aimed at increasing accessibility, including the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which supported community-based projects across the country.
Round Table on Accessibility and Technology
The opening day of the Conference included a round-table discussion on accessibility and technology. Chaired by Jakkrit Srivali, Deputy Permanent Representative of Thailand, it featured panellists Hiroshi Kawamura, founder and former Chairman of DAISY International; Frances West of IBM; Inmaculada Placencia-Porrero of the European Commission; and Sean Cruse of the United Nations Global Compact.
Mr. SRIVALI ( Thailand) said that when people thought of accessibility, steps and elevators came to mind, but accessibility was much more than that.
Mr. KAWAMURA said the DAISY Consortium had been formed by talking-book libraries in May 1996 to lead the worldwide transition from analogue to digital talking books. It envisioned a world in which people with print disabilities would have equal access to information and knowledge, without delay or additional expense. Its mission was to develop and promote international standards and technologies that would facilitate equal access to information and knowledge for all people with print disabilities, and which would also benefit the wider community.
He said that he and his colleagues had been striving to change the current publication paradigm on the basis of paper or visual presentations. One example of DAISY applications was an HIV/AIDS resource material developed with the contribution of South African disability communities. With that software, texts were highlighted as audio reading proceeded, and users could enlarge text, adjust reading speed and skip chapters by clicking on a visual icon, among many functions friendly to people with disabilities, he said, adding that those applications were superior to electronic text or simple audio.
A second example of DAISY technology applications was a tsunami evacuation manual for a disability community in northern Japan, he said. When the tsunami had hit the area on 11 March 2011, there had been no human casualties in that community because of the training they had received, he said. Combinations of voice, text and graphics had helped people with psycho-social disabilities to prepare themselves for the tsunami. DAISY multimedia technology could also help people with changing needs, he said. For instance, when visual learners got old and their visions deteriorated, they needed to shift to a more auditory learning style, he said, pointing out that the United States Department of Education had embraced DAISY standards.
DAISY technology was also useful in disaster reduction, he continued. For instance, foreign guests staying at a hotel near a shore prone to tsunamis may have difficulty reading a printed evacuation guide in local languages. A manual incorporating DAISY standards would be helpful for such travellers, he said. One lesson learned was that people had to survive the first half hour of a disaster. Until rescue teams arrived, people had to help each other, he said, calling for the integration of DAISY standards into disaster risk-reduction programming.
Ms. WEST, describing accessibility as a global topic, said the market was giving good indicators that creating accessible solutions was “not just a good cause, but good for the business”. Meanwhile, technology was creating significant “disruptive trends” — changes in society providing opportunities for business — while “growth countries” such as India and China created opportunities that could not be ignored. The IBM approach focused largely on the workforce, as innovative ideas came from workers with diverse backgrounds, she said, adding that it was that belief that had led the company to hire the first worker with a disability in 1914.
In many cases, a good accessible solution for people with disabilities was a good solution for the wider population, she continued, citing the “mobile revolution”. In the national context, well-informed and productive citizens were good for a country as a whole, she said. Similarly, there was a policy at IBM that products and services must be accessible in order to keep all workers informed and productive. In all its innovation, she said, the company asked a number of key questions: Can it be systematized or globally scaled? Is it sustainable? Can it be self-serviced?
IBM had put great effort into creating a collaborative workforce platform that was accessible, she continued. It also focused on introducing technologies that facilitated communication across different language backgrounds. Other new initiatives included a “virtual worker”, or a knowledge transfer that blended the wisdom of an older worker and the energy of a younger one. At the market level, “it takes a village” to implement accessibility, she said.
She said technology would be the foundation for societal advances and economic growth, and it was, therefore, important to drive the concept of public-private partnership as a road map for that growth. A company’s implementation of accessibility as part of its pursuit of profit was very similar to a country’s pursuit of its citizens’ productivity and happiness, she said. Indeed, both should ask themselves whether their research agendas really accelerated inclusion and growth, she said. Could their offerings to citizens be sustained as technology changed?
Ms. PLACENCIA-PORRERO highlighted activities of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, in advancing accessibility in the 27-member regional bloc. The European Union was a party to the Convention and had 80 different legal acts of all kinds concerning accessibility, including transportation, communications and funding. While it was important to ensure accessibility to new barriers, it was equally important to improve accessibility to existing ones, she stressed.
One way to eliminate barriers was to incorporate universal designs that were already used in low-platform buses, remote control devices, type writers and software, she said. While acknowledging advances made in that effort, she said challenges would remain, and outlined several different approaches taken in the European Union. They included an approach entailing investment in research and policy development in information and communications technology, as well as transportation, she said. Another approach was establishing legislation that would ensure accessibility and reasonable accommodation. There were also approaches in terms of funding and research.
Other key approaches included standardizations, she continued, adding that harmonizing standards would facilitate implementation of the Convention. The European Commission was asking the European Union standards organization to include an accessibility perspective when developing new standards. Efforts were also being made to train people with disabilities on standard-making, as well as accessibility, she said, proposing that a European Accessibility Act for internal markets could remove fragmentation and create economies of scale. One big challenge was the lack of data on financing for accessibility in Europe, she said, calling on Member States to come to the next Conference with more data in that regard.
Mr. CRUSE said the Global Compact was a strategic initiative within the United Nations that worked to promote human rights, environmental stewardship and anti-corruption. Businesses joined the Compact by committing to those and other United Nations goals, he said, noting that some 7,000 businesses — and 10,000 overall participants — were working with the Compact. One of the human rights principles being tackled was the elimination of discrimination, which was related to support for the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, noting that a recent study called “Return on Disability Index” had tracked the returns of 100 firms that had worked best with people with disabilities. It had found that they fared better than those that had not incorporated accessibility.
Several main types of activities were undertaken by “the most enlightened” to advance the rights of people with disabilities, he continued. In one case, a major hotel company was assuring that all its facilities had been made accessible to people with disabilities, while some software companies, such as IBM, were using their product lines to push the accessibility of content forward. Additionally, many such companies were engaging in public-private partnerships in developing countries so as to bring accessibility technology into schools, he said. One mobile technology company was advancing its accessibility and video conferencing, and had created an internal group to better understand their impact.
Another type of activity dealt with the recruitment and retention of employees with disabilities, he said, citing an innovative job fair for people with disabilities, undertaken by a Sri Lanka-based company. In addition, a non-profit programme was acting as a “middle man” in connecting students with disabilities to job opportunities in the financial sector. Some companies were also establishing in-house disability forums to help employees with disabilities learn and share from each other. Those initiatives were a good start, but they were “not enough”, he stressed.
The Global Compact was, therefore, leveraging its work to model approaches and best practices in accessibility, he continued. It was taking “deep dives” into some of the examples just presented, and was working to showcase the best practices advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. Similarly, the Compact was developing “good practice notes” to ensure that the activities of its businesses were aligned with the rights of persons with disabilities. In that vein, a website called www.business.un.org was helping to support the objectives of companies hoping to work within the principles of the United Nations, he said.
In the ensuing dialogue, many delegates agreed that full integration of accessible communications technology was critical. Several also requested further information from the panellists on best practices or innovative ways in which countries were working to ensure the accessibility of their communications networks. Still others raised the possibility of developing an imperative to include disability in most, if not all, conferences and projects of the United Nations.
The representative of Senegal said there must be stronger cooperation among States in the areas of accessibility and technological cooperation. Some countries had seen great gains in those areas, while others still had not, he said, proposing the creation of a fund to provide resources to that end.
The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania seconded that proposal, noting that all the panellists were from countries that enjoyed very high human development. The Global Compact should encourage companies to “do the right thing”, and work to build a bridge between those companies and least developed countries, he said. Indeed, the question of accessibility did not even arise in those countries, as their level of poverty was too high to allow even the possibility of accessible technology.
In a similar vein, delegates raised the question of the affordability of assistive technology, as several speakers noted the particularly high cost of technology used by the blind.
Also regarding the work of the Global Compact, the representative of Mexico requested the panellists to touch on the issue of social responsibility, asking also whether companies partnering with the Compact might be persuaded to finance civil society organizations working to implement the Convention on the ground.
Still other speakers stressed the need to ensure the existence of a disability perspective, particularly in the disaster-risk reduction agenda. They also asked about particular categories of disability and particular types of accessibility technology.
Mr. KAWAMURA, responding to some of those questions and comments, briefly provided further information on DAISY technology, stressing the open-source nature of its software. Availability, affordability and equal access were the most important factors for DAISY’s dissemination, he added.
Ms. PLACENCIA-PORRERO agreed that, while the Conference was discussing commercial accessibility solutions, free web-based solutions were also available. Similarly, many international, publically available rules and standards were useful to countries looking to elaborate accessibility guidelines “without reinventing the wheel”.
Ms. WEST, turning to the question of costs, said that in the past, assistive technology was created for individual use, and individuals, therefore, bore their costs alone. However, as technology and use had evolved — including with the advent of the “cloud” — individuals and companies could pool resources together, thereby reducing the costs of accessibility, she noted.
Mr. CRUSE said that some models — in the gender arena particularly — had been developed over the last few years for working with multiple stakeholders on a rights-based issue. The Global Compact could continue to explore what next steps really made the most sense to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, he said, adding that today was an opportunity to “start that dialogue”.
Also making comments or raising questions during the interactive dialogue were representatives of Canada, Thailand, South Africa, Sweden, Nigeria, El Salvador, Germany, New Zealand, Egypt and Sudan.
* *** *