International Day of Disabled Persons 1998

Arts, Culture and Independent Living

The United Nations observes annually, on 3 December, the International Day of Disabled Persons. The theme for the observance of the Day in 1998 at United Nations Headquarters is “Arts, Culture and Independent Living”.

The theme for 1998 reflects a number of priority concerns of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, its “equalization of opportunities” objective in particular. The World Programme urges, for instance, that Governments, which have not already done so, ensure that persons with disabilities have opportunities to utilize their creative, artistic and intellectual potential to the enrichment of society as a whole. The Programme also encourages Governments: to provide services to enable persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible; to promote opportunities for persons with disabilities to establish, develop and manage such services; and to adopt policies and establish structures and services that ensure equal opportunities for productive and gainful employment by people with disabilities in open markets.


The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted unanimously, in 1982, the “World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons”. In 1992, the Assembly proclaimed, by resolution 47/3, that 3 December be observed annually as the International Day of Disabled Persons. Observance of the Day aims to promote increased awareness and understanding of disability issues and trends and to mobilise support for practical action at all levels by, with and for persons with disabilities to improve their well-being and livelihoods on the basis of equality.

The World Programme of Action has two goals: full participation of persons with disabilities in social life and development, and equality. When adopting the World Programme the General Assembly defined equality for persons with disabilities on a parity with opportunities for those of the entire population. Parity in this sense is viewed not as a static phenomenon but one that is fostered and changes as countries develop. The Assembly thus envisaged what can be termed the “disability perspective” on development.

In 1993, the General Assembly adopted, by resolution 48/96, the “Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities”. The “Rules” identify preconditions for equal participation, target areas for action, and measures to implement and monitor progress.

Since the adoption of the World Programme of Action and the Standard Rules, there is growing recognition that disability issues are best addressed as an integral part of national development policies and programmes. Such recognition may be due to increases in both the absolute number of disabled persons and the percentage of the population with a disability in countries. As countries develop they not only create new forms of societal structures but replace existing structures to reflect new approaches and needs of larger and more diverse populations.

The decade of the 1990s has witnessed increased attention being accorded to the participation of persons with disabilities in development, to the disability perspective in policies and plans, and to the placement of disability issues in a broader human rights framework.

Development participation represents both a means and an end. In the World Programme of Action participation pertains to the full and effective involvement of persons with disabilities in development decision making, to their contributions to development efforts, and to their equal sharing in the results of development action. International development conferences held during the 1990s have addressed the situation of persons with disabilities with reference to a number of substantive concerns and not simply as an issue relating specifically to disability. Human rights of persons with disabilities now are recognized to be less the concern of a social group with particular needs and increasingly to be a prerequisite for advancing the rights of all. Human rights are used in a broad sense and pertain both to civil and political rights, and to social, economic and cultural rights.

Observing the International Day of Disabled Persons

During the past two decades much has been accomplished by, with and for the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in social life and development. The International Day of Disabled Persons provides opportunities for Governments, organizations of disabled persons and society as a whole to focus upon and take stock of the ways in which the skills, initiative and potentials of persons with disabilities contribute to the betterment of the societies in which they live.

Recent events organised in connection with the observance of the Day have included special exhibitions, workshops and discussions, media presentations and recently use of the Internet to promote an active and wide-ranging dialogue on the Day in cyberspace. The theme for 1998 – “Arts, Culture, Independent Living” – presents important opportunities to observe the Day at all levels.

Secretary-General’s message on the International Day of Disabled Persons