Independent Living and Sustainable Livelihoods
“…measures of whether persons with disabilities are empowered to take independent decisions in their lives, to exercise control over their use of time, to plan and decide on use of economic resources and to prepare for major life cycle changes represent the types of indicators that can predict whether desired outcomes are being achieved”1
The International Day of Disabled Persons, 3 December, was proclaimed by the General Assembly, by resolution 47/3, in 1992. The annual observance of the Day aims to increase awareness and understanding of disability issues and trends, and to mobilize support for practical action at all levels, by, with and for persons with disabilities. The theme for the observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons in 2002 is “Independent Living and Sustainable Livelihoods.”
The theme of this year’s observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons not only highlights the link between independent living and sustainable livelihoods, but also their important role in development and in achieving full participation and equality in all aspects of life. The theme also links human rights and development issues, whereby human rights issues are addressed through a systematic guarantee of access to all people.
Persons with disabilities are able and willing to contribute to the economic, political and cultural life of their communities, but still face many barriers, which must be eliminated to ensure that persons with disabilities, their families and communities can participate to their fullest potential in all aspects of life and in society.
In his report on the Third Review and Appraisal of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, the Secretary-General of the United Nations “endorsed the prerequisite concept that the disability perspective must be addressed for both human rights and development policies and programmes to be effective. The report articulated the notion of universal design approaches, calling for the planning and creation of environments to meet the needs of the entire population.”2 The human rights perspective clearly requires participation by persons with disabilities in all policy and programme formulations concerned with disability. In order to ensure access, the human rights framework also requires the involvement of persons with disabilities in decision-making related to development, in contributing to efforts at development and in equal sharing of the results of development. When applied in development, this framework views disability issues not as the concern of a special group but as a necessary prerequisite for advancing both the human rights of all people and the development aspirations of a country.
The significance of sustainable livelihoods of persons with disabilities was underlined in the series of the most recent United Nations General Assembly resolutions, which identified three priorities for action to equalize opportunities for persons with disabilities: accessibility; social services and safety nets; and, employment and sustainable livelihoods. The question of achieving sustainable livelihoods for and with persons with disabilities can be regarded as a continuum of interrelated issues, like: full unassisted participation in open labour markets; assisted labour market participation, such as sheltered workshops; specialized investments in human resources development, such as vocational training, education and social services; and legal requirements on level of rehabilitation services to further social integration.
To varying degrees persons with disabilities have been prevented – or restricted – from making social and economic contributions, which means that their families, communities and societies often are denied the value of their contributions; this also can result in added costs associated with specialised care and services. On the economic side, traditional segregated care and custodial care systems have proven to be expensive and counterproductive due to the high operational costs of the institutions on which they are based and the observed tendency of these institutions to prevent people with disabilities from gainning social and economic access to realise self-reliance.
Policies and strategies to bring persons with disabilities into the social and economic mainstream increasingly are recognised as superior from both an economic and a social perspective because of the focus on strengthening capacities of persons with disabilities to make economic contributions, which furthers their social integration while reducing expenditures on custodial care and specialized services. As an essential part of such policies and strategies, it is necessary to take into consideration the gender dimension.
Persons with disabilities should be beneficiaries and decision-makers in social life and development; this goal places an emphasis on individual and innovative choices and participation of persons with disabilities in their personal and community life. By focusing on unique talents of individuals in the universal movement by, for, and with persons with disabilities to promote independent living and sustainable livelihoods, and by recognizing the right of persons with disabilities to self-support, decent work, dignity, respect, self-reliance and self-determination, communities around the world will be able to develop new ideas and options for a strengthened basis for its economic, social, and cultural advancement as a whole.
1. United Nations General Assembly, Review and Appraisal of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons: Report of the Secretary-General (New York, United Nations A/52/351, 1997), p. 11, paragraph 49.
2. United Nations General Assembly, Review and Appraisal of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons: Report of the Secretary-General (New York, United Nations A/52/351, 1997), p. 4, paragraphs 6 and 7.