Secretary-General Stresses Persons with Disabilities are Central to Achieving Promise of 2030 Agenda

Speakers in yesterday’s launch of the observance of the 2019 International Day of Persons with Disabilities – held at United Nations Headquarters in New York – stressed that the voices of persons with disabilities serve to make society more inclusive and sustainable and are essential to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The event was hosted by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

“When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we move closer to achieving the central promise of the 2030 Agenda – to leave no one behind,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his message during the launch of the observance.

Mr. Guterres pointed to several initiatives within the United Nations that are spurring progress on disability inclusion, stressing that the organization is determined to lead by example. He said that almost all United Nations Member States have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and that in June of this year he launched the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy to raise the organization’s standards and performance on disability inclusion across all areas of work around the world. Finally, he said the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2475 (2019), its first-ever resolution dedicated to the protection of persons with disabilities in armed conflict.

The Secretary-General concluded by reaffirming the United Nations’ commitment to work with persons with disabilities to build a world in which all persons can realize their potential.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly, said the theme of this year’s observance – “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda” – aligns perfectly with the pledge to leave no one behind. “Disability issues must be mainstreamed into all discussions on sustainable development,” he stressed.

Mr. Muhammad-Bande said the General Assembly is taking steps to improve disability inclusion within United Nations Headquarters. As part of those efforts, he announced the re-appointment of Walton Alfonso Webson, Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda, and Chul-Joo Park, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea, as Co-Chairs of the Steering Committee on Accessibility. The Committee is tasked with enhancing physical accessibility as well as information and communication accessibility within the United Nations.

Turning to sport as a tool for inclusion, he encouraged all stakeholders to use sport as a medium to promote the dignity of all human beings. “I want to see persons with disabilities excel in any vocation they choose,” he said, calling for collective efforts to accomplish disability inclusive development.

Opening the event was Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, who said the 1.5 billion persons with disabilities around the world are making contributions that are delivering on the 2030 Agenda’s pledge to leave no one behind. Mr. Harris said the 2030 Agenda cannot be implemented fully unless persons with disabilities can participate meaningfully as agents of change. “When persons with disabilities lead and participate, the whole world benefits,” he stressed.

Ana Maria Menéndez, Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General on Policy, said the world cannot afford to leave over one billion persons with disabilities behind and the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy represents a transformative change for action. “We need to raise the standards of disability inclusion across all pillars of the United Nations’ work,” she said, calling for meaningful engagement with persons with disabilities as agents of change. “Whatever we do, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations must be at the front and center of our work.”

Venus Ilagan, a civil society representative, said the International Day is an occasion to assess emerging opportunities for persons with disabilities. Ms. Ilagan said she was born and raised at a time when society stigmatized disability, adding that disabled women of her generation were considered worthless, incapable of becoming leaders. “Things have changed in a positive way,” she said, noting that persons with disabilities are now able to enjoy their rights and are appreciated for the contributions they make in their communities. Still, as a seasoned disability activist, she tempers her optimism with the knowledge that much remains to be done to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992 through General Assembly resolution 47/3. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

For more information on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, please see: