Including the disabled in Sustainable Development Goals

As the General Assembly adopted a landmark outcome document aimed at promoting disability-inclusive development, during its first-ever high-level meeting on that topic, that took place on 23 September, its President underlined the text’s significance as the instrument to guide efforts towards the creation of a fully inclusive society through 2015 and beyond.

“Given the size of such a marginalized group, the onus is on us all to ensure that any future sustainable development goals include the disabled,” Assembly President John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda) stressed, pointing out the absence of any reference to people with disabilities in all eight Millennium Development Goals. The international community had now realized that it would be impossible to meet development targets, including the Millennium Goals, without incorporating the rights, well-being and perspective of persons with disabilities.

By the text adopted today, Heads of State and Government reaffirmed their resolve to work together for disability-inclusive development and for the international community’s commitment to advancing the rights of all persons with disabilities, which was deeply rooted in the goals of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

More ambitious disability-inclusive development strategies

World leaders also underlined the need for urgent action by all relevant stakeholders towards the adoption and implementation of more ambitious disability-inclusive national development strategies, while expressing their resolve to undertake various commitments to address barriers, including those relating to education, health care, employment, legislation, societal attitudes, as well as the physical environment and information and communications technology.

The text urged the United Nations system as well as Member States to stay engaged in efforts to realize the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development targets for persons with disabilities towards 2015 and beyond. It encouraged the international community to seize every opportunity to include disability as a cross-cutting issue on the global development agenda, including the emerging post-2015 United Nations development framework.

The world’s largest minority

Assembly President Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), noting that some had labelled the disabled “differently able”, emphasized that people with physical, sensory, mental and intellectual disabilities were “the world’s largest minority”, numbering more than 1 billion. “They are a diverse and varied group, each with unique gifts and abilities, and each with unique challenges,” he said. “They teach us not only lessons about love and respect, but also about persevering against the odds.”

Turning to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the Assembly in 2006, he noted that 134 countries had ratified or acceded to the treaty, which had been envisaged from inception as both a human rights and a development instrument.

Lastly, he said international efforts should be focused on providing critical leadership with a view to mobilizing action and support for specific policy commitments in national and regional environments, and to harnessing best practices, experiences and resources from effective multi-stakeholder partnerships.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 80 per cent of persons with disabilities were of working age, and the same percentage lived in developing countries. Too many of them lived in poverty, suffered from social exclusion, and lacked access to education, employment, health care as well as social and legal support systems. Women and girls with disabilities often experienced double discrimination, and it was therefore necessary to emphasize the gender dimension of a disability-inclusive development agenda. Quoting International Labour Organization (ILO) statistics, he warned that excluding disabled persons could cost economies as much as 7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). “Together let us turn a new page in the history of the United Nations by giving full meaning to the outcome document of this meeting,” he said.

Also speaking this morning were Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Yannis Vardakastanis, President of the European Disability Forum; and Stevie Wonder, award-winning musician and United Nations Messenger of Peace.

20 per cent of the world’s poorest people have disabilities

Ms. Reyes said the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was the “lighthouse” that should guide engagement with disabled people in the new century. It was important to ask how their rights could be improved, looking not merely at the disadvantages they faced, but also at how they dealt with barriers and limitations on their actions. Noting that 20 per cent of the world’s poorest people had disabilities, she said it was clear that their ability to exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms was closely related to the exercise of socioeconomic rights.

She said her Committee foresaw the full reflection of the Convention in today’s outcome document. It should prioritize equality and non-discrimination, and include women, girls and boys, older people, indigenous peoples, people in rural areas and those living under humanitarian threats. States must comply with the commitments they had made.

Mr. Vardakastanis said 1 billion people with disabilities were looking to decision-makers nationally and internationally to tackle the exclusion, discrimination and poverty they faced. There was minimal acknowledgement of their rights in international law, despite the Convention’s adoption and ratification. The Millennium Development Goals contained no reference to people with disabilities, a situation that could not be tolerated in the post-2015 development agenda. Disability rights needed mainstreaming under the principles of “inclusion, non-discrimination and equity”, he emphasized.

A world with no limits for persons with disabilities

Mr. Wonder described the Meeting as “historic”, recalling that in his capacity as a Messenger for Peace since 2009, he had been advocating for the fundamental goals of peace, development and human rights for all. As “a man of dreams and hope”, he had sought to create a world with no limits for persons with disabilities who could contribute their talents to society.

He went on to point out that less than 5 per cent of millions of publications were available in a format accessible to the visually impaired, adding that the rate was even lower in the developing world. Braille, large prints and audio books could make a real difference in the lives of more than 300 million visually impaired persons, he said, stressing the need to reflect the voices of the disabled in every effort, whether for peace or development. “Let us all be messengers of peace,” he added, recalling that his mother had allowed him to discover the world, which in turn had led to the discovery of his own talent as a gospel singer and eventually to a recording contract with Motown.

Following the opening segment, the Assembly held two round-table discussions, on the first on “International and regional cooperation and partnerships for disability inclusive development”, and the second on “The post-2015 development agenda and inclusive development for persons with disabilities”.

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