UN helps create a positive future for persons with disabilities

UN helps create a positive future for persons with disabilities

What do Jiří Ježek and Chantal Benoit have in common? They both live with disabilities. In the upcoming Paralympics Jiří will cycle with a prosthetic leg and Chantal will shoot hoops from a wheelchair. This is just one example of how people living with disabilities can flourish when they are empowered and when barriers for their inclusion in society are removed.

On 12-14 September, just two weeks after the Paralympics, the UN will host the Fifth Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to review good practices and challenges in the implementation of the Convention, which will help build a more inclusive, accessible and supportive international framework to promote the development and human rights of all persons with disabilities.

Adopted on 13 December 2006 and entering into force on 3 May 2008, the Convention is the fastest ever negotiated human rights treaty. It is intended as an international tool with an explicit social development dimension. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities, and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.

The two and a half-day session will gather hundreds of delegates from Governments, UN system organizations, academics and civil society, including representatives of organizations of persons with disabilities, to discuss ways to improve the lives and well-being of persons with disabilities. The theme of this year’s session is “Making the CRPD count for Women and Children”. The following are the sub-themes of the Conference: “Technology and Accessibility”, “Children with Disabilities” and “Women with Disabilities”.

1 billion people worldwide live with a disability, lacking access and support

It is estimated that there are currently over 1 billion people worldwide living with a disability. They face barriers to full participation in society such as difficulties with physical accessibility, transportation and lack of access to information and communications technolgies. It is widely understood that inaccessible environments can impede or enable, perpetuate exclusion or foster participation. Unfortunately for many people living with disabilities, their environments create barriers for their participation in society and development.

States Parties and individual experts will be given the opportunity to share their experiences of how improved accessibility can benefit all in society. The meeting will also discuss how accessibility and universal design can be incorporated in national development policies and programmes and how innovative solutions, such as public-private partnerships, can play an important role.

Children and women with disabilities are more marginalized

Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded members of society. They are less likely to attend school, to have access to appropriate medical and social services or to participate fully in their communities. Children with disabilities can experience double discrimination based on their identity, their gender or their minority status and face a significantly increased risk of physical abuse. They are also less able to advocate for themselves when it comes to fighting this discrimination and accessing services.

There are social costs related to the exclusion of children with disabilities from educational and employment opportunities. Adults with disabilities are often poorer than adults without disabilities but education has been found to decrease the divide. It is unknown exactly how many children have a disability worldwide due to systematic under-reporting and a lack of reliable data. It is estimated that as many as four in five children with disabilities live in developing countries.

Women with disabilities are also a highly vulnerable group. They often lack access to essential services, necessary to enjoy of their basic human rights. In many cases, they also have limited access to education and employment. Women with disabilities experience higher rates of gender-based violence, sexual abuse, neglect, maltreatment and exploitation than women without disabilities. It is widely recognised that the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women with disabilities is vital for their human rights, but also for the achievement of internationally agreed development goals, such as the Millennium Development Goals.

A future we want for all

The international community is increasingly recognizing the necessity and importance of including disability to obtain inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Some important steps are being taken to build a positive future for people living with disabilities. The Rio+20 outcome document, “The future we want”, has five specific references to disability, promoting sustainable development policies supporting equal rights and accessibility.

Discussions around new emerging international development frameworks have already started within and beyond the United Nations. On 23 September 2013 the General Assembly will also convene a High-Level Meeting on Disability where world leaders will have a unique and historic opportunity to discuss the way forward and initiate a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.

Stories of Paralympians and persons with disabilities have made headlines before, but to name a few other examples, Albert Einstein had a learning disability and didn’t speak until age 3. Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf. Thomas Edison also had a learning disability and couldn’t read until he was twelve. Franklin D. Roosevelt had Polio and author Helen Keller was both deaf and blind. British physicist Stephen Hawking managed to author “A Brief History of Time”.

These stories tell the same simple truth: disability is by no means an inability. These individuals all achieved greatness when they were fully included in society and they demonstrate that by breaking down barriers, and with the right opportunities, exceptional things are possible.

For more information:
Fifth Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)