The International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Distinguished delegates,
Dear colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I welcome you to this year’s commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

We are also privileged to have with us H.E. Ambassador Libran N. Cabactulan of the Philippines, H.E. Ambassador Ombeni Sefue of Tanzania, and Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico, H.E. Ambassador Yanerit Morgan.

Also joining me at the podium today is our partner from civil society, Ms. Maria-Veronica Reina, Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Disability and Development, and from the World Health Organization, our co-sponsor of this event, Mr. Werner Obermeyer, Executive Director from the World Health Organization Office in New York.

We are privileged to have all of you with us today.

I now have the honour of presenting the message of the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, on this International Day:

The theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Keeping the promise: mainstreaming disability in the Millennium Development Goals”.

Among the promises made by world leaders at the MDG Summit in September was a commitment to improve the lives of persons with disabilities.

This diverse group includes people close to us – family, friends and neighbours. Indeed, physical, mental and sensory impairments are very common, affecting about 10 per cent of the world’s population.

Disability is also highly correlated with poverty. People with disabilities account for roughly 20 per cent of those living in poverty within developing countries. Worldwide, they suffer high rates of unemployment and often lack access to adequate education and healthcare. In many societies, there are simply no provisions made for this group and they end up living in isolation, disconnected from their own communities.

Despite these obstacles, persons with disabilities have displayed great courage and resilience. But even as we continue to be inspired by those who reach the highest levels of human achievement, such successes must not obscure the difficulties faced by those who live in desperate conditions and lack the rights, privileges and opportunities available to their fellow citizens.

Governments need to do more to support people with disabilities. That means implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And it means integrating their needs into national Millennium Development Goal agendas. In the Action Plan adopted at the MDG Summit, world leaders recognized that current efforts are insufficient.

On this International Day, let us recognize that the battles against poverty, disease and discrimination will not be won without targeted laws, policies and programmes that empower this group. Let us pledge to keep the promise of the goals alive in the community of persons with disabilities. And let us include them not only as beneficiaries but as valued agents of change in our five-year push to reach the goals by the internationally agreed deadline of 2015.

That concludes the message of the Secretary-General.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs has been working closely with its stakeholders – governments, the UN system, civil society and academic institutions – to raise awareness of and promote policy development toward the achievement of Millennium Development Goals that are disability-inclusive.

The department has worked with MERCOSUR (the Common Market of South America and its affiliates) through its Conference of High-Level Authorities on this issue.

DESA has led discussions that link emerging issues to disability and development – such as mental health, peace and development, emergency situations, natural disasters and HIV/AIDS. It has continuously urged Member States and other stakeholders to incorporate persons with disabilities into their projects and programmes.

Our efforts are paying off. As you know, world leaders adopted an outcome document at the recent High Level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs. It sets out a concrete action agenda for the international community to attain the MDGs by 2015. We were pleased and encouraged by the inclusion of disability-inclusive development in this agenda.

On this International Day I ask for your support in carrying out this agenda and ensuring that persons with disabilities are equal beneficiaries of all development initiatives.

As the Secretary-General has said: “let us pledge to keep the promise of the goals alive in the community of persons with disabilities.”

Thank you and I wish you a productive day of events.

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