Contributions of one billion people must be recognized

There are an estimated one billion people in the world who live with some form of disability. Too often this means that they are denied fundamental human rights, including the opportunity to work. Unemployment means not only that persons with disabilities are unable to support themselves, but that society as a whole is denied the contributions of this group, the world’s largest minority.

Addressing this and other challenges facing persons with disabilities, the Fourth Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is currently taking place at UN Headquarters in New York. From 7 to 9 September, the Conference brings together human rights advocates, development practitioners and other stakeholders from Governments and civil society to discuss ways to improve the lives and well-being of persons with disabilities around the world.

The theme of this year’s Conference, “Enabling Development, Realizing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” links the rights of persons with disabilities to the wider development goals of society. Enabling the abilities of all people is essential to reaching international development goals, and this means putting in place frameworks which remove barriers to employment and participation of persons with disabilities in society.

Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development within UN DESA, characterizes this as “a people-centered approach to disability and development.” Applied to policy, this means that priority is given to “programmes that will get us out of sheltered workshops and homes and into full-time employment,” explained Ronald Clive McCallum, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This perspective highlights how the Convention must be brought to bear on the day to day circumstances of persons with disabilities. Supporting participation in political and public life and the right to employment, the Convention, which has been ratified by 103 States and signed by 149 countries, is not an end in itself.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, opening the conference, argued that while the Convention was a significant step, much is yet be done: “Far too many are denied the rights the Convention is supposed to guarantee. As long as they are denied those rights, we cannot rest,” she stated.

The Conference is part of the continuing efforts to advance the rights of persons with disabilities. Ms. Migiro summed up the challenge, pointing out that we must all continue to work to allow persons with disabilities to “fully realize their rights, so that our shared society can enjoy a better future.”

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