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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

  The United Nations and Disabled Persons -The First Fifty Years

Contents | Chapter 1 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

The United Nations and Disabled Persons:
A Chronology

1970 - The Social Commission, at an inter-agency meeting attended by the ILO, UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF and the Council on World Organizations, promotes a new cooperative effort to assist developing countries with rehabilitation efforts. The ILO, UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Rehabilitation Fund design a programme to increase funds for technical assistance in the rehabilitation field. Rehabilitation experts are assigned to locations throughout the world.

1971 - On 20 December the General Assembly proclaims the Declaration on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons and calls for national and international action to ensure that it becomes the accepted basis and frame of reference for protecting the rights of the disabled.

1972 - The Administrative Committee on Coordination considers recommendations of a report on an ad hoc meeting on rehabilitation of the disabled. One is that rehabilitation services should be integrated with basic medical, educational and vocational development programmes.

1973 - From 26 to 28 November the ad hoc Inter-Agency Meeting on Rehabilitation of the Disabled is held in Geneva, attended by representatives of the United Nations, UNDP, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, ILO, UNESCO, WHO, the Council of World Organizations Interested in the Handicapped, and the International Social Security Association. A strengthening of coordination and planning in the field of rehabilitation of the handicapped is proposed. It is also suggested that the United Nations increase recruitment of disabled persons within the Organization.

1975 - At its twenty-fourth session the Commission for Social Development recommends elimination of physical and architectural barriers that prevent the full social integration of disabled persons. On 6 May the Economic and Social Council adopts resolution 1921 (LVIII), dealing with disability prevention and rehabilitation of the disabled.

In December the General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, which states that all persons with disabilities are entitled to the rights stipulated, without respect to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, state of wealth, birth or any other situation.

1976 - The General Assembly recommends that all Member States take into account the recommendations outlined in the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons when formulating policies, plans and programmes. It also proclaims 1981 as International Year for Disabled Persons, stressing that the Year should be devoted to fully integrating disabled persons into society and encouraging relevant study and research projects to educate the public on the rights of disabled persons. A trust fund for Member States' contributions to the International Year is established by the Secretary-General.

1978 - The Secretary-General establishes the intergovernmental Advisory Committee for the International Year of Disabled Persons.


Chapter III

The early years: 1945 - 1955

During its first decade of work in the field of disability, the United Nations promoted a welfare perspective of disability. Concern for the disabled was expressed in the establishment of mechanisms and the development of programmes suitable for dealing with disability issues. Beginning with the promotion of the rights of people with physical disabilities, such as the blind, it concentrated on disability prevention and rehabilitation. The United Nations Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary organ, the Social Commission, were the principal bodies dealing with disability issues.

During its sixth session in 1950, the Social Commission considered two reports, "Social rehabilitation of the physically handicapped" and "Social rehabilitation of the blind". At the same session, the Social Commission also examined a report by the International Programme for the Welfare of the Blind, which recommended education, rehabilitation, training and employment of the visually handicapped. Later, the Economic and Social Council agreed to establish programmes of rehabilitation for the physically disabled and for the prevention and treatment of blindness.

A conference was convened in Geneva from 26 February to 3 March 1950 to discuss coordination among the specialized agencies in the field of rehabilitation of the disabled. It was attended by the United Nations Secretariat, the ILO, WHO, UNESCO, the International Refugee Organization (IRO), and UNICEF. It led to agreement on the need to establish international standards for the education, treatment, training and placement of disabled persons, with particular emphasis on the needs of the blind in underdeveloped areas.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development