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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

The 1980s
Numerous efforts, both substantive and promotional, are taken nationally and internationally to improve the situation of the disabled with the goal of integrating them into society and helping them with their physical and psychological adjustment. Programmes are launched focusing on rehabilitation and disability prevention. National committees representing 141 countries and territories are established to improve the social and economic condition of the disabled, to work on the development and implementation of programmes, and research, policy, decision-making, legislation, decentralization from the national to local levels, and assistance to developing countries.

1981 - Experts in the field of disability meet at several symposiums and conferences: the International Symposium on Disabled Persons meets 27 September - 4 October in Tripoli, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; the World Symposium of Experts on Technical Cooperation Among Developing Countries and Technical Assistance in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons meets in Vienna, Austria, 12 - 23 October; the World Conference on Actions and Strategies on Education, Disability Prevention, and Integration of Disabled Persons is held in Toremolinos, Spain, in cooperation with UNESCO.

Efforts are made to improve accessibility for disabled persons to the United Nations Headquarters in New York and to United Nations Offices in Geneva and Vienna. The United Nations Public Information units prepare photo display material, film, television and radio productions on the subject. UNICEF expands immunization to over 5 million children to decrease the potential for disability-causing disease.

In May, the Commission on Human Settlements endorses a policy encouraging the United Nations and Member States to eliminate barriers in human settlement areas that would hinder or impede "full participation".

From 30 November to 6 December - International non-governmental organizations participate in the International Year by attending the First Founding Congress of Disabled Peoples International, in Singapore.

1982 - The General Assembly adopts the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons. Disability policy is now structured in three main areas: prevention; rehabilitation; and equalization of opportunities.

On 3 December the General Assembly makes recommendations on the implementation of the World Programme, incorporating the recommendations of the Advisory Committee for the International Year. In the same resolution it also proclaims 1983-1992 the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

1983-1992 Having culminated its activities in the disability field with the proclamation of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, 1983-1992, the General Assembly encourages Member States to use the Decade to implement the World Programme of Action.

1983 - The Secretary-General announces publication of a report on activities concerning disability prevention. It indicates that many disabilities can be prevented by identifying measures to combat malnutrition, environmental pollution, poor hygiene, inadequate prenatal and post-natal care, water-borne diseases and accidents. UNDP, UNICEF and WHO establish an international programme with the goal of applying proven techniques to prevent and treat disabilities within general health programmes in New Delhi.

1984 - The Secretary-General reports that an average of 20 - 25 per cent of the population of developing countries is affected by disability and approximately 350 - 500 million disabled persons live in areas with insufficient services. A growing tendency to replace institutional care with programmes that help families and communities is cited in the report.

29 August 1984 – Mr. Leandro Despouy from Argentina is appointed Special Rapporteur by the Sub-Commission on Human Rights. He is to study the causal connection between human rights violations, violations of fundamental freedoms, and disability.

1985 - An international initiative is established to promote disability prevention and effective rehabilitation at the national and regional levels. The United Nations Trust Fund for the International Year of Disabled Persons is renamed the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

1987 - The Secretary-General issues a report stating that much progress has been made in increasing awareness on the significance of disability and its human consequences, but that much more needs to be done.

In August the Secretary-General convenes a global meeting of experts to review implementation of the World Programme of Action. Recommendations include holding an international convention on the elimination of discrimination against the disabled, launching a public information campaign and providing United Nations materials in forms suitable to the disabled.

1988 - The General Assembly calls upon Member States to place special emphasis on the equalization of opportunities for disabled persons. 1989 - The Secretary-General is requested by the General Assembly to bring to the attention of Member States the Tallinn Guidelines for Action on Human Resources Development in the Field of Disability. The Guidelines recognize disabled persons as agents of their own destiny rather than as dependent objects of governments and seek to realizes the full potential and capabilities of each individual. Employment is seen as a means for disabled persons effectively to exercise their full rights as citizens. The Guidelines state that disabled persons should be trained and employed in the work force on an equal basis with other members of society.


Chapter IV

The social welfare perspective:
1955 – 1970

The focus of the United Nations on disability issues shifted in the late 1950s from a welfare perspective to one of social welfare. A reevaluation of policy in the 1960s led to de-institutionalization and spurred a demand for fuller participation by disabled persons in an integrated society. Operational activities in the field of disability changed through implementation of various United Nations programmes on prevention and rehabilitation. Technical advice was offered to Governments through advisory missions, personnel training workshops and the establishment or improvement of demonstration centres. Information was exchanged through study groups and teaching fellowships and scholarships.

A public information campaign was launched by the United Nations through regular distribution of publications in the newly emerging field of disability policy. The first of a set of works entitled Rehabilitation of the Handicapped was published in the Social Welfare Information series. This special issue outlined the international programme for the rehabilitation of handicapped persons and highlighted programmes, books and films on rehabilitation. In 1956, the International Social Service Review was founded, one of whose objectives was to raise awareness of disability issues and emphasize rehabilitation programmes around the world.

While early United Nations activities supported the rights of persons with disabilities to receive welfare and public services, initially little attention was paid to societal obstacles that might be created by those goals. Starting in the late 1960s, attitudes began shifting towards a new social model for dealing with disability.

The Declaration on Social Progress and Development, adopted on 11 December 1969, affirmed the fundamental freedoms and principles set forth in the Charter of the United Nations and emphasized the need to protect the rights and welfare of the disabled and the physically and mentally handicapped.

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United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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