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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

  The United Nations and Disabled Persons -The First Fifty Years

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Chapter IX

Recent developments

The five most recent United Nations world conferences have emphasized the need for a "society for all", advocating the participation of all citizens, including persons with disabilities, in every sphere of society.

In 1992, the Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development encouraged Governments to give more attention to "demographic trends and factors ... that have a critical influence on consumption patterns, production, lifestyles and long-term sustainability." Other conferences advocated social initiatives for people with disabilities to improve health care, universal education, elimination or reduction of violent conflict and a lessening of the poverty rate for the disabled population, all of which are key themes in promoting equalization for persons with disabilities. The Rio document mirrors this trend and dedicates an entire section of the final report to "strengthening the role of major groups."

The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, reconsidered universally recognized human rights instruments in the light of contemporary issues and produced a Programme of Action to guide human rights efforts forward in light of today’s realities. The Conference recognized that "all human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and thus unreservedly include persons with disabilities." The Vienna Conference recognized that any discrimination, intentional or unintentional, against persons with disabilities is per se a violation of human rights.

The International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994, recognized the importance of the equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities. The objectives endorsed by the Conference included "ensuring realization of rights...and participation in all aspects of social, economic, and cultural life create, improve, and develop necessary conditions...[to] ensure equal opportunities ...and dignity [while] promot[ing] self-reliance" of persons with disabilities.

During March 1995, the United Nations held the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Summit adopted the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and the Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development. . The Declaration attempts to respond to the material and spiritual needs of individuals, their families and communities. It stipulates that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, and it cites disadvantaged groups such as disabled persons as deserving special attention. "Social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms." --Copenhagen Declaration

The Platform for Action, adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 4-15 September 1995) stipulates areas of special concern and recognizes that barriers to full equality for women can include factors such as their disability. Concerns relating to disability are also raised in the Beijing Declaration when the parties to the Conference commit to "intensifying efforts to ensure equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all women and girls who face multiple barriers to their empowerment and advancement because of factors such as...disability."

"We need the opportunity to talk about our feelings or our experiences...We have to have the opportunity to meet together, the women with disabilities." --A Japanese woman interviewed at the NGO Forum, Fourth World Conference on Women

At its thirty-fourth session, in April 1995, the Commission for Social Development requested that the Economic and Social Council adopt the mandate of ensuring an integrated approach to its work, taking into account the relationship between social and economic development.

The recent work of other organs has focused on the special needs of children with disabilities. UNICEF worked with UNHCR and the United Nations Centre on Human Rights to study the impact of armed conflict on children, as mandated by the General Assembly. During the World Summit for Social Development, a workshop on the rights of children with disabilities was organized by UNICEF and Rehabilitation International, a non-governmental organization.

The Statistical Division of the United Nations Secretariat, having noted the lack of sufficient, accurate and up-to-date information on the topic of disability, continues to undertake methodological work and gather relevant information. To date, it has published the International Disability Statistics Data Base (1988), the Disability Statistics Compendium (1990), and the Manual for the Development of Statistical Information on Disability Programmes and Policies (1996). The Division is currently preparing for publication the Guidelines and Principals for the Development of Impairment, Disability, and Handicap Statistics. Publication of a Handbook on Census and Survey Methods for Development of Impairment, Disability, and Handicap Statistics is planned by the Division.

The Department of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Secretariat, reports that at least 250,000 anti-personnel mine victims worldwide require prostheses. The figure increases at a rate of 800 per month. In 1997, anti-personnel mines were responsible for creating a marginalized group of disabled persons and their dependants in 68 countries, four times as many as in 1994. Currently, at the grassroots level, clearance programmes continue to be undertaken with the assistance of the Mine Clearance Unit of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs.

The regional commissions have pursued a number of assistance projects for the disabled in recent years. The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), through its project on rehabilitation engineering, has conducted workshops in various countries to analyse the current status of rehabilitation services, technical aids, the mobility of persons with disabilities, and the market potential for rehabilitation according to the needs of people with disabilities. Housing for the disabled and improvements in the living conditions of the elderly and the disabled are also on the ECE agenda.

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has established a trust fund to promote the Decade of Disabled Persons in the Asia and Pacific Area (1993-2002). From 1983 to 1992, during the United Nations Decade, ESCAP organized training workshops on managing self-help organizations, conducting surveys, and preparing technical guidelines and hosting regional conferences for non-governmental organizations.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) works in several countries still recovering from armed conflicts and in others where resources and services for people with disabilities continue to be scarce.

In collaboration with the member States of the Arab Gulf Fund for the United Nations Development Organizations (AGFUND), the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability has financed projects and programmes for disabled persons around the world.

The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) created the African Rehabilitation Institute with assistance from the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Conceived in 1980 during the African Regional Conference on the International Year of Disabled Persons, the Institute works for the development of regional programmes for the socio-economic integration of disabled persons in Africa.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has focussed its efforts on recovery from recent armed conflicts in the area, financial constraints and the elimination of negative cultural images of disabled persons still frequently perpetuated.

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