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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality

United Nations Disabled Persons Bulletin
Bulletin No. 3 of 1997

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International Day of Disabled Persons, 1997

In order to mark the end of the Decade of Disabled Persons, the General Assembly, in its resolution 47/93 of 14 October 1992, proclaimed 3 December as International Day of Disabled Persons. The Day, which was initially proclaimed to commemorate the anniversary of the General Assembly’s adoption of the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, aims to promote greater understanding about disability issues and increased awareness of gains to be realized through full and effective integration of persons with disabilities into social life and development. It provides an opportunity for not only Governments and organizations of disabled persons but also all persons within society to focus on the freedoms and potentials of persons with disabilities.

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Observances in cyberspace.

The 1997 observance of the International Day involved extensive use of cyberspace, electronic mail (e-mail) and the Internet (World Wide Web), to inform, encourage and support a wide range of events concerning persons with disabilities.

The private voluntary organization People-to-People Committee on Disability ( posted an electronic note on preparations for the 1997 observance of the Day, which led to about 600 retransmissions on interested Internet sites around the world. Subsequent posting of the message of the Secretary-General resulted in a great number of messages to the United Nations ( on actions by Governments and the non-governmental community in connection with the Day.

Listed alphabetically below are some of the Internet resources that participated in the 1997 observance in cyberspace. It should be noted that these resources are listed for information only; the content and views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.

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Secretary General's message
(New York, 3 December 1997)

"More than 500 million men, women and children suffer some mental, physical or sensory impairment, making people with disabilities one of the world's largest minorities. In developed and developing countries alike, they face discrimination and are found disproportionately among the poorest strata of society. This is a "silent crisis", affecting not only disabled persons and their families but also the economic and social development of entire societies.

"The United Nations, since its founding, has been at the centre of global efforts to promote the well-being and rights of people with disabilities.

"The Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stress the dignity and worth of the human person and the equal rights of men and women. The World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in 1982, and the United Nations Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 1993, represent political and moral commitments by Member States to enhance disability prevention, to improve rehabilitation and other services and to fight against prejudice.

"The theme of this year's observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons--Arts, Sports and Disabilities--highlights the achievements and contributions of artists and athletes with disabilities. Arts and sports play a vital role in preparing people with disabilities for learning and career success. Participation nurtures the independence and self-worth of persons with disabilities and contributes to the cultural and economic life of their communities. This, in turn, can help bring about positive changes in public attitudes.

"This year's observance is also an occasion to salute Handicap International, a French and Belgian non-governmental organization that was among the founders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1997. The International Campaign and Handicap International have been highly successful in raising pubic awareness about the devastating impact of anti-personnel mines on people and societies and in achieving agreement on a worldwide ban. With an estimated 110 million mines and pieces of unexploded ordnance already in the ground around the world, it is my great hope that the landmark Convention on the prohibition of mines, being opened for signature today in Ottawa, will help put an end to the terror and disability wrought by these terrible weapons.

"People with disabilities possess an enormous reservoir of talent and energy that must be tapped. On the International Day of Disabled Persons, let us remember that the world is not monolithic, and let us renew our pledge to do our utmost to build a world in which every citizen can participate fully and actively."

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Events at United Nations Headquarters

Observance of the International Day at the United Nations focused on the contributions of the many talented artists and athletes with disabilities. Three special events took place: an exhibit by the Very Special Arts Foundation, a seminar on disability and a performance by Japanese drummers.

The Very Special Arts Foundation is an international nonprofit organization that promotes the arts, education and creative expression involving children and adults with disabilities. In cooperation with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Department of Public Information of the United Nations Secretariat, the Foundation organized an exhibit to celebrate the gifts and artistic contributions of many talented artists with disabilities. The exhibit, which was officially opened on 1 December, consisted of selected original artworks by professional artists from North America, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Participation of the Very Special Art Foundation in the Year’s observance of the International Day was a precursor to its involvement in Art and Soul, an international celebration of arts, disability and culture. Art and Soul will bring together more than 3,000 artists from around the world between 28 May and 2 June 1999 in Los Angeles, California.

On 2 December 1997, the Very Special Arts Foundation, in cooperation with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and of Public Information, organized a forum on arts and disability. Leading artists with disabilities participated. The moderator of the panel was Mr. Kenny Fries, the award-winning editor of Staring Back: The Disability Experience from Inside Out and a well-known activist in the area of disability rights. Panelists included Ms. Anne Finger, author of the novel Bone Truth; Mr. Raymond Luczak, an author/playwright, and the editor of Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay and Lesbian Reader; Mr. Lynn Manning, a poet and playwright who most recently wrote and performed in a 1997 production of Private Battle; and Ms. Katinka Neuhof, who has taught creative writing to adults with disabilities.

On 3 December 1997, members of the Cultural Exchange Group of Persons with Developmental Disabilities of Nagasaki, Japan, performed a traditional form of Japanese drumming called "Zuiho Daiko" at United Nations Headquarters and other locations in New York City. The Group’s lively and rhythmical playing attracted many listeners. The performance presented the story of the young drummers themselves--their expressions of happiness and jubilation in overcoming difficulties growing up with developmental disabilities. The audience was encouraged to participate in the performance, which lasted for about an hour and twenty minutes. A small traditional drum was presented to the United Nations to commemorate the event. There was wide coverage by local and international media. The performance was sponsored in part by the Japan Book Club of the United Nations Staff Recreation Council, the Japanese Mission to the United Nations and the Mayor’s Office of the City of New York.

For information on obtaining a video of the drummers’ performance, contact Ms. Lily Chua, Television News and Production Facilities Unit, Development and Human Rights Section, Department of Public Information, Audio-visual Programme, United Nations, New York, New York 10017, Tel: (212) 963-8104; Fax (212) 963-1186.

The Cultural Exchange Group is one of many vocational programmes of Nannko Airin Kai (Colony Unzen), a non-profit social welfare organization which was established in 1977 in Nagasaki Prefecture to assist people with developmental disabilities in attaining a higher level of independent living. It has been supported by governmental and international non-governmental organizations.

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Proclamation by the City of New York

New York, host city of the United Nations, issued the following proclamation on 3 December:


The annual International Day of Disabled Persons is being observed at the United Nations on the third of December in conjunction with the General Assembly’s World Programme of Action concerning disabled Persons. The theme of this Year’s observance, Arts, Sports and Disabilities, celebrates the artistic contributions of the many talented artists and athletes with disabilities; and


The day was initially commemorated by the United Nations in 1982 to promote understanding of issues concerning people with disabilities. This Year’s observance includes a special arts exhibit by the Very Special Arts Foundation, consisting of original artworks by professional artists from North America, Asia, Latin America and Africa. Other programmes celebrate the enormous talents of disabled artists, athletes and musicians; and


At this observance people with disabilities can learn about teamwork and creativity and how professionals with disabilities handle the special difficulties of their career choices, inspiring others with disabilities to realize their potential and to contribute their own talents in these rewarding vocations; and


New York takes a leading role in recognizing and advancing the right and potential of persons with disabilities in arts, sports, and every endeavor. The city remains committed to making our city a place where people with disabilities can excel,

Now, therefore, I, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mayor of the City of New York, in recognition of this important anniversary, do hereby proclaim, Wednesday, December 3, 1997, in the city of New York as International Day of Disabled Persons.

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European Day of Disabled Persons

The International Day was recognized by the European Union as the European Day of Disabled Persons. The theme of the 1997 European Day was "Empowerment of Disabled People–Building Civil Dialogue". Dreams alone don’t change the world, but action to change the attitudes and behavior of individuals, combined with changes in law, policies, and service, can.

The European Disability Forum used 3 December to increase knowledge about disabled peoples’s lives and about disability issues, correct inaccurate ideas about disabled people and

celebrate disabled peoples’ lives and achievements. For more details about the European Day of Disabled Persons, contact Mobility International, 18 Boulevard Baudouin, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium, fax: 00 322 201 5763; e-mail:

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Vanuatu Society

The Vanuatu Society for Disabled People (VSDP) observed the 1997 International Day of Disabled Persons with news releases in the local newspaper and on radio stations. People were invited to attend a local theatre production, and the Society launched two educational posters. A third poster will be issued in early 1998 in conjunction with International Women’s Day to encourage gender equity when caring for people with disabilities. For further information about the Vanuatu Society’s work, contact Vanuatu Society for Disabled People, P.O. Box 373, Port Vila, Vanuatu, tel. (678) 22321, fax (678) 27633.

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International Centre for Study and Development

The International Centre for Study and Development (ICSD) (India) observed the International Day of Disabled Persons throughout the week of 3-9 December. A circular was prepared in observance of the Day and posted to more than 200 local organizations, and a number of competitions in arts and sports were also arranged.

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Disability Action

Disability Action Inc. staged events in Adelaide, South Australia, to celebrate the International Day. A large gathering was planned to display the talents of many artists and performers with disabilities. The expected turnout was 400 to 500 people from the local community, with the event receiving generous sponsorship and support from all quarters.

The Day was also observed in a presentation of awards for Employee and Employer of the Year, the result of a state-wide contest to reward and promote outstanding workers with disabilities and the employers who had the imagination and good sense to employ them.

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