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Report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability
Presented to the 43 rd Session of

Commission for Social Development
February 8-18, 2005

Hissa Al Thani
UN Special Rapporteur on Disability

Mr. President,
Your Excellencies Heads of Delegations,
Ladies and Gentlemen Representatives of International Organizations,

Peace and God’s blessings be upon you

It is indeed an honour for me to participate in the 43 rd Meeting of the Commission for Social Development. A meeting which this year takes place 10 years after the Copenhagen Summit for Social Development; a Summit that represents a historical milestone in our understanding, policies, programmes, projects and the very concept of development.

I am pleased to present to this esteemed committee my Second Annual Report on Monitoring the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities. The Report comprises my activities over the past year which have been aimed at:

  1. Raising awareness of the issues and circumstances of persons with disabilities;
  2. Monitoring the efforts of governments, regional and national organizations in the implementation of the Standard Rules;
  3. Supporting the organizations of persons with disabilities and advocating for their issues;
  4. Urging international, regional and national organizations working in development to include the issues of persons with disabilities on their agendas.

This has been accomplished through the following:

  1. Intensifying communication
  2. Conducting country and field visits
  3. Launching initiatives
  4. Participating in meeting and special events
  5. Attending relevant international and regional conferences convened by the disability movement organizations, development organizations, alliances and federations

Mr. President, Members of the Commission,

Allow me in the beginning to extend my sincere thanks to the State of Qatar for its continuous support for the work of the Special Rapporteur; and to the Commission for Social and it’s administrative staff for facilitating the implementation of my work programme.

I would also like to acknowledge the members of the Panel of Experts for their efforts in steering the work, their innovative suggestions, their creative advice and their constant readiness to offer their services throughout the past year of my mandate.

Mr. President,

I will attempt in this summary to present the contents of my Report under three main headings:

  • The first encompasses the activities of my work programme
  • The second will present the challenges facing the disability movement at the governmental and the grassroots levels;
  • The third will make recommendations gleaned from the activities undertaken, and based on the situations observed and the challenges noted.

I would like to point out here, that there are two principles that have governed my work:

  • The first is exemplified in my adoption of the positive approach based on identifying positive steps taken by governments, pointing them out and highlighting them while at the same time advocating for improvements with uncompromising objectivity;
  • The second is the constant vigilance to remind all partners and stakeholders of the philosophy of the “equalization of opportunities” as embodied in the Standard Rules, and the importance of maintaining it as the ultimate goal to which we all aspire, and emphasizing the need to translate it into action by implementing the Rules.


The work programme of the past year included a number of activities represented by the following:  

1. Awareness raising

a) Holding discussions and conducting dialogue with governments, government officials and organizations. This includes decision makers in more than 10 countries and over 150 organizations of persons with disabilities in Latin America , Europe , Asia , Africa , the Arab world, the United States and Canada.

b) Making 18 presentations, keynote speeches and opening statements in 13 capitals and cities in all regions of the world.

c) Employing the regional and international media in identifying the issues, raising awareness of them, identifying affirmative trends and encouraging positive attitudes towards persons with disabilities—this was accomplished through press releases and press conferences, television and radio interviews, televised awareness raising messages on special and relevant occasions such as the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, and at activities convened by international, regional and national bodies.

d) Producing one-minute public awareness television spots using the concept of equalization of opportunities as a basis for changing attitudes and correcting negative perceptions about persons with disabilities, and encouraging the implementation of the Standard Rules.

2. Monitoring

    a) Using the benchmark of “ten years to the adoption of the Standard Rules”, and in order to build a body of knowledge regarding government action on their implementation, I have taken on the task of designing and administering a “Global Survey on Government Action of the Implementation of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities”. Dissemination of the Survey began in October 2004 and we have begun to receive the responses.

    The Survey is made of 47 questions, two for each of the Standard Rules. The first deals with government actions in the area of policy, legislation, programmes, budget allocations, training, capacity building, and the involvement of the organizations of persons with disabilities in all of the above.

    The second aims at monitoring the situation of persons with disabilities in light of government actions.

    In keeping with the philosophy, letter and spirit of the concept of equalization of opportunities, the Survey was also sent to two DPOs in each of the Member States in order to assess the situation of persons with disabilities from their own perspective and in accordance with the principle of involving DPOs in the evaluating their realities and identifying their needs.

    b) In order to complete the picture that will emerge from the Survey and identify the roles and activities of partners, stakeholders and organizations, another Survey was distributed to regional development organizations aimed at ascertaining how much of their budgetary allocations, programme goals and activities take disability and disabled persons concerns into consideration. The survey has been distributed to the following organizations, funds and programmes: ILO, UNESCO, WHO, UNICEF, UNIFEM, POPULATION FUND, UNDP, UNHCHR.

    c) Additionally, monitoring was also achieved through country visits, participation in meetings, communication and meetings with the Panel of Experts, following the results and recommendations of conferences and regional activities, keeping abreast of the periodic reports and studies at national, regional and international levels.

    d) The work programme has also included a research project, currently underway, that is gathering data, statistics, information regarding the situation of persons with disabilities, their organizations, programmes, projects, initiatives in each of the Member States. I hope that this, plus the results of the Surveys, will provide a comprehensive picture of disability issues and the situation of persons with disabilities in the world.

3. Regional consultations

The regional consultations programme has identified three or four countries to be visited in each region of the world in order to gain a better understanding of the efforts and activities of governments and DPOs at the local level; establish and deepen the dialogue with governments and DPOs; identify good practices and success stories; facilitate the exchange of same between countries and regions that share similar conditions and have similar constraints..

In this context, the first phase of the programme was completed in the Fall of 2004 with a visit to Latin America , and the next will take place in the Spring of 2005 in April.

4. International cooperation and collaboration

In compliance with the philosophy and the principles of the equalization of opportunities, and in keeping with my commitment to international cooperation and the need to transfer knowledge and experience and share information and expertise, the first activity at the level of international cooperation is currently underway. It takes the shape of Euro-Arab Parliamentary Cooperation on Legislating for Disability in Arab Parliaments.

The genesis of this project was the formation of an Arab Parliamentary Committee on Disability in the Federation of Arab Parliaments in September of 2004, following the adoption of the Arab Decade for Persons with Disabilities (2004-2013). This prompted Arab Parliamentarians to aspire to learn about international experiences in the areas of legislating for the equalization of opportunities.

The Challenges we Face

Despite the strides that the world has made in recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities and providing the opportunities for their full participation, there are still many challenges that impede full progress and require our attention:

1. Information and statistics

The lack of adequate, accurate information and statistical data about the size, types, needs, and barriers facing persons with disabilities represents one of the biggest challenges for those working on policy and decision making, development programme design and implementation, and monitoring.

In many countries, what information is available is based on estimates and lacks the necessary evaluation mechanisms, which makes it subject to doubt, debate and biased opinions, unsuitable for use in setting policies and planning programmes and projects.

2. Social attitudes and perceptions

Many societies around the world still harbour misconceptions misunderstandings and superstitions about persons with disabilities and the causes of disabilities, which contribute to the negative attitudes towards them and their issues, and curtail society’s readiness to respond to the needs and rights of persons with disabilities.

3. Poverty and debt

Most of the data available indicates that 80% of persons with disabilities live in developing countries. Poverty, lack of resources and the indebtedness of those countries effect persons with disabilities in two ways:

  • Low incomes and the inability of families to meet the needs of all their members results in increasing the marginalization persons with disability and deepening their exclusion and neglect within their own communities.

  • The other has to do with the inability governments and societies to adopt programmes and projects to improve the lives of the marginalized including persons with disabilities.

4. Insufficient interest on the part of development organizations

Disability and the concerns of persons with disabilities is still one of the most neglected issues on the agendas of international development organizations. In spite of the notable increase in interest lately, this has not translated itself into directed, targeted programmes that would leave their nark and make a difference to the lives of persons with disabilities and their organizations.

5. Little awareness of the link between disability and health

Medical research and studies indicate that majority of disabilities are avoidable with the proper pre- and post natal health care for mothers and infants.

6. Violent crimes, wars and armed conflicts

Violent crimes, wars and armed conflicts contribute to much of the disabilities in the world, as well as to increasing the difficulties faced by persons with difficulties. Additionally, wars and armed conflicts impede aid to persons with disabilities who are often unable to leave danger zones, and prevent the implementation of any programmes aimed at improving their life situations.

7. Low participation of persons with disabilities and their organizations

In spite of the importance of the involvement of civil society organizations in setting policy, managing, administering and delivering programmes, the participation of NGOs and DPOs remains lower than it should be in many societies.

8. Insufficient coordination between governments and DPOs

The concept of the equalization of opportunities is based on the premise of collaboration between governments and DPOs. The Standard Rules document makes several references to such cooperation. However, the relationship between governments and DPOs is still shrouded with mutual doubt and distrust in many countries.

9. Lack of political will and committed to the equalization of opportunities

The adoption of the Standard Rules represented a moral and political commitment on the part of governments. Although many countries have translated their commitments into reality, some societies have yet to take concrete steps to create an accessible social, physical, legal, professional and natural environment free of barriers and obstacles.

10. Lack of political power and influence among DPOs

Although NGOs and DPOs represent influential pressure groups with considerable political clout in industrialized countries, this is not true of NGOs and DPOs in the majority of world countries, which often limits their ability to make their issues a priority on government development agendas.

11. Lack of coordination among different sectors

The ideal implementation of the Standard Rules requires the adoption of a comprehensive national programme encompassing all aspects of a person’s life as represented by the Rules 1 to 12. Implementing such a programme demands cooperation and collaboration among all sectors of society. Despite that fact, reality indicates that there is an almost complete absence of such collaboration in most societies around the world.

12. Children and women’s issues as priorities

The issues of children and women with disabilities have formed the central focus of my work programme. In spite of the adoption of two international agreements on children’s rights and the elimination of discrimination against women, children and women with disabilities still suffer discrimination and the violation of their rights.

Mr. President
Ladies and Gentlemen

The past year has been a year filled with excitement, learning and achievement.

The monitoring activities, communication, country visits, participation in conferences and meetings, have exposed me to numerous innovative initiatives, creative experiences, grand accomplishments, and above all persons of strength whose will power knows no bounds and admits no limitations. And I am committed to transferring this knowledge and persuading governments and organizations to match this strength and emulate this will and make use of it in building fair, just societies in which all people are able to participate and contribute equally.

The programmes I have learned about have been varied and diverse as the countries that implement them and the legislations that govern them. They have ranged from comprehensive programmes that follow an individual from the moment of conception to the moment of death, to programmes that re-engineered entire societies to create spaces of equal opportunities for persons with disabilities using meagre resources.

Mr. President
Ladies and Gentlemen members of the Commission

In spite of the challenges that face development programmes and impede the implementation of the Standard Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, these challenges should not become insurmountable obstacles. Rather they should represent for us opportunities that should be exploited in order to re-shape our environment, our culture and our legislation to allow the full integration of all members into the social structures.

In this context, therefore, and based on the contents of this report, I respectfully present to the members of your Commission and all partners and stakeholders the following recommendations:

1. I call on al governments to renew and double their commitment to providing adequate health care which will prevent disabilities or curb their effects, provide the equal opportunity for participation for persons with disabilities.

2. To governments that claim the lack of adequate resources is responsible for poor health care, I say dealing with causes of disabilities, and raising awareness of the health issues that result in disabilities, is far less costly than dealing with disability itself.

3. And in this context, it is important that governments conduct wide-ranging awareness raising campaigns to deal with customs and traditions that contribute to disability and increase its incidence.

4. Adopting the concept of equalization of opportunities in its broadest sense to include all members of society and all aspects of human interaction, and insisting on the importance and effectiveness of the standard Rules in improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities, as well as all marginalized and neglected groups in society and as a guarantee of participation for all.

5. I invite all governments to adopt a programme to develop accurate and effective information data bases and statistics to include the production, collection, analysis publication and dissemination of data on a regular and periodic basis.

6. It is important work diligently on developing positive and productive relationships between governments and DPOs, and to widen the circle of participation in defining, identifying, planning and developing policies, legislations and programmes.

7. Taking positive and constructive steps at the level of policy, legislation and programmes that guarantee educational integration and full participation. Such legislation should go hand in hand with steps to provide all types of accessibility, as well as awareness raising targeting society as a whole and the personnel of the educational system in particular.

8. I urge a recommitment to the principles of comprehensive rehabilitation taking into consideration the physical, psychological, social, professional, medical and therapeutic. By the same token, efforts should be made to make use of the emotional, psychological and professional energies of the families of persons with disabilities in rehabilitation programmes.

9. Disability issues should become one of the priorities on the agendas of development organizations and funding agencies particularly those concerned with poverty reduction and employment. Issues of persons with disabilities should be integrated into all development programmes and action plans.

10. I urge governments to encourage the establishment of independent disability councils and organizations that include persons with disabilities, their families, service providers and care givers and provide them with adequate funding and financial support as well as the authority to monitor, evaluate and recommend policies and programmes.

11. It is extremely important to widen the circle of participation for the achievement of equalization of opportunities by providing employment opportunities and accessible work places and schools, as well as training and capacity building programmes, in order to guarantee the economic participation of persons with disabilities in ways that would contribute to their feelings of responsibility, self-worth and independence.

12. I invite the committees that monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on Ending all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, as well as the national monitoring bodies, to include the issues of disabled children and women in their activities and their reports.

13. I also invite the international organizations and United Nations funds to make disability one of its priority issues—and I address myself in particular to UNICEF and UNIFEM.

14. Finally, I urge all governments to provide adequate funding to the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability.

Mr. President
I thank you for your able chairmanship of this session,
I thank the members of the Commission
And I hope that I have been able in this presentation to highlight the main issues included in my report which is available for your perusal.

May Gods mercy and His blessings be with you.

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