UN Headquarters

02 May 2016

Remarks upon receiving the 2016 Spirit of Helen Keller Award

Ban Ki-moon

Your Excellency David Donoghue, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the United Nations, Ms. Kathy Spahn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Helen Keller International, Mr. Henry Barkhorn, Chairman of the HKI Board of Trustees, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour to receive the “Spirit of Helen Keller” award.

I know that you are paying tribute not only to me but, far more, to the work of the United Nations. Thank you for this recognition.

Our achievements owe much to good partners like Helen Keller International.

You are a partner in our efforts to address blindness, polio and malnutrition.

You join us in advocating for the empowerment of women and the human rights of people with disabilities.

And your voices were part of the global discussions that produced the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development -- our new blueprint for ending extreme poverty and building peaceful, prosperous societies on a healthy planet. I also want to thank Ambassador Donoghue for the central role he played in this great achievement, as a co-facilitator of the negotiations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

HKI’s namesake remains an inspiration to us all.

As it happens, Helen Keller visited Korea in the 1930s, before I was born. She was a diplomat well before I was!

I became aware of her story in high school. I was very moved by how she used her sense of touch not only to read, but to speak.

Now, as Secretary-General, I am proud to note that she had many contacts with the United Nations over the years.

She visited UNESCO Headquarters in Paris as part of efforts to standardize the use of braille worldwide. She praised the effort for having brought about what she called “the mental and spiritual emancipation of the blind in every land”.

We also welcomed her to our headquarters here in New York in 1949.

Today, her spirit is alive across our agenda. Beyond her work for the blind, she was a champion of the underprivileged and the marginalized.

The world faces great turmoil. People worry about the next superstorm, the next terrorist outrage, the next deadly epidemic. We have run out of words to describe the horror in Syria.

Yet I also draw hope from what I have seen during my decade as Secretary-General.

Most recently, despite global divisions, world leaders came together twice in the space of three months to deliver promise to the human family -- first, with the 2030 Agenda, and then with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

That political momentum of 2015 remains strong this year: just 10 days ago, 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement -- the most signatures on a single day for any instrument in UN history. The number of signatures has since reached 177.

The 2030 Agenda enshrines a central commitment: to “leave no one behind.”

And it holds great promise for promoting disability-inclusive development and for advancing the rights, perspectives and well-being of persons with disabilities.

People with disabilities figure prominently in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that will guide our work for the next 15 years.

The goals stress equal access to education and decent work opportunities.

They call for equitable access to transportation, public spaces and the digital world.

The framework also recognizes the need for better data -- for mainstreaming disability across development policies and programmes -- and for reaching people in vulnerable situations such as armed conflict and natural disasters.

We must now translate these global commitments into national actions that remove longstanding barriers. The involvement of persons with disabilities as agents of change will be crucial to meeting this challenge. So will continued strong support and leadership by organizations like Helen Keller International.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In 1950, at a UN Day observance in Connecticut, Helen Keller expressed support for the Organization’s “noble efforts to abolish ignorance, prejudice and strife”.

I look forward to continue working with all of you to bring that world into being.