New York

10 June 2014

Secretary-General's Remarks at Opening of "Speaking Colours" Exhibition co-sponsored by Israel and Argentina on the occasion of the seventh session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and in Reco

What a wonderful exhibition. I am delighted to be here with my wife, who as you know is an advocate of equality for all persons with autism. I welcome so many colleagues and friends here this evening. Thank you all for coming.

I thank the Permanent Missions of Argentina and Israel for organizing this event and bringing us together.

I have often spoken about how persons with autism spectrum disorders make valuable contributions to our world.

Today, I can convey this message just by pointing to any one of these beautiful paintings. They demonstrate better than any words what I said in my message on World Autism Awareness Day: that we must celebrate the creative minds of persons with autism and renew our pledge to help them realize their great potential.

There is a widespread misconception that persons with autism live in their own world.

Some assume that because they have challenges communicating, persons with autism cannot or do not want to relate to the world.

Nothing could be further from the truth. People with autism and other disabilities want to participate, engage and contribute. We have a responsibility to make sure that countries carry out international conventions, human rights instruments and laws that help persons with autism to put their thoughts into actions.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities refers to many types of communications, including multimedia forms. It also specifies that language can include both spoken and non-spoken languages. That way we can hear the voices of all people – even though they may not express themselves in the same way we do.

The wisdom of this approach can be seen in the paintings all around us.

I am told that one of the artists, named Danny, cannot hear or speak. He said to himself, “I can do this!” He did not let disability stop him from expressing himself. Instead, he found this new, very moving form of expression that all of us can appreciate.

I thank Danny and all the artists for their inspiring works. They speak masterfully in their own languages.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The remarkable paintings here are contrasted by the difficult reality experienced by too many persons with autism and their families in our world today.

In the worst cases, they suffer discrimination and abuse.

Even under better circumstances, too often they lack supportive teachers and educational opportunities. They may not have access to jobs. And in far too many cases, resources are not invested in the valuable work of those who help persons with autism to discover how they can help our world.

The artists showcased here today prove, through their “speaking colours,” that anyone can reach out and touch another person.

Let us take inspiration from them and pledge to speak out, loudly and clearly, to demand the best possible conditions that will allow persons with autism to realize their personal goals – and make a positive impact on our world.

Thank you.