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  Celebration of International Day of persons with disabilities

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Mohammad Hanief

Disability is part of being human. Almost everyone will temporarily or permanently experience disability at some point in their life. An estimated 1.3 billion people – about 16% of the global population – currently experience significant disability. This number is increasing due in part to population ageing and an increase in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases.

Disability results from the interaction between individuals with a health condition, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and depression, with personal and environmental factors including negative attitudes, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social support.

A person’s environment has a huge effect on the experience and extent of disability. Inaccessible environments create barriers that often hinder the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in society on an equal basis with others. Progress on improving social participation can be made by addressing these barriers and facilitating persons with disabilities in their day to day lives.

Many persons with disabilities die earlier, are at increased risk of developing a range of health conditions, and experience more limitations in everyday functioning than the rest of the population. These health inequities arise from unfair conditions that affect persons with disabilities disproportionally, including stigma, discrimination, poverty, exclusion from education and employment, and barriers faced in the health system itself.

Each year the UN announces a theme to observe for International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD). The annual theme provides an overarching focus on how society can strive for inclusivity through the removal of physical, technological and attitudinal barriers for people with disability. This has been occurring since 1992 when the General Assembly announced 3 December as the International Day of Disabled Persons. The theme for International Day of People with Disability 2023 is ‘United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for, with and by persons with disabilities.’

The 2023 theme for IDPwD asks everyone to work together to make the world better and fairer for people with disability. The theme talks about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are 17 things countries want to work on by the year 2030 to make the world better and fairer for everyone. It is important that people with disability are part of this work and have a big say in what happens.

In 2019, the UN Secretary-General AntónioGuterres launched the Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) to bring disability inclusion in every work and core functions of the entire UN system. The UNDIS initiate a bold systemic transformation, and is driving unprecedented progress for, with, and by persons with disabilities around the world. These achievements are remarkable demonstrations of the value of systemic planning for disability inclusion, a cause for celebration, and a source of aspiration to pursue these efforts.

It is a state obligation, through the health sector in coordination with other sectors, to address existing health inequities so that persons with disabilities can enjoy their inherent right to the highest attainable standard of health. Disability inclusion is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and global health priorities of universal health coverage, protection in health emergencies and healthier populations. Acting to achieve health equity for persons with disabilities is acting to achieve Health for All.

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Building on many decades of UN’s work in the field of disability, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006, has further advanced the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other international development frameworks, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, the New Urban Agenda, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.

Persons with disabilities, “the world’s largest minority”, have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them (like information and communications technology (ICT), justice or transportation) and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. These obstacles can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes or discrimination.

Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children. Adults with some form or disability are 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence than those without a disability. Adults with mental health conditions are at nearly four times the risk of experiencing violence.

Factors which place people with disabilities at higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about disability, as well as a lack of social support for those who care for them.

Inclusive society and development

Evidence and experience shows that when barriers to their inclusion are removed and persons with disabilities are empowered to participate fully in societal life, their entire community benefits. Barriers faced by persons with disabilities are, therefore, a detriment to society as a whole, and accessibility is necessary to achieve progress and development for all.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) recognizes that the existence of barriers constitutes a central component of disability. Under the Convention, disability is an evolving concept that “results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

Accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities are fundamental rights recognized by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and are not only objectives, but also pre-requisites for the enjoyment of other rights. The Convention (Article 9, accessibility) seeks to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life and development. It calls upon States Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to all aspects of society, on an equal basis with others, as well as to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers to accessibility.

This year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities reminds us that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires living up to the promise to leave no one behind, especially the 1.3 billion persons with disabilities worldwide.

Today, at the halfway point to the 2030 Agenda, persons with disabilities continue facing systemic discrimination and barriers that restrict their meaningful inclusion in all areas of society.

Truly sustainable development for persons with disabilities requires a laser-like focus on their needs and rights — not only as beneficiaries, but as active contributors across social, economic and political life.

This means ensuring that persons with disabilities are at every decision-making table, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and across countries’ efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — from poverty eradication, to health, education and climate action.

The author can be mailed at [email protected]

X (Twitter): @haniefmha

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