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People with disabilities are denied equal rights to many fundamental aspects of life
by International Disability Alliance, OHCHR, agencies
11:21am 24th Jul, 2018
People with disabilities are denied equal rights to many fundamental aspects of life - International Disability Alliance, agencies
Through ignorance, indifference or intention, the over 1 billion people with disabilities, 800 million of whom live in the world’s poorest countries, continue to be excluded from society. More than seven in ten are not supported by social protection programmes. Yet access to social protection is a basic right for all people.
People with disabilities face multiple forms of discrimination and are denied equal rights to many fundamental aspects of life, including access to quality education, earning a living, having a family and even making independent decisions about their own lives.
The inclusion of people with disabilities must be at the heart of all decisions affecting their lives. People with disabilities must not only be heard, but be at the forefront of decision-making about their lives and issues that affect them. Assistive technology must also be harnessed to empower people with disabilities to live healthy, productive and independent lives.
Further, without good quality, consistent data on disability, addressing their rights and needs - means they risk being left behind. For every person to count, people with disabilities of all ages must be counted.
It has recently been revealed that people with mental illness die on average 10-20 years earlier than the general population; with this mortality gap even higher in low and middle-income countries.
A recent review by the ILO found that most countries only provide for disability benefits through contributory schemes, leaving children and adults with a disability outside the formal economy without protection. Yet there is solid evidence that disability benefits play a critical role in enabling persons with disabilities to actively participate in mainstream education and work, supporting independent living, and helping to cover the additional costs of living with disabilities.
Now is the time to end discrimination against, and ensure equal rights for, the 1 billion people living with disabilities across the world.
Human rights of persons with disabilities. (OHCHR)
People with disabilities face discrimination and barriers that restrict them from participating in society on an equal basis with others every day. They are denied their rights to be included in the general school system, to be employed, to live independently in the community, to move freely, to vote, to participate in sport and cultural activities, to enjoy social protection, to access justice, to choose medical treatment and to enter freely into legal commitments such as buying and selling property.
A disproportionate number of persons with disabilities live in developing countries, often marginalized and in extreme poverty.
The protection guaranteed in other human rights treaties, and grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should apply to all. Persons with disabilities have, however, remained largely ‘invisible’, often side-lined in the rights debate and unable to enjoy the full range of human rights.
In more recent years, there has been a change in approach, globally, to close the protection gap and ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same standards of equality, rights and dignity as everyone else.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was adopted in 2006 and entered into force in 2008, signalled a ‘paradigm shift’ from traditional charity-oriented, medical-based approaches to disability to one based on human rights.
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, said, “The celebration of diversity and the empowerment of the individual are essential human rights messages. The Convention embodies and clearly conveys these messages by envisaging a fully active role in society for person with disabilities.”
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities offers standards of protection for the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of persons with disabilities on the basis of inclusion, equality and non-discrimination. It makes clear that persons with disabilities are entitled to live independently in their communities, to make their own choices and to play an active role in society.
In July 2018 the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stated the commitment of Governments to advance the rights of persons with disabilities is well established – both through the universal adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the fact that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is one of the world’s most widely ratified human rights treaty.
''But too often, this political commitment has not translated into significant improvements in the lives of the over 1 billion persons with disabilities across the world.
Too many persons with disabilities, no matter where they live and their abilities, face discrimination, and have their agency totally discounted.. Especially in developing countries, they experience horrendous deprivation and are denied access to education, health care and opportunities to participate in public life. This is further exacerbated by weak institutions and poverty.
And far too many women and girls with disabilities suffer double discrimination, weighed down by prejudice based on sex and disability''.
Acknowledging that there is much more to do to make the world “a more equal and just place for all,” Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), underlined the importance “to ensure that persons with disabilities are given equal access and voice in society, so that they can realize their fullest possible potential.”
He linked the path to realizing the SDGs to a world free from marginalizing persons with disabilities. “To realize the promise of the 2030 Agenda – and its core pledge to leave no one behind – it is essential that all peoples, particularly those facing discrimination and exclusion, have access and voice and can participate equally in every aspect of life,” Mr. Steiner stressed. “This is a matter of justice, and equal opportunity. The costs of exclusion are simply too high.” He underlined the importance of ensuring inclusion, “‘Nothing about us without us’ is the foundation of the disability movement”.
"Children with disabilities are some of the most marginalised of any society," says Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Ms.Fore said prejudice, stigma, or inaccessible learning is preventing half of all those children from attending school, while the half that do, lack a quality education. This, she said, is “a tragic waste of potential – for these children and for their societies and economies.”
To help offset some of these challenges, she highlighted a new initiative - the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology that has the potential to provide life-changing support – including wheelchairs, prosthetics and hearing aids – with a goal of reaching up to 500 million people globally by 2030.
“For children with disabilities, these technologies help them see themselves, from an early age, as able – able to do the things they want to do. Move. Play. See. Hear. Interact. Learn. Communicate,” she said.
But in many low-income countries, only 5-15 per cent of those who need assistive technology are able to obtain it. Uncoordinated investment, ineffective policies, inadequate data, and public stigma, among many other factors, limit current supply and demand.
Increasing the availability of assistive technologies depends on galvanizing investment in this sector – investments in quality, affordable products and efficient service delivery systems. UNICEF has been working in development and humanitarian contexts alike to help children acquire this technology. This includes direct provision of assistive devices to children and it includes support for larger-scale, national programmes.
As a member of the new Global Partnership, we look forward to working with partners to support millions of persons with disabilities realise their full potential through the promise of assistive technologies.”
Henrietta Fore also underlined the dangers children with disabilities face in conflicts and natural disasters. "Children in times of conflicts or natural disaster, they''re at a double disadvantage - if they can''t walk, if they can''t hear, or see, they can easily be separated from their families and are at greater risk."
UN launches Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018
The United Nations has launched its first-ever flagship report on disability and development; published by, for, and with, persons with disabilities, in the hopes of fostering more accessible, and disability-inclusive societies.
The Report on Disability and Development 2018, coincides with the annual International Day, marked on 3 December, which the UN chief described as important for “the social, economic and political inclusion of all, including people with disabilities,” as promoted in the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.
Secretary-General António Guterres said the report “shows that people with disabilities are at a disadvantage” regarding most SDGs, “but also highlights the growing number of good practices that can create a more inclusive society in which they can live independently.”
“In many societies, persons with disabilities often end up disconnected, living in isolation and facing discrimination,” he said, highlighting that more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability.
The report demonstrates how disability-based discrimination has severe effects on transport, cultural life, and access to public places and services, and thus, the report leads with a push to change urban environments to make them more accessible.
The above challenges often go unseen as a result of insufficient questions relevant to disability, and consequently, an underestimation of the number of persons living with disabilities and affected by discrimination, and other barriers.
In 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, geared toward protection of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, which requires associated parties to promote and protect their human rights.
Javier Vasquez, who helps head up the health division at Special Olympics International in his role as Vice President, stressed the connection between human rights and health when it comes to people living with disabilities.
“When people with intellectual disabilities can enjoy full access to human rights, this reflects in the form of genuine mental and physical health,” he said in an interview with UN News.
Further, he echoed the issue of gaps in inclusion and representation, and how this impacts our understanding of disabilities and these persons’ livelihoods.
On average, persons with disabilities die 16 years sooner than those living without disabilities, however: “A lot of people think people with intellectual disabilities die earlier because of their disabilities, and this is not true,” Mr. Vasquez verified.
“The problem is that these illnesses, in the context of people with disabilities, are undiagnosed or undetected, and they go through life without treatment. They are excluded many times because of stigma and discrimination.”
Mr. Vasquez called for more extensive and comprehensive research on the challenges and achievements of persons with disabilities, in support of a wider movement for equal access to rights in politics, education, and health.
“You don''t find data in the national health information we are sharing our data to make these people visible.”
Commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Mr. Guterres asserted the United Nations’ pledge to fulfill the human rights of all persons.
“Let us reaffirm our commitment to work together for a better world that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable for everyone, where the rights of people with disabilities are fully realized.”
* Access the UN Report on Disability and Development 2018 executive summary (22pp): Complete report: (390pp):
* Unicef: Children with Disabilities in Situations of Armed Conflict (24pp):
* Handicap International: Humanity & Inclusion:
* Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

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