From New York to Bangkok, from Geneva to Kabul, the United Nations today marked the International Day of Disabled Persons, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on the global community to work even harder for fully inclusive societies.
“Today, as a result of a dramatic shift in perspective that has been taking place over the past two decades, persons with disabilities have started to be viewed as people who must enjoy the full spectrum of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights,” he said in a commemorative message.
“No society can claim to be based on justice and equality without persons with disabilities taking decisions as full-fledged members,” he added.
The 2004 observance of the Day, first held in 1992, focuses on the involvement of persons with disabilities in the planning of strategies and policies that affect their lives.
At UN Headquarters in New York the Day featured the showing of three short documentaries by award-winning filmmaker Victor Pineda – “In Cuba Disabled,” on the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world; “Broken Balkans,” which looks at life with disabilities in the former Yugoslavia; and “A World Enabled,” featuring testimonies of delegates drafting the first-ever UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
“The observance of the Day is an opportunity to foster changes in attitudes towards persons with disabilities and eliminate barriers to their participation in all aspects of life”, Johan Schölvinck of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said.
“The involvement of persons with disabilities in elaborating the convention on their own rights is an excellent example of how the principle of full participation can be put into practice.”
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a proclamation recognizing the Day, declaring: “This important event fosters an understanding of disability issues as it mobilizes support for efforts to promote the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.”
Earlier this year, the UN Department of Public Information identified efforts to draft a treaty on the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities as one of ten stories the world should hear more about.
In Geneva today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for the adoption of that proposed convention. “For far too long, persons with disabilities have been denied equal access to basic rights and fundamental freedoms, be they health care, employment, education, the vote or participation in cultural activities.”
On the other side of the world in Bangkok, Thailand, the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific Region marked the day with an exhibition, a forum of community members and the screening of documentaries.
And in Kabul, Afghanistan, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) presented a report identifying some of the key difficulties facing people with disabilities as they strive to play a role in reconstruction efforts, including the continuing stigma associated with disabilities in Afghan society.
“We probably see examples of disability in Afghanistan every day, but few of us fully appreciate the many challenges that disabled people face in society,” UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Bernt Aasen said. “It is essential that a new debate begins, today, on how opportunities can be created for people with disabilities to play a fulfilling role in the rebuilding of their nation.”
The report calls for public information campaigns to present the positive contributions that can be made by disabled people; improved knowledge about causes of disabilities, and how people with disabilities should be cared for; and advocacy by key influencers such as the media, religious leaders and health workers.
It also advocates education about disabilities in schools, improved health services for people with disabilities and access to public buildings, and incentive schemes to encourage employers to recruit people with disabilities.