Last Thursday, December 3rd, was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, proclaimed in 1992 by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 47/3. Although I am personally happy that there is at least one day of the year when people may speak about disability, I am also sad that in many ways, all that is done is to speak, and only on one day in the year.
Resolution 47/3 did not just establish the 3rd of December as an occasion for awareness-raising but invited all member states and organisations to “intensify their efforts aimed at sustained effective action with a view to improving the situation of persons with disability”. Unfortunately, this has become an opportunity for many organisations to merely congratulate themselves rather than really challenge themselves to make a difference.
Improving the situation of persons with disabilities centres on three key elements: accessibility, inclusion, and representation.
Accessibility must not be limited to simply providing the bare minimum to enable a person with disabilities to physically access a place or use a service. It must mean empowering a person with disabilities to participate fully in society, while working to overcome other barriers such as class, gender, and culture, which can make the life of a person with disabilities even more complicated.
Accessibility means also having voices heard, access to information and participation in democracy. It requires actively seeking out the voices of those who may be, for whatever reason, less likely to participate in formal democratic and civic processes.
Inclusion means challenging ableism, which is discrimination in favour of non-disabled people due to prejudice and stereotypes about persons with disabilities. These stereotypes and prejudices are entrenched and are not always immediately visible, so we need to go above and beyond to actively engage with persons with disabilities and bring them into discussions.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that between 3 and 7% of GDP globally is lost from the exclusion of persons with disabilities. The inclusion of persons with disabilities is not just a matter of human rights and equality – it is a matter of growth and development for all.
Representation means promoting and including persons with disabilities at all stages of the political and democratic process. And it means not limiting the inclusion of persons with disabilities to so-called “disability issues”.
This year has been difficult for all of us, more so than usual. This year we have lost many of our loved ones, friends, family members. People who even in “normal” times struggle to find food are struggling even more. Conflicts and injustices have become even more widespread. Conflict and injustice not only make conditions for persons with disabilities worse, they create more persons with disabilities, whether from injury, disease, or poverty.
I wish to make a call for us to become a worldwide family, to work together and be together to make our voices heard. I know it is not easy to make this happen, we have seen our rights not increase, but decrease. In many ways, we are moving in reverse.
Here I should mention two examples. First, the UNHCR used to have persons with disabilities as a special category for the right to rapid resettlement. Nowadays, there is no such consideration and refugees with disabilities must wait longer and longer for resettlement.
Last week, a decision was made in Sweden to deport a seven-year-old Iraqi child, who is paralysed from the waist down, and his family. In this process, they had a discussion over whether to send the child’s wheelchair back with him or confiscate it. This kind of discussion should never happen.
This doesn’t mean we should be despondent and give up. It means we should work more and collaborate more to achieve our goals.
This doesn’t mean we all need to have the same strengths or same levels of knowledge. Any small effort, whatever effort, can be useful for our movement and for progress towards a better future and securing our rights.
The international day of persons with disabilities is an opportunity for us to inspire others to fight against injustice, discrimination, and any kind of violation of human rights, not just on this day or week, but always.