‘We Need the Leadership of Persons with Disabilities’, Secretary-General Tells States Parties to Convention, Calling for Inclusion on All Fronts

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarks at the fifteenth session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, today:

This fifteenth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is an important moment for stocktaking and reflection.  With 185 ratifications since its adoption in 2006, the Convention has crystallized the commitment of the international community to realize an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable world for all.

The progress driven by the Convention has been broad, swift, and tangible:  Ninety-two per cent of States parties have adopted national disability laws including accessibility provisions.  More than 60 per cent have taken actions to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in the labour market.  And almost 90 per cent have passed laws protecting the rights of children with disabilities to education — and the percentage of countries with school materials supporting the inclusion of students with disabilities has more than doubled.

Unfortunately, progress has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic — which exposed existing inequalities and gave rise to new threats.  Even before the pandemic, persons with disabilities were less likely to enjoy access to education, health care, and livelihoods — and more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence, neglect, and abuse.  When COVID-19 struck communities, persons with disabilities were among the worst affected.

This is true for other crises.  In armed conflicts, persons with disabilities are often unable to flee the violence and do not receive adequate humanitarian support.  The war in Ukraine has accelerated a food, energy, and finance crisis in relation to which persons with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as well as Security Council resolution 2475 (2019) call on Member States to ensure the equal protection of persons with disabilities and provide safe, timely and unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance to them.  I urge all Member States to fulfil those obligations.

Over 15 years since the adoption of the Convention, we still face a steep climb to fully realize the rights of persons with disabilities around the world.  This Conference highlights three critical avenues to move forward.  First, harnessing the power of technology to advance disability inclusion.  Technology can promote equality of opportunity, break down barriers, and create disability-inclusive environments.

Over 1 billion people globally require assistive technology — yet in many countries those essential tools remain inaccessible to nearly everyone.  Embracing the promise of technology means closing the digital divide; expanding accessibility and inclusivity; and better protection for people against its perils.

Second, this Conference puts a spotlight on promoting economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to advance the participation of persons with disabilities in the labour market on equal terms.  This is more critical than ever given the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in all its dimensions on persons with disabilities — and the inequalities that persist in recovery.

And third, we are focusing on boosting the participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in climate action.  Persons with disabilities are two to four times more likely to die during hurricanes, tsunamis and other natural disasters.

At the same time, persons with disabilities are a unique resource of knowledge and experience to build more resilient societies.  Across all three priorities, we need broader and deeper cooperation between Governments, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector.

But the cornerstone of this cooperation must be the active participation of persons with disabilities in their full diversity, and their full inclusion in all decision-making-processes.  We need the leadership of persons with disabilities, particularly women, and their representative organizations.  Let our actions be guided by the clear and vital call of persons with disabilities:  “Nothing about us, without us”. 

The United Nations is committed to lead by example.  Our United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy is now in its third year of implementation.  It has provided a concrete framework to advance disability inclusion in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, whether in relation to humanitarian action, peace and security, human rights, or sustainable development.  From Headquarters to the field, we are taking a hard look at how we have addressed disability inclusion and accessibility, from our programmes to our internal operations.

I will be honest with you as I have been from the beginning — the picture has not been pretty.  There is an enormous amount to do.  Yet step by step, with the strategy as our road map, we are building disability inclusion into our humanitarian, peace and security work. 

We are working with Governments to collect more data on persons with disabilities and support the implementation of the Convention and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for all.  We are improving our physical and digital accessibility and establishing systems so that more persons with disabilities work in our offices around the world.  But there is also a lot to do.

We want to be an employer of choice for persons with disabilities.  Most importantly, we are learning from persons with disabilities and their representative organizations themselves.  Together, we have the tools to tackle the root causes of systemic marginalization of persons with disabilities in every corner of the world.  Together, we can make sure that every person — no matter their circumstance — can fully participate in every aspect of life — social, economic, cultural, and political.  Together, we can — and we will — advance our common future.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.