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On December 3 each year we celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities. It was proclaimed in 1992.
The United Nations proclaimed this as a recognized day for the celebration of the achievements of people living with disabilities across the world.
It is also a day upon which we 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, spread awareness of the challenges faced by over 1 billion people living with disabilities, and the role communities and societies play in accelerating the eradication of barriers to social inclusion, equity, participation and citizenship.
The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3.
Building on many decades of UN’s work in the field of disability, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 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.
This year’s theme focuses on empowering persons with disabilities for an inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 2030 Agenda pledges to “leave no one behind”.
Persons with disabilities, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote resilient society for all, including in the context of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action, and urban development.
Governments, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, academic institutions and the private sector need to work as a “team” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This year, the UN Secretary-General will launch on the Day a flagship report, entitled “UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development | 2018 – Realizing the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities”.
Events at UNHQ on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at UN Headquarters will bring together Member States, UN entities, Mayors, national and local policy makers, civil society organizations, academic institutes and organizations of persons with disabilities to discuss the way forward for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.
About 1 billion people around the world live with a disability – that’s roughly 15 per cent of our global population.
People with disabilities are considered to be the largest minority in the world, albeit an invisible one. It is estimated that one billion people or 15% of the world live with a disability.
In India, even by conservative estimates, this figure should be around 100 million, though the official figures say only 26.8 million (Census 2011). However, we hardly see them in our public spaces.
According to a UN study, it is estimated that of the estimated 2.9 million children with disabilities in India, 990,000 (or 34%) are out of school.
When it comes to higher education, Census 2011 shows that only 1.2 million people with disabilities have a graduate degree or above. Of the 13.4 million people with disabilities in the employable age of 15-59 years, 9.9 million (73.4%) are either non-workers or are marginal workers (Census 2011).
These figures reflect the extreme marginalization that people with disabilities have faced and continue to face, which are often exacerbated by the intersection of gender, caste and socio-economic conditions.
While, over the past decade and more, significant progress has been achieved towards addressing these abysmal realities, the truth remains that people with disabilities are caught in a vicious cycle.
One’s empowerment is tied to financial independence which comes with meaningful employment. This, in turn, is linked to employable skill sets acquired through education and training. Neither employment nor education is possible without an environment that allows a person with a disability to venture out into society independently and safely.
Sadly, even after the government’s flagship initiative to make infrastructure accessible – the Accessible India Campaign, only 3% of our public buildings are disabled-friendly.
These are paradigm shifting mandates. However, two years since the law was enacted and over a year and a half since it came into force, implementation has been painfully slow. In order to be able to achieve any of the commitments enshrined in the new law, there has to be adequate resource allocation.
One of the reasons why despite all good intentions, we as a nation have not been able to move forward towards including people with disabilities in the mainstream, allowing them equitable access to the same opportunities that are available to every other citizen, is because we have not been able to understand and accept the idea of disability as a part of human diversity.
Being a person with a disability is as normal or abnormal as being of a certain gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. If the society is not focusing on curing disability and correcting people with disabilities to be “normal”, it views them as objects of charity who need to be congratulated for just being able to get out to public spaces.
While it is important to recognize organizations for employing people with certain disabilities as a first step towards inclusion, it is equally important to ask them if over the years, the status quo has changed to include all disabilities.
Inspirational stories about people overcoming disabilities are in abundance, but the society never asks why there were barriers to be overcome in the first place.
By continuing to endorse these unconscious biases, we are conditioning society into believing that people with disabilities should be happy if they are getting a marginally less abysmal deal, to be thankful for being able to access opportunities which really constitute their human right.
Until we stop normalizing such deep systemic every day discrimination, people with disabilities will continue to be on the margins of our society, being denied the opportunity to live dignified lives and contribute towards nation building.