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Recognize and protect rights of persons with disabilities, UN chief urges, marking International Day

“These rights touch on every aspect of life: the right to go to school, to live in one’s community, to access health care, to start a family, to engage in political participation, to be able to play sport, to travel – and to have decent work,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a message. 

While the coronavirus pandemic has upended societies globally and deepened pre-existing inequalities, persons with disabilities are among the worst affected. They are more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse. 

“As the world recovers from the pandemic, we must ensure that the aspirations and rights of persons with disabilities are included and accounted for in an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world,” the UN chief urged. 

“This vision will only be achieved through active consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations,” he added. 

‘Future cannot be like the past’ 

Similarly, UN human rights experts called on world leaders to ensure that persons with disabilities are fully included in the “building back better” process.  

An “obvious learning” from the past few months was a “conspicuous lack of consultation” with persons with disabilities, which resulted in missing of predictable problems and negatively affected COVID-19 responses, said Danlami Basharu, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, added that only through the adoption of a human rights approach would the aim of equitable, sustainable and resilient societies be achieved. 

“This includes, among others, the recognition of education as an essential element to empower persons with disabilities and to integrate them into their communities socially and politically … the future cannot be like the past, and that is what ‘building back better’ should be all about,” he said. 

A nine-year-old child plays seesaw with her friends in an inclusive playground at her school in Za’atari Refugee Camp, Jordan.

Impact on education 

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted the impact of the pandemic and related mitigation measures, such as school closures, on children and young people with disabilities.  

They are often at the highest risk of experiencing a disruption of their education, she added, warning that many distance learning methods do not account for their specific needs. 

“It is crucial to involve persons with disabilities in the devising of solutions that are truly aimed at everyone and to learn from the experience,” Ms. Azoulay urged.  

This can be achieved by developing digital resources and skills that foster inclusion, training teachers in the principles of accessible education for all, and creating accessible tools adapted to different learning requirements, she added. 

“This is crucial not only for students with disabilities, but also for their classmates. All students benefit from a more inclusive education … access to education, like access to other common goods, must become universal,” the UNESCO Director-General said. 

The International Day 

Observed every year on 3 December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was established by the UN General Assembly in October 1992, to promote awareness and mobilize support for critical issues pertaining to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development. 

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