U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marks December 3rd as the International Day of People with Disabilities:
"We mark this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the wake of the adoption of the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This global blueprint for action summons us to 'leave no one behind'."
If his words come to fruition it will be a leap forward for people with disabilities, their families and their communities. There are about 7 billion of us on this planet, one billion of who have some form of disability. About 10% of people with disabilities worldwide are children and 80% of people with disabilities live in the developing world.
It is now 10 years since the passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and 24 years since the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (under a slightly different name) has been celebrated. The CRPD has been ratified by 153 countries but, sadly, the US is not one of them. Israel has ratified the CRPD as have the rest of the world’s developed nations.
So is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities significant or is it just another Hallmark moment, lots of good feelings but little action?
I would argue that it is significant, though there are those Hallmark moments that we cannot ignore. The condition of life for people with disabilities and their families has improved worldwide. The governments who have ratified the CRPD have at least made a public statement, subject to U N oversight and accountability, of important principles to be upheld for people with disabilities, ranging from basic human rights to inclusive education to living in the community and having access to healthcare. Looking forward to 2030, the UN has 17 sustainable development goals. These goals build on earlier versions which have helped move millions out of poverty. While all are important and most are aspirational, a few speak to those of us focused on people with disabilities and their families. For example: Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. You combine this goal with the CRPD’s emphasis on inclusive education and, if it comes to fruition it will be a huge leap forward for children with disabilities; and Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
The Sustainable Development Goals are bold, aspirational and, I hope achievable. In most societies and underlying characteristic for adults is some form of work. In Western societies in general work is a unifying characteristic and expectation. However, people with disabilities are all too often left outside of the workplace.
Yet all is not well. Children with disabilities are four times more likely to be the victims of violence than other children. Bullying is rampant. For adults the situation is a bit better, with a rate of one and one half times that of other adults. For adults with psychiatric disabilities, the rate is similar than that for children. People with disabilities are among the world’s poorest people and if there is one underlying characteristic for people with disabilities, the US included, it is poverty as adults. About half of all people with disabilities worldwide do not have access to healthcare and in too many places their very right to live is not assured.
So to answer the question, “Is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities significant or is it just another Hallmark moment, lots of good feelings but little action?” Yes to both. Recognizing the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is important but, without definitive action, it is just another Hallmark moment.
Steven Eidelman is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership at The University of Delaware and the faculty director of The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities. He has worked for the last 35 years to help people with disabilities lead full lives in the community.