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10. Persons with disabilities and the United Nations system

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Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director, International Disability Alliance (IDA); Primary Representative, the Disability Stakeholder Group

Persons with disabilities comprise an estimated 15 per cent of the world’s population and are overrepresented among those living in absolute poverty. Encountering pervasive exclusion in society, persons with disabilities are further impacted by multiple forms of discrimination. Such exclusion and inequality, however, has invigorated the global disability rights movement to work tirelessly to address such discrimination.

One transformative achievement for the disability community has been the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006. The CRPD represented a fundamental shift in how persons with disabilities were regarded, moving away from a medical view of disability towards a human rights approach. Uniquely providing both a human rights and development framework, the CRPD redefined what it means to build truly inclusive and sustainable societies, laying the groundwork for future advocacy. As a result, the 2030 Agenda, which has placed the principle of “leave no one behind” at its core, explicitly included for the first time the rights of persons with disabilities as a central issue in development. With such explicit references, the 2030 Agenda, like the CRPD, has opened the doors for our equal participation and has enabled us to start addressing the institutional, attitudinal and legal barriers that have inhibited our full participation within human rights and development dialogues.

The participation and contribution of persons with disabilities in both the UN CRPD and the 2030 Agenda have exemplified the impact and positive contribution that civil society can make within the UN system. But this was not without its challenges. While Major Groups had been recognised since 1992, additional space for civil society actors was limited until 2012, when additional stakeholders were recognised by member states. Throughout this time, and since then, persons with disabilities have been one of the leading stakeholder groups advocating for the increased inclusion of all civil society, not only themselves. Persons with disabilities created an organised, representative and coordinated platform: the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities, which aims to uphold the CRPD in the UN’s sustainable development processes.

While more space has been granted to civil society, it requires the consistent advocacy of stakeholders to maintain it. For persons with disabilities, our inclusion and meaningful engagement is mandated within CRPD Article 4.3, which requires states parties to closely consult with persons with disabilities in the development and implementation of policies, and in decision-making processes that impact their lives. We continue to advocate for this principle to be applied across the entire UN system by recommending the following:

  • Increasing the accessibility of the UN at all levels for persons with disabilities, including by means of closed captioning and International Sign, as well as accessible communication systems and materials.
  • Considering disability in any UN process that requires gender and geographical balance.
  • Increasing the systematic inclusion of the rights and participation of persons with disabilities in the UN Development System’s operational activities at all levels.
  • Mandating Resident Coordinators to appoint disability focal points in each UN Country Team.
  • Investing by the UN Development System in the capacity of National Statistical Offices to collect and disaggregate data by disability.
  • Increasing the support, funding and visibility of the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNPRPD).

The space for collaboration with the UN and larger civil society networks contributed to the success that persons with disabilities have achieved. Persons with disabilities hope that the leadership of the Secretary-General of the United Nations will guarantee and further open space

About the author

Vladimir Cuk is the Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), Primary Representative of the Disability Stakeholder Group and Co-Chair of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High-Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism.

Photo: Sheij Aldine, in the workshop of the Sudanese Association for Disabled People in El Fasher, North Darfur. Aldine, who is disabled himself, makes crutches, wheelchairs and special shoes for persons with disabilities. Copyright UN Photo/Albert González Farran