Shifting the Paradigm: Why addressing the challenges of ‘Special Abilities’ are important for human rights & social justice agenda

    As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, the bedrock document for human rights proclaims so eloquently that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, so we must consider it central to our policy initiatives and programming work that they contribute, directly and indirectly, to address the challenges posed by ‘special abilities’, unfortunately known as ‘disabilities’ in our daily discourse. There is also a powerful reason for us as UNDP for doing so: it is inextricably linked to our central mandate of human development including the internationally agreed development goals i.e., Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

    Persons with disabilities constitute around 10 per cent of the World’s population. Studies have shown that around 2.5 billion people around the world are affected by disabilities, their own or that of a family member. The do not, therefore constitute a limited group, yet persons with disabilities are still one of the most discriminated against and overlooked groups.

    The international community has recognized the problems faced by this disadvantaged and marginalized group, and in December 2006 the United Nations General Assembly signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force on 3 May 2008. Within Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), 17 countries have ratified the Convention to date and another 10 have signed it .

    The Convention reaffirms that persons with disabilities are entitled to exercise their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights on an equal basis with non-disabled persons. Due to a high level of marginalization however, they often cannot access these rights. In fact, they are routinely denied rights such as receiving an education, moving around freely, living independently in the community, being employed, accessing information, and obtaining proper health care, exercising political rights, and making their own decisions.  In Serbia for example, 70% of persons with disabilities live in poverty, and only 13% have the opportunity to work. Similarly, in Bulgaria only 13% of persons with disabilities are employed. In the Russian Federation the number is slightly higher, with 30% of persons with disabilities finding employment. The list goes on.

    The Convention provides an effective legal tool for States to end this discrimination and violation of the rights of persons with disabilities - if it is implemented effectively and supported by policies and programmes to promote the active inclusion of this population. Therefore, it is important for us as human rights and development community to take effective steps to support the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities. It is also in line with the Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) that all UN agencies are promoting as programming principles and methodology. It is NOT a matter of moral obligation anymore; it is our legal and developmental obligation. The constituent elements (NHRIs, CSOs, national agencies, judicial and quasi-judicial bodies) of the National Human Rights Protection System (NHRPS)  in our respective countries have an active duty to take this up and mainstream disability issues, challenges, and solutions into vision, strategic planning,  annual work plan, and, most importantly, budgeting.

    Inaccessibility and prejudices in society make life difficult and prevent access to basic rights and services such as participating in political process, gaining access to justice, and engaging in meaningful economic and social activity. This is critical for achieving inclusive growth, the MDGs, and, most importantly, human dignity, human rights and social justice.

    Time has come to ask ourselves as members of the development community are we doing enough?