Italy honoured at UN with Roosevelt disability award

17 November 2003

Italy received the seventh annual Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award at the United Nations Headquarters in New York today for its outstanding effort to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The Minister for Social Welfare and Labour, Roberto Maroni, accepted the award on behalf of President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who had to cut short an official visit to the United States to lead his nation in mourning for Italian soldiers killed in Iraq last week.

Mr. Maroni said the award would give renewed momentum to Italy's commitment to the full social integration of its disabled citizens.

The award included a bust of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected despite paralysis by polio. Italy also received $50,000 for an outstanding programme, the National Council on Disability, and 1,000 wheelchairs from the Wheelchair Foundation.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan unexpectedly interrupted his busy schedule to attend briefly, saying he wanted to express solidarity and support and to thank the minister for Italy's work.

Presenting the award, David Roosevelt told the audience that his great-grandfather's paralysis from polio had taught him to understand fear and it was in this context that he had counselled Americans during the Great Depression that the only thing to fear was fear itself.

Speaking on behalf of the Secretary-General, his wife, Nane, said that although complex crises, like the one in Iraq, claimed the lion's share of headlines about the UN's work, advocacy on behalf of the disabled occupied an important position in the UN's global mission.

General Assembly President Julian R. Hunte of St. Lucia, noting that 85 per cent of the 600 million disabled people worldwide lived in developing countries, said it was not certain that that number would decrease, given the causes.

He pointed to the daily disabling injuries suffered in peacetime, as well as in conflicts and wars, including injuries from landmines and terrorist activities.

Joining in the celebration of Italy's achievements were celebrated disability rights activist and actor Christopher Reeve, the co-chair of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, William vanden Heuvel, who moderated the event, the chairman of the World Committee on Disability, Alan Reich, and the Wheelchair Foundation's founder and chairman, Kenneth Behring.

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