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UN marks International Day of Disabled with calls for full equality

UN marks International Day of Disabled with calls for full equality

With some 600 million people globally suffering disabilities and the day-to-day life of 25 per cent of the world's population touched in some way by the condition, the United Nations today marked International Day of Disabled Persons with calls for their full equality and integration into social life and development.

“This year’s International Day of Disabled Persons gives societies everywhere an opportunity to hear disabled people speak in a voice of their own,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message. “This is a welcome opportunity – but it is one that we should not confine just to this important day.

“After all, the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted 10 years ago, call upon Member States to act – at all times, and in diverse ways – to raise awareness in society about persons with disabilities, their rights, their needs, their potential and their contribution. This awareness is vital,” Mr. Annan added.

He stressed that much needed to be done outside the UN, too, noting that the media is a key partner in empowerment and addressing discrimination and prejudice, and that non-governmental organizations also had a vital role to play in building understanding among society as a whole.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments at all levels to make a stronger commitment to the implementation of the rights of people with disabilities, to foster their participation to access health and rehabilitation services and to include them in all development activities.

WHO noted that 25 per cent of the world's population is affected by disability, since it affects entire families, not just the individual, that 80 per cent of the world's disabled live in low-income countries, and that the majority of them are poor and cannot access basic services including rehabilitation facilities.

The global disabled population is increasing as a result of population growth, medical advances that preserve and prolong life, malnutrition, chronic conditions, HIV/AIDS, road injuries and land mines, it added in a news release. During civil conflicts or other violent events, many die but the number of people disabled can create an even larger health burden.

At its Headquarters in New York, the UN is hosting an event entitled “A Voice of Our Own,” sponsored by Rehabilitation International, a worldwide network of organizations that promotes initiatives to protect the rights and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

For his part, the Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, said the Day “should refocus our attention on the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. It should prompt us to collective and individual efforts to ensure the full respect for and increasing enjoyment of their rights.”