International Day of People with Disabilities

December 03 2019 By Progression

There are an estimated one billion people worldwide living with disabilities who encounter significant barriers to participation in many important aspects of society. People with disabilities face ongoing challenges in respect of access to education, employment and transport, to name just a few.
In the past, very little consideration was given to the rights of people with disabilities. In fact, up until about 50 years ago, disability was viewed through the Medical Model and seen as an illness that needed to be treated, as opposed to the Social Model used today which states that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person's impairment or difference. Only from the 1970s have the human rights of people with disabilities been officially recognised by means of various United Nations Resolutions and Conventions, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities. In 1992 the UN also called for an international day of celebration for people with disabilities to be held on 3 December annually - International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPWD). In South Africa, 3 December is also commemorated as National Disability Rights Awareness Day.
The theme for 2019's IDPWD is "The Future is Accessible" and the day provides an opportunity for society to take collective action to identify environmental and social barriers and work together in order to overcome them. We also need to consider our attitudes towards disability, ensuring inclusive and barrier-free workplaces in order to promote access and empowerment for people of all abilities. People with disabilities encounter many different forms of barriers, not only those presented by the physical environment, but also negative beliefs and attitudes towards people with disabilities that can lead to discrimination. It is often the case that these attitudinal barriers pose the greatest challenge for the integration of people with disabilities into communities and broader society.
IDPWD provides the perfect opportunity for the following:
·      Reflection - to look at our past actions and to identify goals for the future;
·      Celebration - to recognise and value the diversity of our global community and to value the roles we all play, regardless of our abilities;
·      Learning - to understand and learn from experiences of people living with disabilities;
·      Optimism - to look towards the future and a world where a person is not characterised by their disabilities, but by their abilities;
·      Action - for governments, businesses, organisations and ordinary people to not only show their support for IDPWD, but to make a commitment to create a world characterised by equal human rights for all.
The UN has also put forward the theme for IDPWD 2019 of "Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda". This puts the focus on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as anticipated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to "leave no one behind" and recognises disability as a cross-cutting issue to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The right to participate in community and public life is crucial to reduce inequalities in society. It is therefore essential that people with disabilities are able to partake and contribute on an equal basis with others. IDPWD is the perfect occasion to promote empowerment and help to create real and sustainable opportunities for people with disabilities. IDPWD is not owned by the UN - it is owned by everyone: people, organisations, agencies, charities, places of learning - all of whom have a vital role to play in identifying and addressing discrimination, marginalisation, exclusion and inaccessibility which many people living with disabilities face. IDPWD is one day on the international calendar, yet it symbolises the actions we should take every day, in order to create diverse and accepting communities.


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