Ban Ki-moon

World 'must welcome disabled', says UN chief Ban Ki-moon

UN leaders demand stigma and barriers be torn down so millions of the disabled can contribute

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 10:30pm

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened a historic UN meeting of world leaders "to break barriers and open doors" for the more than one billion disabled people around the world.

The goal of the first ever high-level General Assembly meeting to discuss the plight of the disabled aimed to spur international action to ensure that the disabled can contribute to the global economy.

"Far too many people with disabilities live in poverty (and) too many suffer from social exclusion" and are denied access to education, health care and social and legal support, Ban said.

The meeting was the prelude to the annual UN gathering of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs, which started yesterday.

The World Health Organisation said a huge increase in hearing aids, glasses and wheelchairs could improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people. But the disabled must also overcome other hurdles, including discrimination and stigma.

Stevie Wonder, the blind singer-songwriter who is also a UN Messenger of Peace, said: "I wish for a day when there would be technology available for the blind ... for every single blind person or persons with disabilities all over the world."

General Assembly President John Ashe stressed the importance of a global commitment. "Given the size of such a marginalised group, the onus is on us all to ensure that any future sustainable development goals include the disabled," he said, referring to new UN goals being debated for 2015 to 2030 to fight poverty and promote equality.

"Far too many are hidden from view by others, and robbed of any contact, dignity or joy because of poverty, lack of support services, an unwarranted sense of shame or terrible ignorance."

For the disabled, who represent about 15 per cent of the world's population, Monday's meeting marked a milestone.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told ministers and diplomats from the 193 UN member states that "all of our societies are stronger when every single one of our citizens, able-bodied and disabled alike, all get to live up to their full potential". He called the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, "a gold standard with respect to how we treat people and how we open up the world for opportunities" that other states should emulate.

The General Assembly adopted a resolution reaffirming the resolve of heads of state and government "to work together for disability-inclusive development" and advance the rights of all people with disabilities.

The non-binding resolution acknowledges the value of the contribution of the disabled "to the general well-being, progress and diversity of society". It calls for the inclusion of the disabled in all UN development goals and urgent action to ensure they have equal access to education, health care, transport and "full and productive employment", as well as strengthened social protection.

Dr Jacob Kumaresan, executive director of WHO's office at the UN, said people with disabilities were twice as likely to find health services inadequate and three times as likely to be denied adequate health care.

According to WHO, 360 million people worldwide have moderate-to-profound hearing loss, but only 10 per cent have access to hearing aids. Some 200 million people need glasses or but have no access to them, and only between 5 to 15 per cent of the 70 million people who need wheelchairs have access to one.