Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Words, words, words....

There is a song in My Fair Lady which goes

Words, words, words.
I get words all day through,
First from him, now from you...

That is what the following statement by the UN Secretary-General at the High-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Disability and Development on New York, 23 September 2013 reminds me of! I, and at least twenty groups of `disability avtivists' have been spending most of our living moments toiling towards achieving some of the inclusivity spoken of below by talking to unsympathetic government officials (for the most part), and I see zero proof of any of that having any effect. Now see what the UN Secretary-General has to say - and imgine how soothing it would be to an amputee without legs living in Amritsar, for instance! (Don't get me wrong; I also have been a fan of Stevie Wonder ever since Boogie on Reggae Woman.)

This is the most important period of the year at the United Nations.

Leaders from around the globe are gathering to focus on peace and security, development and human rights.

I believe there is no better way to begin this momentous week than with this historic High-level Meeting.

I want to extend my warmest welcome to all of you -- especially persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.  Thank you for bringing your strength and energy.

Together, we are here to break barriers and open doors.

We are here to forge the way forward and build a disability-inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.

Disability is part of the human condition; almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life.

More than 1 billion persons live with some form of disability.  Eighty percent are of working age; 80 per cent live in developing countries. Yet far too many people with disabilities live in poverty.

Too many suffer from social exclusion. Too many are denied access to education, employment, health care, and social and legal support systems.

Women and girls with disabilities often experience double discrimination – and so we must emphasize the gender dimensions of a disability-inclusive development agenda.

All of us suffer when communities are divided; just as all of us benefit when communities are united.

The International Labour Organization found that excluding persons with disabilities from the labour market in some low- and middle-income countries costs economies as much as 7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

We must remove barriers to equality of opportunity so that all people can be free from poverty and discrimination.

Let us proclaim in the loudest voice possible: Disability is not inability.

As I said in my report A Life of Dignity for All, persons with disabilities are integral to our forward march towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals and shaping the post-2015 agenda.

The landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a powerful tool for inclusive development.

I urge all countries to ratify it without delay.

I know you agree with me and Stevie Wonder -- we need it signed, sealed and delivered!

And we need more.

We must further strengthen the international normative framework on disability and development.

We must build capacity and improve data and statistics on persons with disabilities.

We must act now to remove barriers to access to physical environments, transportation and information and communications.

And we must not only lift the physical barriers – but also the barriers in attitudes that fuel stigma and discrimination.

You are here to do more than change laws or policies or regulations.

Ultimately, you are here to make sure every member of the human family has a chance to live their lives fully.

I think of the director of a programme for special needs children in Haiti who said “you should see the children’s faces when they put on their uniforms—money couldn’t buy the feeling of happiness.”

I think of the young football players I met in Sierra Leone a few years
ago.  Their limbs had been amputated during the war. And yet, there they were, playing soccer.  To my eyes, they were even better than the World Cup soccer players.

I think of the Syrian mother in a refugee camp who finally received a wheelchair for her daughter with disabilities.  She said “Now we can take her to see the doctor…now we can take her out.  She has a right to see the sun.”

Everyone has the right to  … to score their own goals … to see the sun … and expand their horizons.

That is why you are here.  That is your message and mission.

I am proud to be at your side.

Together, let us turn a new page in the history of the United Nations by giving full meaning to the outcome document of this meeting.

Let us work together so everyone, everywhere has the chance to live their dreams and use the gifts that they have been given.

Let us advance disability-inclusive development, inspire change on the ground and ensure a life of dignity for all.

I thank you.

Sometimes, I go through these bouts of frustration and feel like screaming to our law-makers: Why don't you stop talking, and instead put your money where your mouth is, and enforce all the high-faluting laws you have passed decades ago?

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