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World Celebrates International Disability Day: "Nothing About Us Without Us"
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 3, 2004

People with disabilities and their allies around the globe celebrated Friday as the International Day of Disabled Persons.

The theme of the world-wide observance, "Nothing About Us Without Us", reflected the importance of people with disabilities to have a voice in their lives, equal opportunities to be meaningfully included in their communities, and chances to contribute to society.

"Today, as a result of a dramatic shift in perspective that has been taking place over the past two decades, persons with disabilities have started to be viewed as people who must enjoy the full spectrum of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights," said United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a statement.

"No society can claim to be based on justice and equality without persons with disabilities taking decisions as full-fledged members," he added.

The third day of December was first proclaimed the International Day of Disabled Persons in 1992 by the United Nations to increase the awareness and understanding of disability issues and promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in political, social, economic and cultural life.

More than 600 million people worldwide live with disabilities. More than 400 million of them live in developing countries. That number is expected to increase substantially in the future as the general global population grows and the average life-span continues to lengthen.

One concern that was highlighted in different countries was the need for people with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities so they can get out of poverty. In 1999 the World Bank estimated that up to 20 percent of the poorest people in the world experience disabilities.

News agencies from at least 20 countries reported on specific activities and proclamations related to Friday's global celebration.

In Afghanistan, nearly 500 disability rights advocates were part of a procession in the capital city of Kabul, demanding that the government work to make sure they are included more in society.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) issued a report outlining a number of problems such Afghanis face while their country strives to reconstruct its buildings and rebuilt its infrastructure following two decades of war. The report called for public information campaigns to highlight the contributions people with disabilities can make to their country, along with efforts to improve accessibility, social and health services, education, and incentive programs to encourage employers to hire people with disabilities.

"It is essential that a new debate begins, today, on how opportunities can be created for people with disabilities to play a fulfilling role in the rebuilding of their nation," said Bernt Aasen, UNICEF's representative in Afghanistan, in a UN statement.

In China, where one-third of the 30 million people who live below the poverty line have disabilities, the government used the occasion to announce changes to its 1990 disability law. The changes, which were not detailed in the news, reportedly would strengthen rights to education, employment, information access, and recreation.

Maria Eagle, Britain's Minister for Disabled People, used the day to remind businesses that they should pay attention to the 10 million adults with disabilities in the country -- with an estimated £80 billion in buying power -- during the holiday shopping season.

"Disabled people have a right to the same treatment as anyone else when they are shopping," Eagle said. "If traders want to make sure business is booming this Christmas they should really think about their disabled customers."

Also in the United Kingdom, the disability charity Scope released the results of an October 1 accessibility survey done by patrons with disabilities, which found that 90 percent of the country's restaurants still had at least one barrier to access -- in spite of new provisions in the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

India's President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam used Friday to announce that the government is working on a 'Speech Applet' to provide a website interface for blind Internet users. The program could be downloaded from the president's website, he said.

At the same time, critics noted that India has much to do to make its buildings, services and buildings more welcoming to Indians with disabilities.

Speaking in Brussels, Belgium, Vladimir Spidla, the European Union's Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, called for a new approach in the EU's equal opportunities policy. Spidla said the policy should reflect a change to more of a rights-based approach to dealing with the discrimination which prevents people with disabilities from finding and keeping jobs.

Spidla said the Commission would target three priority areas, including improving access to the "built environment", such as roads, public transportation, hospitals and public services; harnessing new technologies to empower people with disabilities and enable them to work; and providing life-long learning.

"We must incorporate an inclusive vision of disability into all our policies," Spidla said.

In Kuala Lumpur, dozens of Malaysians with disabilities were expected to assemble at the Berjaya Times Square, as "Wheel Power" columnist Anthony Thanasayan described, "not only to declare their existence with unashamed pride but to also raise awareness about their plight and right to equal rights and opportunities."

Hundreds of South Africans with disabilities converged on Carnival City in Brakpan, east of Johannesburg, to commemorate the day. They came together to spread the message that their unemployment rate is still too low, and to thank the government for hiring people with disabilities. Sello Moloto, the premier of the Limpopo province, boasted that his government has hired more than 380 people with disabilities, six of them in senior managerial positions.

Ruth Dyson, New Zealand's Disability Issues Minister, announced Friday that more people in her country have moved out of sheltered workshops and into jobs in the community.

"The number of disabled people in supported employment is expected to increase by 20 per cent this financial year - from 7500 to 9000," she said.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz renewed his government's "commitment and resolve" to "build our country as one of the most favorable and truly accessible, caring and integrated communities for the disabled."

Serbian officials noted that by the end of this year, their Parliament is expected to pass a Law Against Discrimination, a Book of Rules and Procedures on Financing of Organizations of the Disabled, as well as preparing a National Strategy for improvement of the status of people with disabilities.

In Singapore, which is celebrating its first Disability Awareness Week, an estimated 120 people celebrated on Thursday with a "Friend of the Disabled" Parade. The marchers, both with and without disabilities, stopped about 7,500 shoppers and handed out stickers with the message: "Disabled Does Not Mean Unable".

Today's "Below The Fold" page includes more than two dozen stories related to the International Day of Disabled Persons.

[Editor's note: Incidentally, except for a proclamation by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I could find no recognition of the world-wide event by government officials in the United States. -- Dave]

"UN marks Day of Disabled Persons with call for their full inclusion in society" (United Nations)

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