United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Thursday, 3rd December 2015


One of the lesser known days to commemorate disabilities on a global level is the yearly United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), on December 3rd. With an estimated 15 per cent of the global population, or 1 billion people with disabilities -from physical, mental, psychosocial and invisible disabilities- inequality and exclusion from society takes place. Perhaps not as well-known as World MS Day, IDPD is celebrated to similarly break down barriers, promote awareness, gain support for critical disability issues and empowerment for all people of all abilities. 

As we all know, one of the basic human rights is equality, but there is sadly a varying degree of exclusion in society that reaches from our own doorstep to countries where MS and other illnesses and disabilities aren’t recognised and properly acted-upon. While I often think that people shouldn’t have to feel guilty and/or apologise for their disabilities, many of us quite often do. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities therefore seeks to raise (even) more understanding and support for the rights and dignity of anyone with a disability.

In countries where recession hit hard or where wars are making people flee from their homes and countries, integration of people with disabilities into the society is sometimes halted. Often they are also denied political, social, economic and cultural advantages which come naturally to able-bodied people. Reason enough to highlight the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

2015 IDPD theme

Each year, the IDPD has a different theme, with inclusion, accessibility and empowerment the leading topics in 2015. It will highlight themes such as transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The latter cannot be a task for able-bodied people only; people with disabilities have to enjoy the right to participate in public life, as it leads to active citizenship and opens up critical disability issues in governments. 

As witnessed at a UNCRPD conference about the right to fulfil a vital role in politics a few years ago, Senator Martin Conway (Fine Gael) and David Blunkett in the UK have been critical in forming my belief that more people with disabilities should be elected. Being able to politically participate on an equal basis with others is not only important for society in general, but also helps to reduce stigma, discrimination and archaic ideas about disability and persons with disabilities. 

Not only are we equal, but people with disabilities matter. We deserve being empowered and giving empowerment; we deserve opportunities, protection, support and seeing our views create positive changes. Inclusion, accessibility and empowerment can create agents of change, with a civic duty that benefits all.

Sub-themes for IDPD 2015:

Making cities inclusive and accessible for all, as it is estimated that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will be living in cities. Large scale accessibility efforts have to take place to ensure that nobody gets left behind. The International Day will be used to discuss and present some best practices of inclusive urbanization.

Improving disability data and statistics: Lack of data on disability and situation of persons with disabilities on a national level contributes to the invisibility of persons with disabilities in official statistics. The International Day will be used to highlight measures to strengthen national capacities to improve and mainstream disability data collection, based on existing good practices.

Including persons with invisible disabilities in society and development: Millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions and an estimated one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. The International Day can be used to draw attention on the situation of persons with invisible disabilities, such as mental health and psychosocial disabilities, intellectual disabilities, as well as hearing impairments. 

What can you do to celebrate IDPD 2015 in your community?

INCLUDE: Governments, UN system, organisations/charities for people with disabilities and civil services to provide events that celebrate inclusion and development in society, both as beneficiaries and agents of change.

ORGANISE: Forums, public discussions and information campaigns in support of the themes of IDPD 2015 to discuss and share ways of including and empowering persons of all abilities to develop and be fully included in their local communities.

CELEBRATE: Organize performances to celebrate persons with disabilities by creating opportunities to help realize their potential, be it through music, sport, academia or interpersonal skills.

TAKE ACTION: Highlight best practices and think about making recommendations to your local political leaders, businesses, academic institutions, cultural centres and others to ensure that your activity leaves a legacy and brings about lasting change.

What you personally can do to mark the day, is for example, make a will via Inclusion Ireland, see here for more information.

Plan International Ireland in collaboration with the CARA Centre and UNESCO/IT Tralee will facilitate a one-day training workshop for Youth Leaders and Volunteers to examine the perceptions of people with disabilities and barriers that may prevent their inclusion in society. You can find more info here.

UNCRPD… an 8.5 year wait. How much longer?

In the next few months and year, Ireland’s outstanding UNCRPD ratification will gain more momentum. The United Nations Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights treaty and an international legal obligation, was the fasted negotiated human rights treaty in the UN. Yet, in a bold move (or lack thereof), Ireland is still to ratify the Convention. Considering the treaty had the highest number of signatories in history to a UN convention on an opening day, the high benchmarking by Irish policy-makers and delaying the ratification has become a very sore point among people with disabilities.

Professor Gerard Quinn, Director, Centre for Disability Law & Policy at NUI Galway, said in a keynote speech in October, “The best process of change is not one that is handed down on high from the UN – it is one that commands native support – not one that is imposed because of an external instrument but one that reinforces sound principles that make sense locally.   What you really need is a marriage between the domestic process of change and the treaty. Indeed, we should aspire to innovate to supply ideas for others on how to implement the treaty.”

Only three EU states have yet to ratify the CRPD, the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland. It is estimated that the CRPD affects 595,335 people in Ireland, but they have been waiting for ratification of the treaty for over eight years. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if we waited a little longer.

For more on the UNCRPD, click here