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Persons With Disabilities Among Worst Affected by Coronavirus

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not for profit NGO in Nepal, and writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.
The UN commemorated International Day of Persons with Disabilities December 3.. In his message for the Day, the Secretary-General noted that when crises such as COVID-19 grip communities, persons with disabilities are among the worst affected.

A 9-year-old girl plays on a seesaw in a new inclusive playground built in her school in Za’atri Refugee Camp in Jordan. Credit: UNICEF/Christopher Herwig

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Dec 4 2020 (IPS) - The 13th session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) that was initially supposed to be held in New York back in June recently wrapped up with the final session coinciding with the International Day of People with Disabilities, whose theme, this year was on the issue of building back better inclusively.

In the context of Covid -19, this means creating accessible and sustainable post pandemic pathways of self-realization and prosperity for persons with disabilities. More than what it is normally thought, disabilities are not really isolated conditions affecting the few but rather the opposite.

Millions of people worldwide have their lives adversely impacted by them, often with ailments that are apparently invisible, if you think, for example, to all of us suffering of mental health.

The COSP therefore is very important for many of us and is undoubtedly the premier annual event centered on disabilities.

Its focus this year was on three related topics: inclusive job markets, the need to address the needs of older persons with disabilities and the promotion of inclusive environments for the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

These are big topics that should be find appropriate space on the major news outlets but instead the same COSP is just an “expert” meeting, a niche forum that is very far from receiving the due coverage that it really deserves.

At the moment of writing, no major news outlets have been reporting about it and neither other “powerful” organizations with global outreach seemed to care about it.

For example, on the main homepage of the influential World Economic Forum, I found a vast array of issues from the need to have leadership and trust to fight corruption to an op-ed piece by Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan about leading by doing in climate action.

Yes quite understandably climate change is big for the World Economic Forum together with a focus on work diversity, a consequence of Black Lives Matter protests. Unfortunately, I could not find anything about disabilities.

The problem is the inability to connect the threads of social problems affecting the world.

For example, it is a huge missed opportunity not linking the ongoing debate on how to make working places more diverse and inclusive of minority groups to the wider debate on the rights of persons with disabilities to employment and job security.

After all a global job market that is truly inclusive refers to wide opportunities for all members of minority groups, not just those who are more vocal and loud.

The idea of building back better that normally refers to more sustainable and eco-friendly solutions, from more environmentally friendly means of transportations to more efficient and cleaner energies, is set to play a determinant role if we want to achieve net zero emissions in the decades ahead.

While the 13th COSP focused on its last day on inclusive reconstruction and more accessible environment for persons with disabilities, there is an urgent need to link the rethinking of urban places with the overall prominence disability rights should receive in this global “building back better” movement.

It is not just about redesigning urban spaces that are fully accessible while being eco-friendly and it is not only about better approaches to have more persons with disabilities in the work places everywhere, from developed nations to those still developing.

We need instead to frame one comprehensive and holistic strategy, from transportations to energies to jobs to affordable housing that is truly inclusive for all citizens, especially members of minority groups that have been so far often excluded from the economic gains of this world economic order.

Connecting the dots is the only way to really provide persons with disabilities and, very importantly, members of other vulnerable groups, with the opportunities to have fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Employment is so central in this equation and consequentially, only after achieving it, persons with disabilities and their “invisible” peers will become equal actors in the post pandemic order.

Some examples of disconnected approaches. In relation to better urban patterns, the global network of major global cities, C40 has leading a progressive agenda to reinvent urban spaces but again, accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities is not on their radar.

Also, within the United Nations, the New Urban Agenda is promising for its holistic inclusiveness that covers also the economic sphere but again we need major efforts to connecting the dots, including such agenda with broader development priorities, rather than keeping such strategy as standing alone framework in an already very fragmented development agenda.

The Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, should help in this tactical exercise to frame and organize issues according to different priorities and agendas, linking together issues that only apparently seems disconnected.

How many of us are really aware of the New Urban Agenda? How many times did you read about it in the last 6 to 8 months?

As per Joan Clos I Matheu, the former Executive Director of UN Habitat, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development, Habitat III held in Quito in 2016 from where the New Urban Agenda stems from, we were supposed to moving towards “a new sustainable urban paradigm” back then.

Four years forwards, only the most devastating pandemic of the century is forcing us to rethink our priorities and the way we want to live.

Yet no matter how inclusive urban spaces will be, real inclusion will only happen when minority groups without much a voice on world stage, will be able to reclaim their rights to participation and economic prosperity.

Inclusion is only one and multifaceted, let’s not forget it. That’s why events like COSP should have a much stronger visibility on the world stage. That’s why International Disability Alliance should be supported to establish new partnerships with influential business and other lobbying organizations across the sectors.

Disability, after all, should not be just an “UN agenda” targeting diplomats and experts.

For example, the World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society is a unique initiative that should be better resourced and highlighted 365 days a year, not just occasionally.

All of us interested and engaged in the disability sector, we need better public relations and better connections with the international media.

That’s why Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility and Professor Gerard Quinn, the recently appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities have their work cut out.

For them to succeed and become visible, they will need support, extensive resources to raise the issues of persons with disabilities on the global stage.

The goal is to make the next COSP a truly big deal for the world.



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