Campaigners demand action from UN on disability poverty


theweeksubDisabled musicians, actors, athletes, comedians and politicians have called on the United Nations (UN) to ensure the needs of the world’s one billion disabled people are not forgotten as it draws up its new plan to fight poverty.

Their open letter was published as the UN met in New York this week to begin the process of replacing the eight Millennium Development Goals, which were drawn up in 2000 and won the support of 189 world leaders.

The next set of goals will be decided at a summit in September 2015, but the letter warns that the UN’s efforts are doomed to failure unless aid projects reach disabled people.

Yannis Vardakastanis, chair of the International Disability Alliance, which drew up the letter with the International Disability and Development Consortium, said: “It’s outrageous that the global blueprint that is meant to end world poverty has so far completely ignored the existence of disability.

“The global fight against poverty is futile unless we reach the poorest and most marginalized in every society.”

Among those signing the letter from the UK were the Paralympian and broadcaster Ade Adepitan; Andrea Begley, the singer who won BBC’s The Voice UK 2013; comedian Francesca Martinez; actor Warwick Davis; and Paralympians Dame Sarah Storey and Sophie Christiansen.

Their letter says that the exclusion of disabled people from the Millennium Development Goals led to them being left out from development programmes over the last 13 years.

It adds: “This is not only a violation of their rights; it is also stalling development. Poverty cannot be tackled without including persons with disabilities.”

The letter points out that in some countries, disabled children are twice as likely not to be in school than non-disabled children, while disabled women and children are significantly more likely to face violence and sexual abuse, and exclusion from work opportunities means disabled people are disproportionately likely to be in extreme poverty.

The letter adds: “We are talking about huge numbers of people who experience marginalisation and discrimination every day.

“Eighty per cent of the world’s persons with disabilities live in developing countries; many are among the poorest, most neglected people in the world.”

Christiansen told Disability News Service: “No matter what country you come from, disabled people have the right to fulfil their potential and they need the opportunities to do that.

“I think the UK has a responsibility to lead the way and show how disabled people should be treated.”

She said that the London 2012 Paralympics had a huge impact on attitudes to disabled people, but she added: “If we keep the legacy going we can change attitudes and perceptions globally, not just in the UK.

“I am not naive in thinking we can change the world. I know that in a lot of countries there are worse things going on [than in the UK], but I think if we are seen to be doing the right thing then other people will follow.”

Mosharraf Hossain, country director for ADD International in Bangladesh, said: “Without making sure the most marginalized in the world receive equal access to employment, education and healthcare, the fight against poverty will be futile.

“As a disabled person from Bangladesh working with thousands of people with disabilities, I strongly believe that global support at this time will ensure people with disabilities are no longer left behind.”

26 September 2013