Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. While there is much progress to remark on disability-inclusive development, more advances are needed if we are to live up to the promise of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to the promise of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind.
More than 15 percent of the global population — over 1 billion people — are estimated to have a disability; 80 percent of this total live in developing countries.
Disability is a multi-dimensional development and human rights issue, and many persons with disabilities are consistently left out of development gains. In post-conflict situations, during crisis or natural disasters, persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected. In addition, discriminatory attitudes limit their full participation in society, and contribute to a rise in inequality.
UNDP’s Strategic Plan commits us to work within our comparative advantages to ensure that disability is more deeply embedded in our work. A message from UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner issued today along with a new Guidance Note on persons with disabilities, outlines practical ways in which UNDP can operate to jointly implement the twin frameworks which support disability inclusion: the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Disability in the Arab States — Time to Increase Inclusion
Most governments in the Arab States region have signed or ratified the Convention, and thus far many governments across the region have cited disability inclusion as a priority in Universal Periodic Reviews or Voluntary National Reviews.
While data on the prevalence of disability across the region is uneven, we know that disability is too often a barrier preventing people from contributing to and benefiting from development processes. What’s more, for demographic reasons and due to the intensity of conflict and crisis affecting many of the countries, it is possible that the number and proportion of persons with disabilities in the region will grow.
In the Arab States, not only does disability too often present its own unique challenges to the enjoyment of rights and participation in development, it also intersects with other factors of exclusion facing segments of the population: for example, youth, women, and the unemployed. This intersectionality often constitutes a measure of exclusion from development gains that, for too many, is very difficult to surmount.
That’s why at the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States we are committed to disability- inclusive development across the Arab States region, by supporting countries to develop and strengthen disability law and policy frameworks, improve accessibility of services, social protection, livelihood opportunities, and promote the participation of persons with disabilities in governance processes and public life.
Building on Efforts in the Arab States — Reaching More Persons with Disabilities
Examples of our engagement across the region range from support at the policy and institutional level, to working closely with communities to provide direct support for stronger inclusion including through more innovative approaches.
In Syria, UNDP is supporting persons with disabilities, including through the provision of medical and rehabilitation assistance to persons with disabilities, such as prosthetics, crutches, and wheelchairs as well as physiotherapy and psycho-social support. “If you fall once, try a second time; if you fall twice, try a third; if you fall three times, try it a fourth time,” said Hussain, a participant in the programme who has been received a prosthetic limb and other support from UNDP.
In Egypt, UNDP has supported the Ministry of Social Solidarity to increase awareness of service providers about disabilities, and to develop standards and enhance systems for assessing the capacity of persons with disabilities to work. UNDP Egypt also teamed up with the UNESCO regional office and the International Telecommunication Union in Cairo to hold a Digital Inclusion Innovation Camp where youth developed mobile applications and web platforms that facilitate accessibility of public services for persons with disabilities.
Moreover, UNDP Egypt partnered with Microsoft, the Egyptian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology and Telecom Egypt, to crowdsource assistive technologies solutions, leveraging the power of the internet-enabled devices for a more inclusive living for persons with disabilities. One of the most promising solutions to come out of this work has been a glove-based tool to support communication among the deaf-blind, a solution co-created with deaf-blind users and currently in the prototype phase. Addressing the vital gender angle of disability inclusion, the UNDP Country Office is also supporting a symbolic march, along with NGOs and Government officials, to raise awareness and promote reporting on violence against women with disabilities.
In Kuwait, UNDP is working with the Public Authority for Disabled Affairs on the removal of barriers to social, economic and educational inclusion of persons with disability through increasing technical expertise for implementation of Universal Design and countrywide use of technology enablers. Through this, UNDP and partners are piloting the Universal Design approach at the Public Authority headquarters and three other government buildings.
In Bahrain, UNDP and the Ministry of Labour and Social Development have launched an initiative to extend training to families on the use of adaptive wheelchairs, which allow for a high degree of adjustment to personal needs and aim to increase mobility — coupled with a public awareness campaign on the importance of access and mobility for wheelchair users.
UNDP also works at the regional level to promote ideas that advance inclusion, including through our Youth Leadership Programme, which provides a platform for young people to engage in developing innovation solutions to access challenges. With support from this programme, Yahya Mrabet in Morocco is reinventing the mobility of the wheelchair by prototyping an attachment that allows the chairs to ascend stairways with greater ease. And Haythem Srihi, of Tunisia, who uses a wheelchair himself, was supported two years ago by UNDP on advocacy approaches for disability inclusion. While his engagement with UNDP has concluded, this year Haythem successfully campaigned for a seat on the municipal council, and is planning to build on his experience in advocacy to achieve policy impact for inclusion at the local level.
The Road Ahead: Towards Disability Inclusive Development
These are just a few examples of the growing portfolio of work that is advancing with UNDP’s support and partnership in the Arab States region.
As UNDP, we are committed to working within our comparative advantages to support progress towards disability inclusive development across the region even further as we strive to support national and local efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals. We are also committed to working further to help reduce barriers and foster an enabling environment for the employment, retention, and closer collaboration with persons with disabilities in our own workplaces.
As the Regional Director and Deputy Regional Director of the Regional Bureau for Arab States, we offer our full support and encouragement to this important effort to leave no one behind — as a matter of rights, and dignity, and as a catalyst for development.