Hundreds of activists and Government delegates gathered at United Nations Headquarters today to identify practical ways to take the rights, needs and concerns of persons with disabilities, particularly youth, into consideration as they strive to advance inclusive, sustainable development.
"As the international community discusses a universal post-2015 development agenda, we need to make sure that the new framework will not leave the one billion persons with disabilities behind," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message to the seventh session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Persons with disabilities worldwide face physical, social, economic and attitudinal barriers that prevent them from effectively participating in society. They are also disproportionately represented among the world's poorest, and lack equal access to basic resources such as education, employment, healthcare and legal support systems.
The three-day meeting will review implementation of the Convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006, with a special focus on youth with disabilities, as well as the development agenda that Member States are currently designing as a successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
"Equal access is the key to participation. Yet there are still many barriers and inequalities facing persons with disabilities," Mr. Ban noted in his message, which was delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo.
"A lack of access to education, employment, health care and other forms of support prevents many youth with disabilities from realizing their full potential and fully contributing to the development of their society," he stated, adding that discrimination and exclusion remain pervasive in all societies.
"In many parts of the world, urban and rural development policies and programmes still do not take full account of accessibility as a worthy investment for the wider participation of people with different functional needs."
At last year's General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the advancement of the status of persons with disabilities by adopting an action-oriented outcome document.
Member States identified a number of priorities, including education, social protection, financial inclusion, statistics and the inclusion of disability in humanitarian programming.
Mr. Ban noted that, above all, the outcome document stresses the importance of including disability in all development goals.
"We must involve persons with disabilities directly and meaningfully in the design and implementation of the development agenda towards 2015 and beyond," he stated. "The powerful slogan, 'nothing about us, without us', highlights the importance of participation in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our work."
The number of States parties to the Convention has now reached 147, which is "a demonstration of increasing global support and commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities and their inclusion in all spheres of life," said Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, the President of the Conference.
"All stakeholders," he added, "must take action to address the gap between the goals and objectives of the Convention and the reality we all see and face on the ground. This is because persons with disabilities across the world remain invisible for the most part and excluded in many regards."
Among the milestones over the past year, Mr. Kamau highlighted the opening of the Accessibility Centre at UN Headquarters, which supports inclusion and enables greater participation of persons with disabilities in intergovernmental process and meetings of the Organization, as well as the Secretary-General's appointment of the former vice-president of Ecuador, Lenín Voltaire Moreno Garces, as his Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility.
Mr. Moreno is tasked with helping promote the rights of people with disabilities and advocating on behalf of accessibility for all people.