The ONE Billion, one in every 7 people on Planet Earth has a Disability

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Andria Spindel with Javed Abidi. President of Disabled Persons International

The proportion of people with disabilities is greatest in the least developed countries of the world. The poorest of the poor, the most marginalized, and most vulnerable people are those with disabilities. The most exploited and at risk of violence, sexual abuse, neglect, homelessness, and natural disaster, are women and girls with disabilities.  These are the messages supported with documentation and presented this month at the 8th Session of the United Nations Conference of States Parties ( meaning governments) on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I am part of March of Dimes Canada’s delegation to the conference, at which we have accreditation. I am in NY along with two members of our Government Relations Department, and we have split up to cover as many sessions as possible, including those plenaries at which governments report on their actions towards meeting commitments within CRPD, and side events, sponsored by NGOs, UN agencies, governments and academics.

Of course all is not negative, gains are being made, but not equally around the globe. We’ve learned of progressive legislation, embodying principles of the CRPD, such as in Germany and Australia. Canada sponsored a session on collection and use of data, and highlighted the Canadian Disabilities Survey of 2012, which clearly caused envy among representatives from countries which have zero data on disability, yet experience it significantly and have poor planning mechanisms. I was especially proud, as I listened, to realize that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, now in its 10th year, could be a model for other jurisdictions. But like many who reported, we need vigilance to ensure compliance, we need enforcement to make it work.
The Israeli delegation from the NGO, Beit Issie Shapiro, partnered with big tech giant Google, small tech company Sesame Enable, and the German and Israeli UN Missions, to present exciting advancements in assistive technology. An American partner provided an interesting context as well showing technology that opens doors for inclusion of people with disabilities.
This conference has several overarching themes including, “Nothing About Us Without Us,” “Achieving Cross Sectionality,” and  “Sustainable Development Goals for All People.” The former has been the battle cry since at least 1981 when the first world wide consumer-driven organization was created in Canada, Disabled Persons International. I remember it well. At this event every session repeated this mantra, every session included significant numbers of people with disabilities and communication in various sign languages and with captioning has been available. No longer is it acceptable to plan services, to deliver services or consider the needs of recipients without their direct involvement.

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Andria with Venus Ilagan, CEO of Rehabilitation International

The second theme has been introduced more recently and speaks to the drive to bring marginalized groups together. Since 1981, the voices of different segments of the population with disabilities have built coalitions and alignments, recognizing shared goals for inclusion and access. Now the call is for indigenous people, LGBTQ folks, women’s groups and racialized advocates, to work together with disability advocates to gain rights, to reach full inclusion and equal opportunity.
The last theme is best expressed by the idea that at every table, ie at every issue affecting humankind, let there be a voice for people with disabilities. After all, they are affected too by economic policy, social policy, climate and health care etc. For example,  there are no concerns of women that should not include women with disabilities, from maternal and child care to education, employment and more. So as the United Nations and its many agencies develop their next set of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), people with disabilities demand to be included, thus moving our common humanity forward.
My mind is dominated by images of gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities, which has increased substantially due to war, catastrophic disasters, and poverty. The world has to intervene, conflicts need to cease, risk planning has to improve, governments have to put people first, civil society organizations must cooperate, and people with disabilities need to be empowered. We need recognize the psycho-social implications of disability and the travesty of injustices that contribute to it. The United Nations is a magnificent concept, and gathered at this Conference of States Parties, are powerful allies of those with disabilities, so let’s hope that by this time next year, we’ll hear more about success and achievement and less about the avoidable casualties of man’s inhumanity to man.

What might each of us give up?

What are we willing to give up, in order to have a safer community,  to make improvements in the lives of others less fortunate, or to ensure clean drinking water for years to come, or  maybe to ensure our cultural values as Canadians remain entrenched or enshrined? These are some of the questions Canadians might ask  because everything is not affordable or achievable with a tick of a ballot. Having just voted federally and with  an Ontario election in the offing this year, do people really think that a vote will bring about all the solutions? My contention is that no one party has all the answers, and no one party is all right or all wrong. We are all, citizens and residents alike, building a society. Everyone’s contribution counts, and sometimes it means giving up something in order to get something. On a societal scale, it might be time to consider what we really need or want and how much we will “give up” to get it, rather than how hard we will demand it.

At March of Dimes Canada we value all manifestations of accessibility for people with disabilities and equitable opportunity. We place value on  people, regardless of their individual abilities. It sometimes means we have to rethink how things are to be done to ensure access, choosing only physical locations that do not have barriers, revamping material to be more accessible for  some readers, being very courteous to assist others, giving people more time to complete a task, redesigning activities for those less physically capable. Our work always includes asking questions about how things might be done by someone with a disability. Thus we were involved in the Toronto municipal elections last year when the City tested voting machines that enable people with disabilities to place a vote independently. We provided an accessible polling station and material to help educate first time voters on the process.

Thinking through our priorities as individuals, as communities, as a total society is essential. Can we come to recognizable commonalities of purpose and a vision of our society? None of us have all the answers so I recommend taking the time to discuss questions with all of one’s colleagues, family, friends about what one wants and what one will give up to achieve it. For March of Dimes it is somewhat simple. We want people to create inclusiveness and that sometimes means changing plans, going slowly, listening differently, making accommodations. However, it always means valuing all people, seeing the “ability” and not the “disability.”