December 3 marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As we grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative we acknowledge that people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable to the virus due to health, social and environmental barriers, discriminatory attitudes and inaccessible infrastructure.
“As the world recovers from the pandemic, we must ensure that the aspirations and rights of persons with disabilities are included and accounted for in [an] inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said. “This vision will only be achieved through active consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.
The World Health Organization recognizes that the highest possible standard of health is only possible when we have inclusive health systems. The organization sees the pandemic as a unique opportunity to rebuild these health systems to better respond to the needs and human rights of people experiencing disability in all their diversity. In honoring International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the push for better infrastructure acknowledges that disability is part of the human condition— almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in their life.
Today’s observance first began with a 1992 resolution by the UN with the aim to promote rights for and increase awareness about people living with disabilities. It came just two years after President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary year. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, applying to sectors that vary from employment to transportation. The long fight for such rights is chronicled in Netflix’s documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” The film explains how a summer camp for teens with disabilities was ground zero for the start of a movement.
This year’s theme highlights that not all disabilities are visible, such as chronic pain and neurological disorders. According to WHO’s World Report on Disability, 15 percent of the world (AKA a billion people) live with a disability. Approximately 450 million of these people have a mental or neurological condition, though two-thirds won’t seek professional medical help, mostly because of stigma, discrimination and neglect.
Whether as a community individual or in a leadership role, you can directly help make the world a more accessible place. The WHO’s disability report makes nine recommendations: enable access to all mainstream systems and services; invest in programs and services for people with disabilities; adopt a disability strategy and plan of action; involve people with disabilities; improve human resource capacity; provide adequate funding and improve affordability; increase public awareness; improve the availability and quality of data; and strengthen and support research. One way to start is with increasing visibility, which you can do by downloading and sharing our infographic below.