BANGKOK, Thailand, December 3 (IPS) – As the world celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today, we honor the leadership of people with disabilities and their tireless efforts to build a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable world. At the same time, we are determined to work even harder to ensure an open and inclusive society.
One of the main reasons behind these exceptions is the lack of accessibility. Public transportation and the built environment in general — including public offices, polling stations, workplaces, markets, and other infrastructure — lack ramps, walkways, and basic access features. However, accessibility goes beyond common thinking about physical structures. Barriers to accessing services and ICTs must also be removed, to allow the participation of people with different types of disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities, hearing and vision impaired.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns have exacerbated existing inequalities. Many people with disabilities face increased health concerns due to comorbidities and are left without access to their personal assistants and basic goods and services. As much of society has moved online during lockdowns, inaccessible digital infrastructure means that people with disabilities cannot access public health information or online job opportunities.
Despite these challenges, people with disabilities and their organizations have been among the first to respond to their communities’ immediate needs for food and supplies during the lockdowns as well as continue their long-term work to support vulnerable groups.
ESCAP has partnered with several of these organizations to support their work during the pandemic. Samarthyam, a civil society organization in India led by a disabled woman, has trained several men and women with disabilities to conduct accessibility audits in their home areas. With these skills, they become leaders and advocates in their communities, working towards improving access to essential buildings everywhere.
Another ESCAP partner, the National Council of the Blind in Malaysia (NCBM), is working to improve digital accessibility by training a group of people with diverse disabilities in web access auditing, accessible electronic publishing, and strategic advocacy. NCBM hopes to support those involved in shaping a social enterprise for online auditing and accessible publishing, creating job opportunities and empowering people with disabilities to lead efforts to improve online accessibility.
Men and women with disabilities have been leaders and champions to break down barriers to make a difference in Asia Pacific. Today, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is launching the report “Disability at a Glance 2021: Shaping Disability Inclusive Employment in Asia and the Pacific.” The report highlights some innovative approaches to making hiring more inclusive, as well as recommendations on how to further reduce employment gaps.
Adaptation to a post-COVID-19 world presents an opportunity for governments to reassess and implement policies to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities in employment, decision-making bodies and all aspects of society. Accessibility issues not only affect people with disabilities, but also other people who need help, including the elderly and those who are pregnant or injured. Implementation of policies with inclusive design, which creates environments and services that can be used by all people, benefits the whole of society. Governments should mainstream inclusive design principles into national development plans, not just into disability laws and policies.
As a global leader in disability inclusive development for more than 30 years, the Asia Pacific region has set an example by embracing the world’s first set of disability development goals in the Incheon “Realizing the Right” strategy. Achieving the goals of the Incheon Strategy will require governments to intensify their efforts to reduce barriers to education, employment, and political participation.
At ESCAP, we know that achieving an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID-19 world will only be possible through increased leadership and participation of people with disabilities. To build back better – and more equitably – we will continue to strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders so that together we can “realize the right” for all people with disabilities.
Armida Salsiya Cheese Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
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