ACUNS member Kristin Duquette originally published this article on the Huffington Post website. Kristin served as the ACUNS representative for the UN High Level Meeting on Disability and Development. Duquette was also selected as one of four people to ask a question to former UNSG Kofi Annan. Duquette asked “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world and have the highest unemployment rate in the United States. What can be done to improve employment and economic differences for people with disabilities?”
The Way Forward
This week world delegates, disability experts and NGOs gathered for the United Nations High Level Meeting on Disability and Development. I had the opportunity to observe this historic meeting and am happy to share how the international community values persons with disabilities in the Millennium Development Goals and beyond.
The main theme throughout the halls, speeches and side conversations was the disability rights mantra;
“nothing about us without us.” This mantra alluded to the importance of a disability-inclusive environment and the international community’s commitment and support to persons with disabilities, specifically with the Millennium Development Goals, 2015 and the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. Mr. John William Ashe, President of the General Assembly not only stated the significance of full participation and equality for people with disabilities, but shared the many challenges the international disability community still faces; prejudice, denied the right to education, institutionalization, unemployment and lack of health services. These struggles are masked by global issues such as poverty because 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries. Despite these challenges, we are encountering a new era where the international community addresses these issues and fully acknowledges people with disabilities.
In addition to disability inclusion for the Millennium Development Goals, disability experts and advocates met at UNICEF Headquarters for the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities to discuss the rights of children with disabilities. One proposed initiative was the Task Force on Access to Health and Physical Activity. This task force would educate and promote health programs for children with disabilities with a focus on treating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through physical activity. By realizing that physical inactivity is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, specifically with disabled children; advocates are collaborating to solve these global issues.
The High Level Meeting was a historic event as people with disabilities are not only acknowledged, but included in international documents aside from the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Advocates and delegates are not only discussing disability issues and deliberating initiatives, but including people with disabilities within society. And it’s about time. Why? Because language drives behavior. And it’s just the beginning. I saw changes being made this week as documented terminology is providing global inclusion. The disabled community is being seen by the international community for their potential and worth; leaders, assets in society, agents of progress and contributors to the world.
As stated by Stevie Wonder during the Opening Plenary, “I look forward to the day when I can write a song about how the world is accessible for all.”
Disability inclusion for all. This is the way forward. This is my hope for our world.
About Kristin Duquette
Kristin Duquette is a recent graduate from Trinity College and majored in Human Rights. Kristin became a world class swimming athlete, represented the United States at international meets in Bogota and Colombia, served as U.S. Swim Team Captain in 2010 at the Greek Open, and is an American Paralympic swimming record holder. Kristin is also a Goldman Sachs Scholar, motivational speaker to high schools and colleges such as Northeastern University, and has interned at the United States Senate and the American Association of People with Disabilites. In addition, Kristin founded A Day in a Wheelchair Project at Trinity College, promoted disability rights as a human right, and then attended the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University. With a strong interest in disability rights, Kristin wrote her senior thesis on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the right to sport. Kristin recently attended the State Parties Conference at United Nations Headquarters for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the Academic Council on the United Nations System and is now a contributor to the Huffington Post for disability issues.
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Feature Photo Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas – Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses the round table discussion on “The post-2015 development agenda and inclusive development for persons with disabilities”, held as part of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on disability and development.