Most awareness months and days are on a national scale. A notable example this year has been the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This December will feature a global undertaking to raise awareness and promote advocacy. December 3 is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This is an effort to “promote action and raise awareness about disability issues and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all.” Observed since 1992, this day focuses each year on a different theme. For 2015, the theme is “Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Disabilities.”
The object of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is to raise awareness of all types of disabilities and dispel archaic ideas and stereotypes and stigma, as these are often “the greatest barrier to their full and equal participation in society and development on an equal basis with others.” Moreover, over the course of our lives, most of us will become disabled to some degree.
Nearly 1 in 7 people worldwide live with a disability. Of great concern are the barriers they face, which prevent them from being fully included in important parts of daily life, in such areas as transportation, employment, and education. In addition, many people with disabilities are not fully able to participate politically, a key to maintaining active citizenship in a democracy and being self-advocates for needed changes.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities also recognizes people with mental, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. Already a vulnerable group, these people often face discrimination in employment and other areas of daily living or, at the very least, confront considerable hurdles to accomplishing these tasks effectively.
This event is an extension of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which proclaims that people with disabilities are more than subjects of charity; rather, they are individuals with rights, “who are capable of claiming those rights, and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.”
Soon after the U.N. was formed, the General Assembly in 1948 produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document was the first global statement of human rights and dignity.
1981 was the U.N. International Year of Disabled Persons. According to the U.N., the theme of was “full participation and equality,” defined as “the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socioeconomic development.”
The United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons started two years later, in 1983, and ran through 1992. Governments and organizations worldwide were encouraged to undertake measures to improve the lives of people with disabilities. During the final year, UN General Assembly proclaimed December 3 as the International Day of Disabled Persons. In 2008, the name was changed to International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Inclusion is a critical step in enhancing the lives of people with all disabilities, enabling them to fully participate in society.
Good to Know
- Of the 7.3 billion people worldwide in 2015, some 1 billion live with a disability.
- One in four people worldwide will experience depression or another mental disability sometime during his or her lifetime, according to the World Health Organization.
- In countries such as the U.S., where life expectancy is 70 or more years, a person will spend on average about 8 years, or 11.5 per cent of their life span, living with a disability.