Annemarie Hill, Special Olympics and Katrien Beeckman, IFRC
Since 1992, the United Nations General Assembly has observed the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December. On this day, individuals and organizations across the globe celebrate the everyday gains – and challenges – of individuals with disabilities.
People with disabilities – who account for 15 percent of the world’s population – are a part of every society. Many face social, economic and cultural barriers limiting their access to full and effective participation in society, including economic empowerment, education, basic social protections, employment and health services. It is these barriers, rather than the physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which disable individuals, and contribute to poverty and disempowerment.
The United Nations Development Program estimates that 80 percent of all people with disabilities reside in low-income countries, and while people with disabilities represent approximately one-in-nine people worldwide, they are one-in-five of the world's poorest people.
This year, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement – which includes the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and 189 National Societies - plans to adopt a Strategic Framework on Disability Inclusion on 7 December, 2015 during its Council of Delegates. This strategic framework will see all components of the Movement adopt a disability inclusive approach; challenge the barriers that exist preventing people with disabilities from accessing the services and programmes that the Movement provides; and endeavour to change mindsets and behaviours to those of acceptance and respect.
Individuals with intellectual disabilities are frequently the most underserved subset of people with disabilities and account for approximately three per cent of the global population. Together with their families, they are often marginalized by relatives and communities, vulnerable in cases of conflict or natural disasters, and often excluded from campaigns aimed at building their resilience.
Through a global partnership, Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies are working together with their Special Olympics counterparts to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities are included in all services and programmes.
In Peru, people with intellectual disabilities and their families are the focus of a disaster readiness campaign preparing them for the onset of El Niño. In Jamaica and Indonesia, individuals with intellectual disabilities have been supported to advocate for themselves and on behalf of others resulting in a peer-to-peer health education campaign and lobbying for greater inclusion directly to civic and government stakeholders. In Austria, Kenya and Singapore, youth with and without intellectual disabilities are working together to share their stories of inclusion and grow a generation where attitudes of respect and acceptance unite rather than divide. In Venezuela and Tonga, health services and education are tailored and targeted to people with intellectual disabilities and their families through dedicated programmes and media campaigns unique to their needs. Together, Special Olympics and the IFRC are building resilience amongst arguably the least resilient population in the world.
All of these unifying efforts bring to life the Strategic Framework on Disability Inclusion and transform it from an important policy to a tangible and sustainable development practice at the most important level – that of the individual with the disability. And ensure that the gains that we celebrate on 3 December this year, are enjoyed by persons with disabilities throughout the year, everywhere.