As the world celebrates 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 redouble our efforts to ensure an open and accommodating society for all.
An estimated 690 million people with disabilities, or about 15% of the total population, live in the Asia-Pacific region. Many of them continue to be excluded from socio-economic and political participation. Available data suggests that people with disabilities are almost half as likely to be employed as people without disabilities. They are also half as likely to have voted in an election and are under-represented in government decision-making bodies. Barely 0.5% of parliamentarians in the region are people with disabilities. Women with disabilities are even less likely to be employed and hold only 0.1 percent of positions in the national parliament.
One of the main reasons for these exclusions is the lack of accessibility. Public transport and the built environment in general – including public offices, polling stations, workplaces, markets and other essential structures – lack ramps, walkways and basic accessibility features. Accessibility, however, goes beyond the common thought of physical structures. Obstacles to access to information and communication technologies and services must also be removed, to allow the participation of people with various types of disabilities, including people with intellectual and hearing and visual disabilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns have exacerbated existing inequalities. Many people with disabilities face increased health problems due to co-morbidities and have found themselves without access to their personal assistants and essential goods and services. As much of society moved online during the closures, inaccessible digital infrastructure meant people with disabilities could not access public health information or employment opportunities online.
Despite these challenges, people with disabilities and their organizations were among the first to respond to the immediate needs of their communities for food and supplies during periods of lockdown, in addition to continuing 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 woman with a disability, has trained many men and women with disabilities to conduct accessibility audits in their home neighborhoods. With these skills, they become leaders and advocates in their communities, working to improve the accessibility of essential buildings everywhere.
Another ESCAP partner, the National Council for the Blind of Malaysia (NCBM), is working to improve digital accessibility by forming a group with various disabilities in web access auditing, publishing electronic accessibility and strategic advocacy. NCBM hopes to help participants form a social enterprise for web auditing and accessible publishing, creating employment opportunities and enabling people with disabilities to lead efforts to improve accessibility online.
Women and men with disabilities have been leaders and champions in breaking down barriers and making a difference in Asia and the Pacific. Today, ESCAP is launching the report “Disability at a Glance 2021: The Shaping of Disability-inclusive Employment in Asia and the Pacific”. The report highlights some innovative approaches to making employment more inclusive, as well as recommendations on how to further narrow the employment gap.
Adapting to a post-COVID-19 world offers governments the opportunity to reassess and implement policies aimed at increasing the inclusion of people with disabilities in employment, decision-making bodies and all aspects of life. company. Accessibility issues affect not only people with disabilities, but also others in need of assistance, such as the elderly, pregnant women or injured people. The implementation of universally designed policies, which create environments and services that are usable by all, benefits all of society. Governments should integrate the principles of universal design into national development plans, not just disability-specific laws and policies.
As a global leader in inclusive disability development for over 30 years, the Asia-Pacific region has led by example in adopting the first set of disability-specific development goals as part of Incheon’s strategy to “ make the right real ”. To achieve the goals of the Incheon Strategy, governments will need to step up 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 with increased leadership and participation of people with disabilities. To build back better – and more just – we will continue to strengthen partnerships with all stakeholders so that together we can “make the right real” for all people with disabilities.