Equal access

The annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons was proclaimed in 1992, by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 47/3. The observance of the Day aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilise support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
World Disability Day was observed last month under the theme “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.
The United Nations (UN) Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018 – Realising the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities – shows people with disabilities are at a disadvantage regarding most Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but also highlights the growing number of good practices that can create a more inclusive society in which they can live independently.
The UN has issued an urgent call for global efforts to ensure that the more than one billion people worldwide who live with some form of disability can reap the benefits of development and fully participate in society. For this to happen, the UN has said it is necessary that we remove all barriers that affect the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in society, including through changing attitudes that fuel stigma and discrimination.
People with disabilities have generally poorer health, lower educational achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives.
It is no surprise that children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to experience violence than non-disabled children, according to a systematic review published in the medical journal The Lancet in July 2012.
Globally, children with disabilities are estimated to be 5.1 per cent of the total population. These are the ones more than likely to be at a disadvantage where educational opportunities are concerned. For example, while we here in Guyana can boast of a good track record in relation to providing quality education for persons, irrespective of geographic location, race, religion, gender or social status, there is still much work to be done to ensure that persons with disabilities have an equal opportunity to acquire an education.
At the moment, there are very few teachers in the school system equipped with the necessary skills to impart knowledge to persons with disabilities, and as in almost every sector, COVID-19 has made matters worse. Of note too is that the majority of our public schools do not have the necessary facilities to cater for such persons; eg, ramps and rails, etc. All of this makes it more difficult for persons with certain disabilities to ‘fit in’. There are also very few schools in the country which cater for special needs children.
To be fair, some steps are being taken to improve and expand what currently exists as it relates to education for special needs children; but they are inadequate and the benefits are not easily accessible to all.
We urge all stakeholders here, including political parties and the international development partners to continue supporting policies that would realise all children’s right to quality education as one way to reduce inequities created by social exclusion. Certainly, when persons with disabilities are given a chance of acquiring a good education or taught a skill, they are in a better position to secure a job and in turn break the cycle of poverty that normally defines such situations.
In a more general sense, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is necessary for countries not only to adopt, but to implement fully because it is a tool for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. As explained by the World Health Organisation (WHO), rather than considering disability as an issue of medicine, charity or dependency, the Convention challenges people worldwide to understand disability as a human rights issue.
The Convention covers many areas where obstacles can arise, such as physical access to buildings, roads and transportation, and access to information through written and electronic communications. The Convention also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination, which are often reasons why people with disabilities are excluded from education, employment and health and other services.