1 in 7 People Are Disabled: Inclusion, Access, and Empowerment Matters

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Today, December 3rd, is the United Nation's International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Now in its 23rd year, the purpose of the day is to promote awareness and garner support around issues of inclusion and social development for people with disabilities. It encourages real and measurable action by mobilizing both those in positions of power and everyday citizens to create systems of incorporation and accessibility for the benefit of all.

An estimated one billion people are currently living with disabilities worldwide. That is one in seven of the entire global population. When statistics are inclusive of those suffering from mental disabilities and conditions, from bipolar disorder to depression, these numbers swell. While the idea of disability may seem remote to many (those not born with or disposed to handicap often feeling removed from urgency of the issue), an aging worldwide population means that the majority of people alive today will personally experience disability at some point in their lives. It is therefore vital to help end the stigmas that already effect this group, and to create a climate of collaboration.

To foster this climate, the theme for this year's Day, is "Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment for People of All Abilities.". Worldwide governments, civic agencies, academic institutes, and private sector individuals will be joining branches of the United Nations to discuss three major topics related to empowerment: making urban spaces inclusive, recognizing peoples with "invisible disability", and improving statistics and data on people with disabilities worldwide. The overall aim will be to build partnerships with organisations that support people with disabilities, and along with talks and speeches from central figures, visiting groups will pay homage to the day with events and activities.

Each of the three key topics will highlight the importance of focusing more on ability than disability: the largely untapped civic and political contributions that disabled people can make when given equal access, along with the necessity of improving transportation and architecture to allow better access to educational and job opportunities. The UN remarks, "The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society."

Long-term empowerment will involve investing in people through better healthcare, education, job creation, and social protection. This allows groups to advocate for themselves, becoming "agents of change". To achieve this, however, eminently better data is needed.

A lack of data surrounding people with disabilities hurts adjacent causes on a national level. Without official statistics that are accurate and up-to-date, governments cannot plan and build the infrastructure necessary to achieve empowerment. A major obstacle to positive development, the International Day will call for new strategies in data collection and dissemination alongside existing organisations already working towards this aim.

Making cities accessible is another key goal, ahead of the UN Habitat III conference, which will take a look at modern urban planning in light of the fact that by 2050, 66% of the world's population will be living in cities. New urban agendas must be created with accessible infrastructure, services, and architecture in mind.

Lastly, there must be a greater focus on the inclusion of peoples with "invisible disabilities" in society and growth planning. This does not only include people with mental and psychosocial disabilities (who make up a remarkable portion of the population; an estimated one in every four people will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime, and suicide is the leading cause of death among young people worldwide), but those suffering from impairments that are not immediately noticeable: such as sensory disabilities, hearing and sight. These people are more likely to experience abuses, and stigma attaches more readily to them in situations where the disability is not perceived or understood.

The International Day seeks to identify ways in which to integrate these marginalised groups into the discussion, to promote good social practices across governments and societies, to raise up effective initiatives, address gaps, and make recommendations for a more inclusive tomorrow.


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