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Gender and Social Inclusion

Towards Inclusion and Beyond

It was Libby's* turn to speak, and so she did. She put together her statement in as articulate manner as she could. She spoke for about 30 seconds, sharing her thoughts and reaching out to resonate with somebody…anybody. When she was finished, there was an awkward silence in the room. It wasn't because she had said something wrong. It wasn't because she had offended anybody. It was because no one in the room had actually understood what she said. And so, without a response, or any bit of probing to find out what she had been trying to say, the moderator thanked her and moved on to the next question.

Libby was in fact speaking English. The room was filled with native English speakers. The barrier in this case was what is sometimes referred to as the “Palsy accent.” Palsy, as in Cerebral Palsy. It's important to note that not everyone who has Cerebral Palsy has this accent, but for those like Libby who do, it's difficult for the average person to discern what they are actually saying. That's why no one in the room understood her comments. No one, that is, with the exception of one person. While the next audience member asked their question, a young lady in a power wheelchair zoomed towards Libby. She conferred with her, and after getting her consent, called for the floor in order to rectify the situation. The young lady, whose name is Becky*, explained that she would be repeating Libby's words so that everyone could have a chance to find out what they previously missed. And just like that, a communication gap was bridged and people were able to respond to Libby's comments.

This story captures one of the main themes of the 2013 United Nations Conference of States Parties for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; “including more voices.” The theme of inclusion has many layers, among them, including the voices of persons with disabilities when making decisions that affect their lives. And within that, including the voices of those who might not have the ability to communicate with others. And finally, including the voices of countries that have been left out of the conversation

Many discussions were held during the conference on a variety of topics. Countries shared stories of their experiences with disability inclusion; some, good examples to follow, and others, mistakes we hope will not reoccur. Some countries, for example, have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and have made gestures of adopting its ideals but fall short of implementing them. Then there are positive examples, such as the most accessible building in the world, which is in Denmark, and the court ruling to allow people with intellectual disabilities to vote in Japan. There were plenty of side sessions that addressed the rights of persons with disabilities with regards to technology, education, legislation, decision making, culture and access.

This year’s Conference of States Parties (COSP) had a particular focus on development. The UN, as well as disabled person's organizations (DPO) around the world, would like disability rights to be included in the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG). During the round table discussions, there were representatives from all over the world speaking a variety of languages. They all spoke of the conditions for persons with disabilities in their countries and stressed the importance of inclusion for persons with disabilities in all of our development goals. Terms like “inclusion,” and phrases such as “Nothing about us without us” were recited by many of the speakers.

One of the ways in which it was suggested to include disability in the post-2015 MDG agenda is to add on disability to existing goals where disability is relevant. For example, sustainability and accessibility can be part of the same effort. Since sustainability calls for removing structures and devices that are harmful to our environment and replacing them, why not replace them with new infrastructure that is both sustainable and accessible? A simple example of this would be motion-sensing water faucets. They are sustainable because they reduce the amount of water wasted. They are also accessible because they can be used by people with various degrees of dexterity and mobility.

While the Conference of States Parties (COSP) covered many important issues, there was not a great deal of discussions regarding refugees with disabilities. People with disabilities are among the most hidden and neglected of all refugees. They are excluded from, or unable to access most aid programs because of physical and social barriers or because of negative attitudes and biases. They are often not identified when aid agencies and organizations collect data and assess needs during and after a humanitarian disaster. They are also more likely to be forgotten when health and support services are provided. Often, refugees with disabilities are more isolated following their displacement than when they were in their home communities. It is important that the post-2015 MDG agenda include refugees with disabilities. To ensure this, the WRC has prepared a statement which will specifically address refugees with disabilities, for the September 23rd High-Level meeting at the United Nations, the theme of which is “”The way forward: a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond”.

When I spoke about the post-2015 MDG agenda with my supervisor Emma Pearce, the WRC’s senior program officer, disabilities, she brought to my attention one important aspect that I had missed. In order to find out if the goals are being met, there has to be a way of measuring the progress. Without knowing how many people with disabilities are being affected by the development goals, we cannot know for sure that they are making a difference. Moving forward, it will be crucial that measurement and evaluation is given priority, so that we can see if indeed more voices are being included.

*Names have been changed

Walei Sabry is an intern in the disability program. He has a masters in disability studies and specializes in disability awareness, physical and social accessibility, and assistive technology. As a member of the blind and Arab American communities, Walei hopes to take the knowledge he gains from his education, the disability community, WRC and other NGOs to Egypt and join the efforts of the disability movement there. Also, Walei is usually carrying a deck of Braille playing cards if you’re up for a challenge!

Gender and Social Inclusion