The 2012 London Paralympics captivated the world's attention with the strength of human spirit demonstrated by people with disabilities. We were all moved by the determination and perseverance of the athletes to overcome the odds that defeat so many of us.
What we saw of the London Paralympics gives reason to pause and reflect on the everyday struggles of people with disabilities. Here in the Asia-Pacific region, there are 650 million people with disabilities. They account for 15% of the population, but are mostly unseen, unheard and uncounted.
Evidence indicates people with disabilities are among society's most marginalised. The most common reasons are a lack of education and limited employment opportunities.
Having a person with a disability in a household increases the incidence of household and individual income poverty. Likewise, household poverty is more likely to limit the access the disabled have to basic services, education and financial support.
Many lack access to the physical environment, public transport, knowledge, information and communication, which is a precondition for them to fulfil their rights in an inclusive society. All these factors result in a greater likelihood of exclusion. What other compelling reason makes it imperative for us to pay closer attention to disability?
The Asia-Pacific is experiencing unprecedented population ageing. By 2050, in much of East Asia, one in three people will be aged 60 and above. In other areas, it will be one in four people. That means that there will be significantly more older people in our societies, and many of them are likely to have some form of disability. Indeed, it is projected that by 2050, 80% of those with disabilities in some parts of the Asia-Pacific will be aged 60 and above.
That is why a month ago, Asia-Pacific governments gathered at an ESCAP conference in Incheon, in South Korea, to tackle the barriers that prevent the growing number of people with disabilities from participating in economic, social and political life.
The governments launched the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities for the period 2013 to 2022. They also adopted a regional strategy to chart the course of this decade by adopting the world's first set of regionally-agreed disability-inclusive development goals. For the first time, the Asia-Pacific region will be able to track and measure progress in its efforts to improve the quality of life of disabled people.
Referred to as the "Incheon Strategy to Make the Right Real for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific", the strategy contains specific goals and targets, such as reducing poverty, improving their access to the physical and ICT environments as well as education and employment opportunities.
The Asia-Pacific region is the most adversely affected by disasters, and there is evidence that disabled people are two to four times more likely to die than the general population when disasters occur. Thus governments also stressed the need to ensure that disaster risk reduction and management incorporates disability perspectives.
Finally, if we are to be able to measure progress in building disability-inclusive societies, it will be necessary us to improve our information on the number of people with diverse disabilities and their socio-economic status. This would enable policymaking to be evidence-based to support the realisation of the rights of the disabled.
It is time to give thought to how we can reshape our societies _ where we live, where we work and where we play _ to enable all of us to enjoy the same freedom of movement and access to all aspects of life.
On the occasion of the 2012 International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec 3, let us each do our part to ensure that people with disabilities get counted to count.
Dr Noeleen Heyzer is Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.
About the author
- Writer: Noeleen Heyzer