International Day of Disabled Persons

Geneva, Switzerland
2 December 2005

Mr Fernando Botelho, Mr Tom Shakespeare, Dr Etienne Krug, Colleagues,

I am very pleased to welcome you all to this lunchtime seminar. Thank you for coming today.

Tomorrow, the third of December, is the International Day of Disabled Persons. On this day we focus particularly on promoting an understanding of disability issues and mobilizing support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. The theme for tomorrow reminds us that the marginalization of people with disabilities limits their potential contribution to society.

The way that a country treats and provides for its disabled citizens is a sure test. It is a far more telling indicator of society's development than GDP.

Population growth, ageing, chronic conditions, injuries and disasters are all contributing to a continued increase in the number of people with disabilities. More than 10 % of the world's population live with disabilities. Everyone, all over the world, has a friend, or a family member, who is disabled in some way. But not all societies and communities behave as if this is the norm and make appropriate provisions for the disabled. Practical, visible arrangements - like access ramps or special parking zones - show clearly which countries are taking these special needs into consideration - and which are not. When people can access proper healthcare and rehabilitation services, quality of life - and contribution to life - can be greatly improved. Unfortunately, those services are not always available and the quality of care is not always adequate. People with disabilities have the same rights concerning health and well-being on an equal basis with others.

In May this year, the World Health Assembly expressed its concern about this issue, and emphasized the strong link between poverty and disability. Eighty per cent of the disabled live in low-income countries. Their ability to work and earn an income can be limited by their disability or by employers' attitudes to them. Their access to remedial treatment and other health services is limited by their inability to pay. There is a vicious circle here that must be broken.

Our work - in many areas - seeks to improve those services for all, and to increase access. While tomorrow's events seek to promote a clear understanding of the contributions that people with disabilities can make to society, this is in the context of an ongoing effort to assure the rights and dignity of people with disabilities.

Where they remain marginalized, and excluded, those living with disability represent a huge group of lost capacity. Their needs should not be met from pity, but from the recognition of their value to society when they live to their full potential.

This International Day and this lunchtime seminar are opportunities to recognize this and to reflect on how best to make positive long-term change.

Thank you.