Disability and rehabilitation

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan’s message on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014 (IDPD, 2014)

A billion people in the world, 15% of the population, have a disability severe enough that it limits their participation in family, community and political life. Eighty percent of those billion people live in low and middle-income countries, where often access to basic health and social services is limited for all citizens. However, the impact on persons with disabilities is more profound.

On this day in which we remind ourselves of the situation of persons with disabilities around the globe, it is important, first of all, to resist the temptation to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Instead we must remind ourselves that disability is part of the human condition: all of us either are or will become disabled to one degree or another during the course of our lives.

Some of us live with severe disabilities – blindness, deafness, mobility restriction – but all of us are susceptible to conditions that can limit us in our daily lives – we have chronic back pain, depression, diabetes or HIV/AIDS.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities also serves to remind the 151 member states who have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of their commitment to change policies and practices to guarantee that all persons with disabilities participate and are included in society on an equal basis with others.

This day also reflects the commitment made by the World Health Assembly when it approved the Global Action Plan on Disability this year, which has the overall goal of achieving optimal health, functioning, well-being and human rights for all persons with disabilities. WHO has therefore committed itself to concrete action to:

  • improve access to health services;
  • strengthen rehabilitation, assistive technology and community-based rehabilitation; and
  • to enhance our practical understanding of disability through strengthened data collection.

This year, the day’s theme is “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology”. It is therefore appropriate that WHO is launching its programme on the Global Cooperation on Assistive Technology (GATE), in partnership with UN Agencies, international organizations, professional organizations, academia, and organizations of persons with disabilities.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2014, WHO’s commitment is to ensure that no one is left behind as we reaffirm our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. It is not a commitment for today alone, or only for a minority alone: it is commitment for every day, and a commitment to ensure the health and well-being of all people.