Economic empowerment of persons with disabilities: where are we now and the way forward post-2015

Date/Location: 17 June 2013; Conference Room 5 (NLB), United Nations Headquarters

Key speakers: HE Mr Jim McLay (Permanent Representative of New Zealand), Mr Facundo Chavez (Disability Adviser, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), Mr Stig Langvad (Member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), Mr Michael Fembek (Programme Manager, Essl Foundation), Ms Ingrid Heindorf (Human Rights Officer, World Future Council), Mr Monthian Buntan (Member of the Senate of Thailand, Secretary-General of the Thai Blind Peoples’ Foundation) and Mr Patrick Clarke (Board Member, International Disability Alliance)

Written by: Sunny Hor

During the 6th session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, this side event was organised to focus on the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities, sharing experiences of different countries and organisations. Indeed, as HE Mr Jim McLay, Permanent Representative of New Zealand and moderator of the event remarked, work and employment are key to ensuring the full participation of persons with disabilities in the society.

Various perspectives were represented in the event. Mr Facundo Chavez from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights suggested that disability is one of the core issues that was left out in the MDGs but should be included in the next development agenda. He called for a human rights-based approach to disability, in which persons with disability (PWDs) are given the requisite skills and abilities to succeed and flourish. Mr Stig Langvad, on the other hand, focused more on his personal experience: the element of pride in oneself, rather than a perception of vulnerability, is important.

Economic empowerment is not just the only way to break down the perceptions, but also the only way to provide for oneself and his family. To achieve this, legislation covering both public and private sectors will be needed. An NGO perspective was also heard, with members of the Zero Project Mr Michael Fembek and Ms Ingrid Heindorf introducing the Project and briefly outlining the key findings of their latest report.

Mr Monthian Buntan, a Thai senator, provided another perspective by giving a presentation. The CRPD, he said, was the best disability-thematic legally binding instrument, but needed to be better understood and respected. Most importantly, disability is a key issue not to be missed in the Post-2015 Development Agenda, one of the reasons being that the group represents 15% of the world’s population.

Some of his key points included the Incheon Strategy, a concrete set of targets adopted by some Asian countries for PWDs, the deficiency of affirmative action and prohibition of discrimination in non-industrial and non-urban settings and some challenges for disabled persons’ organisations and PWDs in fighting for their rights.

Last but not least, Mr Patrick Clarke from the International Disability Alliance asserted that social protection in the context of PWDs must be understood as facilitating social participation of them. Employment programmes are essential, but employers should also be reminded that PWDs often have a higher retention rate than ordinary people.

Edited By: Wayne Dean Doyle

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