COVID-19 laid bare barriers faced by 1 billion people with disabilities: UN chief

A disabled boy continues his education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Armenia.
© UNICEF/Grigoryan. A disabled boy continues his education during the COVID-19 pandemic in Armenia.

Marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, said on Friday that those with a disability were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the persistent barriers and inequalities faced by the world’s one billion persons with disabilities,” he said. 

Now, Guterres argued, disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery should be guided by persons with disabilities themselves.  

It should also “forge partnerships, tackle injustice and discrimination, expand access to technology and strengthen institutions to create a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” 

According to the UN, about 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries. An estimated 46 percent of people aged 60 years and over, have disabilities. 

One in every five women is likely to experience disability in her life, while for children, that figure is one in ten. 

To respond to the needs of these people, the Secretary-General urged all countries to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Governments, he said, should also work to increase accessibility, and dismantle legal, social, economic, and other barriers with the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations. 

“Realizing the rights, agency, and leadership of persons with disabilities will advance our common future”, he argued. “We need everyone, including persons with disabilities on board, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

Guterres concluded saying that, around the world, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are taking action to make good on a key demand: “Nothing about us, without us.”

In her message, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) highlighted how the pandemic had battered those with disabilities. 

“As part of our lives moved online, confinement measures have brought to the fore another series of inequalities affecting people with disabilities: the inequalities relating to technology and the digital world”, Audrey Azoulay said.  

She noted that, according to the latest Education Monitoring Report (GEM), only 68 per cent of countries have a definition of inclusive education and just 57 per cent mention all the multiple marginalized groups. 

For Azoulay, these are some of the issues that should be discussed at the next UN-backed Global Disability Summit, which Ghana and Norway are co-hosting in February.