Disability is not an illness, webinar to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities emphasizes

The ECA on Thursday joined the rest of the world in marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) with a webinar focusing on the theme of the day; Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World.

Speakers noted that the ‘new normal’ was presenting a lot more challenges for people living with disabilities and applauded the Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, and her team for going beyond the call of duty to make positive changes at the ECA to the lives of people living with disabilities.

Today’s theme reflects a growing understanding that disability is part of the human condition. Almost everyone will be temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in life, attendees heard. Despite this, a few countries and organisations have adequate mechanisms in place to respond fully to the needs of people with disabilities with good policies sometimes not being implemented.

Panellists in the discussion, including Dr. Grace Fombad, Mr. Carlos Haddad, Mr. Marian Miszkiel, Mr. Yonas, Mr. Fekadu, underlined the importance of fostering an inclusive culture at the ECA.

Dr. Grace, whose presentation focused on the impact of COVID-19 on person with disabilities, emphasized that disability was not an illness. She said Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 American presidential election in a landslide and became the first, and as of 2020, the only physically disabled person to be President of the United States.

“He showed us that disability was not an illness and gave a lot to his country. Together we can make a difference. Let us together do more to support, empower and encourage people with disabilities and build a better society. Love me for who I am,” she said.

Dr. Grace said people with disability have been amongst the most vulnerable populations during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak due to many health, social and environmental barriers, discriminatory attitudes and inaccessible infrastructure.

The challenges they are faced with, including higher risk of contracting COVID-19, require collective actions starting from the home, she said.

Mr. Haddad, for his part, said the ECA was doing a lot in trying to address challenges for staff with disabilities but was sometimes constrained by finances.

“We still have a lot to accomplish. We hope to advance what we do here at the ECA to the upmost highest level as we continue to apply our hearts and minds to our goal of advancing the disability agenda and get to a 100 percent,” he said.

Mr. Miszkiel, who focused on staff with disabilities and accessibility in the ECA compound, said the webinar was an outstanding opportunity to engage with ECA colleagues on ways to advance the disability agenda at the ECA. He said there was need for the UN to develop a mandatory training course to increase sensitivity and awareness on disability.

“We need to all work towards the equality of all human beings in everything,” he said.

Mr. Yonas focused on staff members with disabilities and HR issues including recruitment of people with disabilities and good practices.

“When recruiting we should avoid assumptions. Physical appearance does not mean a person is unable to deliver. People with disabilities are equally capable,” he said, adding there was need for more awareness for people to change their attitudes towards colleagues with disabilities.

“A lot still needs to be done with all stakeholders on the table for real change to take place in our world,” said Mr. Yonas, adding trust, love, respect and commitment were critical to improve the lives of people with disabilities at the ECA and the world in general.

Mr. Fekadu’s presentation focused on the use and impact of statistics and technology on people with disabilities to achieve the sustainable development goals. He also talked about the legal obligation.

“I want to thank the Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, and Mr. Haddad, for leading from the front in efforts to improve the lives of people with disabilities here. Your kindness and understanding is really appreciated,” he said.

He added: “It is important that you see me and not my disability. It is also about inclusiveness and our collective effort and great achievements through learning from past mistakes.”

Every seventh person alive today – more than 1 billion people in total – lives with some form of disability.