2017 International Day of Persons with Disabilities

On December 1, 2017, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ (DESA) Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) / Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (SCRPD) hosted their annual celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at UN Headquarters in New York City. According to their website, annual observance of this day “aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.”

This year’s event was co-sponsored by Antigua and Barbuda, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, San Marino, the European Union, and the NGO Committee on Ageing. The theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all” focused on persons with disabilities as both beneficiaries and agents of change, central to the process of inclusive and sustainable development. The event featured a dance exhibition, musical performances, short film screenings, panel discussions, and side events.

The morning began with a dance installation from Heidi Latsky Dance, a New York City-based physically integrated dance company, which featured persons with disabilities. Then, the conference was kicked off with a speech from Dr. Daniela Bas, Director of DSPD/DESA, and woman with a disability. Dr. Bas stressed that dignity has no ability or disability, while people have different skills, needs, and abilities. She welcomed all participants, and honored the commitments of her colleagues to advancing the rights of all persons, and thanked them for their dedication to persons with disabilities worldwide.   

Ms. Venus Ilagan, Secretary General of Rehabilitation International, welcomed the first panel.  His excellency, Mr. Miroslav Lajcak, president of the 72nd session of the General Assembly (GA), took the floor to announce his commitment to progressing accessibility of the GA, stressing that the United Nations must stand as a role model for inclusion. Ambassador Georgi Panayotov of Bulgaria, and president of the Conference on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, thanked Mr. Lajcak for his efforts, and stressed that a human rights approach must be used to ensure that persons with disabilities are included in decision-making processes. Next, Mr. Finnian Cheshire, Deputy Permanent Representative of New Zealand, presented the accomplishments of the GA resolution on girls and women with disabilities, calling for attention to the many intersecting forms of discrimination faced by women and girls with disabilities. This panel outlined the progress made on a global level, as well as the continued commitment by the UN, to advance the rights of persons with disabilities,     

The second session, Persons with Disabilities as Agents of Change, focused on lessons learned from disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction and humanitarian action for resilient and sustainable societies. Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Former Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities from 2002-2005, moderated the panel. Ms. Margaret Arnold, Senior Social Development Specialist of the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Evaluation Group at the World Bank, explained how disasters disproportionately impact those already excluded from society, particularly persons with disabilities.  She discussed the importance of identifying and empowering these communities and announced an upcoming report on best practices in financial and technical assistance for inclusion in post-disaster planning and development. Next, Mr. Gopal Mitra, Program Specialist for Children with Disabilities from UNICEF, called for the urgent need to involve children with disabilities in disaster planning. He stressed the importance of data to identify underserved children and to better prepare for the risks of natural disasters and forced displacement on children with disabilities. Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura, Board Member and Former President of the DAISY Consortium, insisted that pre-disaster warnings and evacuation policies must be accessible and inclusive in order to protect persons with disabilities. Next, Mr. Satoshi IIyama, Co-Founder of the University of Tokyo Empower Project, discussed his initiative’s efforts to recognize truly inclusive cultures which support persons with intellectual disabilities as successful change agents. Ms. Boram Lee, Disability Advisor at the Women’s Refugee Commission, discussed her organization’s efforts to recognize not only the needs but the contributions of women with disabilities in crisis through national workshops and leadership campaigns. Finally, Dr. Victor Pineda, President of GAATES and World Enabled, joined virtually to highlight the importance of using disaggregated disability data from the Washington Group, and smart technologies for inclusive and resilient development.

Before the afternoon panels, event participants were able to attend side events hosted by multiple stakeholders. The Institute on Disability and Public Policy at American University co-organized an event with UN DESA entitled, “Big Data Analytics and Text Mining: monitoring and evaluating disability and development for SDG and CRPD implementation.” The event featured presentations by Dr. Maria Martinho from UN DESA, Dr. Derrick Cogburn from IDPP, Dr. Chiara Barbagianni from the University of Genoa, Mr. Jason DaSilva from AXS Map, and Mr. Holger Dieterich from Accessibility Cloud. Speakers discussed innovative ways data can be used to inform disability policy making and inclusive development, including mining for disability content in reports and tweets, and crowd-sourcing data to map accessibility of public spaces.  

The International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM) and the International Council for Caring Communities (ICCC), organized a second side event entitled, Sustainable Development in Health through Innovative Technologies. The event highlighted the application of innovative medical technologies, and means to facilitate accessibility to technologies to minimize barriers for participation of persons with disabilities in a global society. Presentations focused on the use of regenerative medicine to treat osteoarthritis, remote virtual therapy to treat paralysis in persons with stroke, the application of 3D printing to enhance access for orthotics and prosthetics, and the facilitation of access to technologies by means of entrepreneurship and government participation.

The final session of the day featured two panel discussions on Building Future Societies for All.  Ambassador Joanne Adamson, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation, first mentioned that the EU is working towards the adoption of an Accessibility Act which would place emphasis on a silver economy, age friendly tourism, rights of the elderly to participate, and anti-discrimination policies. Next, Ambassador Georgi Velikov Panayotov of Bulgaria, brought attention to the tourism industry as an important source for growth that must be considerate of ageing populations. Ambassador Damian Beleffi discussed the successes in accessible tourism in San Marino and mentioned UNESCO World Heritages efforts to combine accessibility and tourism. Finally, Mr. Kari Rahman, Deputy Special Representative from the UN World Tourism Organization NY Liason Office deemed accessible tourism a human right and discussed his organization’s efforts to standardize the industry.

The first panel discussion focused on intersectional inclusion of persons with disabilities.  Ambassador Ms. Helena Yanez Loza from Ecuador discussed the importance of inclusive participatory processes in state constitutions. Mr. Victor Calise, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, stressed that governments must be held accountable for making cities accessible, particularly in terms of providing information and resources to persons with disabilities. Mr. John Farmer, Director of Microsoft Cities, discusses how artificial intelligence can be used to build inclusive smart cities and called for a more diverse and accessible workforce. Ms. Lauren Gula, Senior Manager of Social Responsibility and Gender Equality at UN Global Compact, discussed their partnership with UN Women and UNHCR which works to facilitate job access for women refugees including persons with disabilities. Mr. Srin Madipalli, Accessibility Program and Product Manager at AirBnB highlighted the persons with disabilities who helped launch his company on social media, calling for greater inclusion in business processes and suggesting accessible technology alone is not sufficient. Finally, Mr. Rick Chavolla from the American Indian Community House, discussed his work with the indigenous population in NYC, stressing the importance of knowledge and information for persons without voting power.

The final panel of the day focused on an accessible and inclusive hospitality and tourism industry. Ambassador Mr. Walton Alfonso Webson of Antigua and Barbuda, and former director of Focus International, brought up the economic capacity of older persons and persons with disabilities which must be taken into account for tourism. Mr. Bryan Grimaldi of NYC & Company, discussed the growth and development of an inclusive tourism industry in New York.  Ms. Daniella Foster, Senior Director of Global Corporate Responsibility at Hilton Worldwide, discussed the hotel chains commitment to inclusive operations, facilities, resources, and partnerships as well as their effort to invest in and employ members of vulnerable populations, especially persons with disabilities. Mr. Clark Stevens, Director of Government Affairs and Strategic Partnerships at AirBnB, discussed the organizations partnerships with local organizations worldwide to provide workshops and trainings in hospitality and app development.  He also mentioned that AirBnB is working to have more persons with disabilities as hosts on their platform. Ms. Tui Shortland, Co-Founder of Native XP, announced their new initiative which is focused on indigenous tourism to encourage cross cultural understanding, and discussed how persons with disabilities play a role.  Finally, Ms. Lynn Minnaert, Academic Chair of the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism at NYU, encouraged partnerships between businesses and academia, highlighting the importance of research in understanding local communities. She concluded her presentation stressing that a visitor looking for an accessible experience is a loyal customer, and essential to the travel and tourism industry.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities featured incredible and meaningful presentations by multiple stakeholders working at the cross section of disability rights and other fields. Participants of the event left feeling inspired and hopeful for an increasingly inclusive world.

Smart and Accessible Cities

By Mariah Davidson

There is a lot of city to navigate for the one billion people on earth who identify as a person with a disability. Organizations like World ENABLED, G3ict, and others are encouraging cities to take steps to become “smart” and provide accessible infrastructure to allow those with disabilities to live as independently as possible.

In alignment with the UN Habitat goals to build more inclusive cities, the World Urban Forum (WUF) provides a framework to accomplish these goals. The WUF was established in 2001 to examine urban issues such as rapid urbanization, impact on communities, economies, policies, and climate change. The forum aims to raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among state actors and the public; improve the collective knowledge of sustainable urban development through inclusive debates; share lessons learned; and exchange best practices. In addition, the forum aims to increase coordination and cooperation between various stakeholders to implement sustainable urbanization. These lofty but reachable goals include accessibility for persons with disabilities.

Organizations and companies rising to the call of the World Urban Forum include World ENABLED. World ENABLED is an organization promoting the rights and dignities of persons with disabilities. Through fieldwork and research, they provide an inclusive human rights approach to policies. The organization works to build inclusive societies where people with disabilities can develop their talents, skills, and abilities to reach their full potential. In May 2017, World ENABLED and G3ict launched the Smart Cities for All toolkit to help city leaders, urban planners, and technology companies design accessible and inclusive cities for all citizens through various programs and services. These include emergency response, employment, public safety and justice, and financial services.

The toolkit allows users to differentiate between priority challenges and barriers to establishing inclusive smart cities. The toolkit encourages users to choose the evidence and arguments that will make the most impact when discussing accessible information and communication technologies with community stakeholders. Cities transitioning to “smart” are finding the power in networked sensors, big data, artificial intelligence, natural language, cloud computing, computer vision, and augmented reality. They have a great opportunity to include persons with disabilities and have the disability community benefit from these digital services.

Companies like Wheelmap and AXSMap are just the types of technology seen in inclusive smart cities. These apps are like a Yelp for accessibility. Wheelmap was designed to allow people with mobility impairments to plan their day and know what locations were accessible. Anyone can find and register a wheelchair accessible place through a traffic light system. The app also allows people to rate the accessibility of a location. Currently, over 750,000 cafes, libraries, restaurants, and many other places are covered, and roughly 300 are added daily.

AXSMap is similar. AXSMap allows citizens to host mapathons to increase the number of locations reviewed for accessibility in the database. The more information people provide, the better information people with mobility impairments will have to move about a community.

What might go unnoticed by an able-bodied person is essential to providing persons with disabilities a sense of independence. Accessibility features can include braille, to allow the visually impaired a way to navigate around building; elevators that are equipped with announcements and lights to signal your arrival; and ramps that permit wheelchairs to enter buildings. These apps allow taking accessibility to the next level.

These types of initiatives are excellent examples and are key to reaching the goals set by the World Urban Forum and for providing persons with disability a greater quality of life in all communities.


The opinions expressed on this blog by authors and those commenting are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IDPP, our sponsors or staff. IDPP is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by the bloggers. Any reproduction of this article must be credited to author and linked to the original.

 

NDPR Week in Las Pinas, Philippines

by Eloisa "Louie" Zepeda-Teng

Time flies so fast. The last time my city, Las Pinas, located south of Manila in the Philippines, hosted the National Disability Prenvention and Rehabilitation (NDPR) week was almost seven years ago. I got a chance to see it being hosted in my city again this year in the third week of July.

The NDPR week is funded by the national and local governments and organized by a rotating government agency with the support of local disability federations. I remember helping the formation and legalization of the Las Pinas federation and requesting to be the one to do the city dialogue with the Local Chief Executive to organize the first NDPR week. I sat in a chair in front of the Mayor's door, and I remember telling the secretary that I wont leave until I talk to him. I explained, to the officials of my city, the need to implement the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and the applicable local laws. The rest, as they say, is history. My disability federation currently serves 21 districts, and is the first federation to produce a data base of all its members in the city in the country.

NDPR week started this year on July 15, 6am, in a local multi purpose area in my district. Unlike last time, this time I brought my husband, who serves as my guide, and my 4-year-old daughter with me. The activity for the day was a Sports Fest for children with disabilities. There were allotted spaces for wheelchair racing, blind and deaf tandem running, and some disc thowing games. The program was facilitated by the district officials and the President of the Disability Federation. I remember my daughter asking why the kids were sitting on chairs with wheels. I know that it will take a while for her to understand the disability community but I want to make sure to expose her to the community through events such as these where persons with disabilities were enjoying their time and had smiles on their faces. She even asked me if I could participate in the race as a blind person with a sighted partner. At a young age, she knew that her mom could not see, and understood that I needed reasonable accommodation, if I chose to run as well. It was very comforting to know that she sees these connections. 

On July 18, Robinson's Place, a mall nearby, held an Art Competition that was judged by an officer from the Department of Education. There was representation from all the Federation districts and participants could choose to participate in a number of competitions: the drawing and coloring competition where participants were asked to symbolize their disability; the flower arrangement competition; and a competition to propose ideas for recycling which is a part of the city's mission of cleanliness. Finally, there was a photo exhibition of pictures of the event.  

My husband, an architect like me, described the contestant' creations. He mentioned that the participants were mostly adults with autism and developmental disabilities and that their works were mostly abstract. I could imagine that their creation would need deeper analysis than a usual work of art. Before the announcement of the winners, each of the participants were given a couple of minutes to explain their work. Most of them saw their work as a symbol of the importance of the disability federation, that it is a working and functioning group. One even said that the federation is something that they can say they own. They might have no jobs and not many friends who understand them, but they have this federation.

The disability federation might have humble goals, but I know that it is enough to be respected by the rest of the community. These activities will have to be conducted every year, until we really do see some change.

Louie Zepeda-Teng is a Program Associate at the Institute of Disability and Public Policy and is based in the Philippines.


The opinions expressed on this blog by authors and those commenting are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IDPP, our sponsors or staff. IDPP is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by the bloggers. Any reproduction of this article must be credited to author and linked to the original. 

 

Attending COSP-10 as a Student Rapporteur

by Safiya Zenobia Mann

From the 13th to the 15th of June 2017, the 10th annual Conference of States Party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  I flew into New York City from the UK two days before the Monday introduction to the other student rapporteurs; volunteering responsibilities training at the UN; and the June 12 Civil Society Forum meetings. 

Despite how quickly I had to adjust and get ready for the week ahead, the volunteer training was enjoyable and very informative. In addition to the instructions given by the volunteer coordinator, the Director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Division for Social Policy and Development (DESA/DSPD), Ms. Daniela Bas, came to speak with us. It was great to see in real time how UN staff collaborate with one another and brainstorm with students about potential ways that educational programs, the next COSP, and the “UN family” (the UN and affiliated international organizations) can make their platforms more inclusive. 

I had not been at the UN for three years; so it was wonderful to be there especially to participate in a conference on a very pertinent issue that is globally, personally and academically relevant! For my Master's dissertation, I am focusing on the topic of how disability is approached within international development. So I was excited that outside of the side events run by IDPP, there were several other side events on a broader range of topics, issues, developments and technology than I could have anticipated. They were all hosted by different organizations and chaired by panelists who were experts, persons with disabilities, business or international organization representatives.

An event I found particularly interesting was IDPP's "Monitoring and Evaluation of CRPD and SDG implementation using Big Data Analytics and Text Mining" side event. The abundant data being created through the extensive usage of Internet platforms is a huge resource for data analysts to create user tailored (app) content that focuses on accessibility. For example, the “AXSMap” app where other users can tell you which restaurants or public places are wheelchair accessible using crowdsourcing. The creator of AXSMap, Jason DaSilva likened it to TripAdvisor for persons with physical disabilities. I also found the "Deinstitutionalization" side event hosted by YAI interesting.  New York and Tri-state area disability service organization coordinators were in attendance as well as other professionals dealing with the subject of transitioning people with intellectual disabilities out of institutionalized settings. It was very informative, and heartening to hear what the next steps might be for ending the isolating reality of institutionalization.

Overall, it was wonderful to be able to attend the conference, hear about the newest innovations and developments in outlook, programs, and services for persons with disabilities across all walks of life and geographic locations. It was great to see that so much can get done when knowledge exchange is facilitated! 

I was also pleased that as a student rapporteur, you were able to genuinely be a participant. If you were not helping that particular session or collaborating with another student with a session’s summary notes you were able to go to side event sessions of your choice, ask questions, meet leaders in the field face to face and hear about the latest research in the area of disability, which was invaluable. 

Thanks very much to IDPP, Maya Aguilar and Dr. Cogburn for facilitating such a great experience.

Safiya Mann is a Research Associate at IDPP and a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh. She attended COSP-10 as an IDPP student rapporteur. 


The opinions expressed on this blog by authors and those commenting are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IDPP, our sponsors or staff. IDPP is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by the bloggers. Any reproduction of this article must be credited to author and linked to the original. 

 

 

My Double Encounter: From Philippines to Cancun and New York

by Della Leonor

I always thought these things only happen in movies. One moment you are alone and the next you click your user name and password and a whole other world awaits your very curious persona. Navigating the Double Robot as a person with a physical disability brought my fantasy to reality. 

From my home in the Philippines, I attended the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Cancun, Mexico in May 2017 and the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York City in June. 

DRR gave me a chance to have fascinating encounters with many wonderful individuals who wanted a glimpse of the robot or wanted to take pictures of me wherever I go. As I drove the Double in the conference lobby, I felt a new sense of joy and amazement; Such technology is an important tool to bridge the communication gaps within the community. It was definitely a wonderful and unforgettable experience. As I used the escalator via the Double, I felt like I had conquered my fear of using escalators.

What made this Double Encounter complete was that I got to spend more than two hours walking around with Professor Derrick Cogburn checking out the exhibit like I was physically there in Mexico, We had coffee, we sat with other members of the PWD Community to share viewpoints and discuss plans for the future.

The highlights of the DRR conference for me was being able to give a three minute speech through the Double and meeting UN Deputy Secretary General Amina J. Mohammed of Nigeria. I was proud to represent the PWD group at the conference and make an impression on the Deputy Secretary General. She even called the robot a great technological advancement for promoting inclusion. 

I go another chance to use the Double at the 10th Conference of States Parties (COSP-10) in New York on June 13-15. Simply being able to attend the side events gave me a new sense of hope for the inclusion of persons with disabilities. Once again, the Double was very popular with conference attendees who wanted to take pictures while I was navigating the hallways. This was the first time that technology of this kind was used at the COSP and I was proud to have been a part of history being made. It was a liberating and powerful experience. 

Simple, sleek and easy-to-use, the Double encounter gave me a new sense of hope that someday, accessibility will no longer be an issue in the world.

Della Leonor is a Program Associate at the Institute of Disability and Public Policy and is based in the Philippines.


The opinions expressed on this blog by authors and those commenting are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of IDPP, our sponsors or staff. IDPP is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information provided by the bloggers. Any reproduction of this article must be credited to author and linked to the original.