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UNGA HLMDD Takes Aim for Societal Inclusion Across Sectors

UNGA HLMDD Takes Aim for Societal Inclusion Across Sectors

By Evelyn Cherow, CEO/Founder, GlobalPartnersUnited & Global teleRehabilitation Institute

As countries’ delegates to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) arrived this week at the NYC HQ, included among the representatives are those persons with disabilities whose societal inclusion rights are framed in the first human rights treaty of the 21st century — the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD; 2007), signed by 156 nations and ratified for legal commitment by 134. This 2013 UNGA High Level Meeting on Disability and Development (UNHLMDD) agenda has a distinct feature. UN leadership after much planning and deliberation integrated an unprecedented High Level Meeting on Disability and Development (HLMDD) augmented with numerous side events on this topic-- despite pressing humanitarian emergencies and man-made conflicts.

The HLMDD assembly reviewed and endorsed an outcomes document that has been informed by iterative consultative processes, CRPD Conference of States’ Parties cumulative reporting, and the empowered leadership from equitable participation of persons with disabilities in UN bodies. Persons with disabilities are representing their countries’ governments at this General Assembly in record numbers as are those leaders invited with a wide range of disability policy and program development interests from NGOs, CSOs, faith-based agencies, public-private partnerships, think tanks, and private sectors. And from all global regions, with technologies in hand—particularly of the mobile phone variety -- the eyes and ears of those persons with disabilities considered the ‘poorest of the poor’ are engaged in these events.  

As reported today by governments’ UN representatives, this high level convening signifies a long-awaited acknowledgement that the population with disabilities of 1 billion—80% living in developing countries— was unintentionally omitted from the Millennium Development Goals targets of 2015. People with disabilities are watching and feeding input to their representatives, participating via social media to ensure that the CRPD mantra— ’nothing about us without us’— is ensured for this post-2015 economic growth, action-planning assembly.

Technology’s Global Poverty Reduction Promise Linked to Reforming Siloed Governance

The impact of technologies for development purposes can no longer be denied.  Naysayer development actors who in this very decade denied the potential to deploy mobile phones and Internet access in regions lacking water and electricity have joined with technology innovators to foster this critical trend. In recent years, reports of countries’ progress toward targeted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) often attribute highlighted results to the penetration of Information and Communications Technology, mobile phones, and evolving Internet access in low- and middle-resourced countries (LMICs).

Burgeoning and diverse ICT4Development examples are ubiquitous now: cited are growing markets through competitive agriculture product pricing, reducing maternal and child mortality through e-/m-health access by rural community-based health/rehabilitation workers to best practices and distance consultation, shaping emerging democracy activism outcomes, building education programs for all, facilitating women’s entrepreneurial empowerment and networking, accessing mobile banking and finance instruments—all reportedly fueling global economic growth.

It’s almost a moot point now as to whether technology is playing a role in affecting world activism, policy, and program innovation. Almost ‘overnight’, the images created with technology and social media applications in regions throughout the developing world are anticipated, though less so for populations termed ‘vulnerable’ in policy parlance. Policymakers and program implementers acknowledge the speed and impact gained through this newly achieved ability both to influence message transmission and action to and by a country’s populace. Such rapid communications capacity boosts confidence of front line actors that images and accounts of their individual and collective actions are shared with and affecting a ‘waiting and watching’ world audience.

Among those the 2011 World Report on Disability (WHO/World Bank) counted in a ‘vulnerable populations’ descriptor are the estimated 15% of the world’s population -- children and adults with disabilities. Aligned with UN HLMDD events, UNICEF conducts a 2nd annual Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities Forum (GPCWD) September 24th with representatives from over 250 global agencies and organizations targeting CRPD implementation. Children and youth with disabilities are the population in focus in UNICEF’s 2013 State of the World’s Children: Children with Disabilities Report—the agency’s first annual report specifically designed to address the moral, social, and economic imperative to shift cultural attitudes and achieve societal inclusion of children with disabilities.

UNICEF Forum participants will strategize sustainable and scalable development solutions for children with disabilities’ rights. Notable among many priorities are access to programs in early childhood, education, nutrition, food security, health care and habilitation, assistive technology, gender considerations, youth engagement, employment creation, advocacy voice, and humanitarian emergency management. Planning for both the UNHLMDD and UNICEF GPCWD Forum constitutes undertakings of comparable cross-sector dialogue and harmonization that an evolving ICT infrastructure worldwide is designed to support. The UN CRPD’s inclusive leadership approach has become familiar at COSP assemblies and is now a lauded model emanating from the CRPD drafting processes in the years before promulgation of the treaty. This inclusive UN policymaking framework has inspired governments to engage persons with disabilities in national disability plan development and implementation as stipulated in CRPD tenets. Technologies facilitate this critical participation for those for whom transportation access is limited or non-existent or cost creates barriers to inclusive participation.

In most CRPD ratifying countries, national disability planning and reporting is in a nascent stage. But government leaders are beginning to understand that ‘social protection’ ministries experts play an important role in inclusion policy development and program oversight. However, a sole ministry lacks needed capacity to affect the equitable access to early child development, healthcare, education, employment, and technologies. Silo operations must yield to cross-sector dialogue for all development programs to foster outcomes that scale. To adopt and operationalize the CRPD ‘social model’ of rights-based governance requires a cross-sector integrative strategy that technologies can enhance as vividly demonstrated in regions both developing and developed.

As innovative poverty reduction and concomitant global economic growth strategies command the UN’s and the world’s attention this week and beyond, equitable and revolutionary access to the vital internet evolves, and the fervor for human rights, development and democracy in its many forms will continue to ride the wave. And global economic growth will follow, surely leaving the term ‘vulnerable populations’ in the dust of the past.