United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities: has it been forgotten about in the UK?

This weekend is the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities (UNIDPD), an annual day aimed at raising issues around disability rights across the world. But Paul Lindoewood from Disability Wales and Africa debates why he believes it’s not acknowledged as it should be in the UK.

Saturday 3rd December will be the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities (UNIDPD). But unless you’re in the know about the British Disability Movement, the chances are that the day will be barely noticed by most disabled people in the UK.

Even if something is happening, it will most likely be behind closed doors. The chance of any activity being covered by the wider media is minimal. The general public are very unlikely to read, see or hear anything to inform them that such a day exists.

But this apparent apathy towards the UNIDPD is not universal. In Kenya, on the “International Day”, as it is sometimes referred to by disabled people in the country, you will often see both national and provincial events. Even in local towns often have events taking place.

No matter where you are in the world, the day is about saying to society that disabled people exist, that we want to be accounted for. Disabled people want to show what they can bring to the wider community. In countries where the day is recognised, like Kenya, there will be marches, open air drama and music, as well as speeches. It is a public event for people to engage with. It is a declaration of disabled people’s rights to exist and participate. It is a celebration.

So why do we in the UK retreat behind closed doors on December 3rd? One reason may well be the weather. After all, Britain in early December is not normally very conducive to outdoors activities! However, could it also be that we have lost our desire to publicly declare that we are disabled? We are people disabled by our society, not just by our medical conditions. And the only way to remind society of this is to shout about it.

Disabled people in the UK seem to have lost our common identity with our colleagues overseas. Yes we face big battles to preserve our own position in the UK, and things seem only set to get worse. Nevertheless, the stigma and oppression faced by disabled people is a global issue. It is much more than the lack of resources, be they individual benefits or money that allows greater access.

When the UNIDPD was established in 1992, it was supposed to enable disabled people to raise awareness of their needs and tell their stories. How will we do that if we don’t get involved?

Disability in Wales and Africa (DWA) wants to promote global solidarity between disabled people. We all face our own battles for survival and inclusion, which may sometimes be very different. However, our individual, local, national and international struggles have the same base line. The theme underpinning this year’s UNIDPD activities is Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want. 

This draws attention to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG – see the image at the top), drawn up by the UN, that will help create a more inclusive and equitable world. Although the SDGs tend to be seen as focusing on the non-industrialised countries (such as Africa, Asia and Latin America) even a quick look at the Goals will show how many of them also apply to us in industrialised Europe, America and Australasia.

Paul Linwood doing half marathon
Paul Linwood doing a half marathon to raise money for Disability in Wales and Africa

In November/December 2015, DWA hosted a visit from Jonah Sialumano, a disabled activist from Zambia. His tour around Wales included an event, celebrating the UNIDPD. As Jonah spoke, he challenged us to be more public in our celebrations. He contrasted the situation in Wales, where we’re “in a room behind closed doors,” and Zambia, where there will be marches and people at the side of the roads, aware that something is happening.

For 2016, DWA has moved its celebration out of the political arena in an attempt to make it more public. Our event will be held at the Wales Millennium Centre, a focus point for Drama and the Arts in Cardiff. The gathering will be on Saturday December 3rd, from 12pm until 3pm. One thing we are hoping to do is to link up with our colleagues in Africa and therefore show solidarity with them.

The United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities is meant to be our day as disabled people. It is for disabled people to celebrate what has been achieved. To acknowledge what we need to overcome to move forward to a world where we are fully equal. We need to go beyond the politicians and towards the people who elect them. We also need to express our common identity with our disabled friends and colleagues around the world. Who’s with me?

By Paul Linewood

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