Work & Education

The Global Disability Summit: back for 2022 and still ground-breaking

This year’s Global Disability Summit is just around the corner, and it couldn’t be more crucial for the rights of disabled people after the Covid-19 pandemic. Elaine Green, Head of Influencing at Leonard Cheshire, explains what world leaders need to focus on and how you can play a part.

A lot of people could be forgiven for not being too familiar with the Global Disability Summit. Firstly, because it fights for airtime against an array of high-stakes international meetings, such as G7 and COP26, and secondly because it’s still a very new concept.

The Summit, held in Oslo from 16th to 17th February 2022 will only be the second of its kind.

When the UK and Kenya governments, along with the International Disability Alliance, hosted the first Global Disability Summit in London’s Olympic Park in 2018, they were breaking new ground.

Bringing together governments, businesses, disability organisations – and, most importantly, people with disabilities themselves – for an international conference hadn’t been done before.

And we certainly hadn’t seen governments, businesses, and charities alike making commitments, together, to improve inclusion and rights for people with disabilities around the world.

This is why people should care about the Global Disability Summit in the same way that they should about G7 or COP26. Dozens of global players working together to tackle global injustices, and holding themselves to account while doing it, is truly exciting – it could change millions of lives.

The Global Disability Summit 2022

The task facing the governments and organisations attending this year’s Global Disability Summit is a mighty one.

One billion people around the world live with disabilities and, while definitive figures are hard to find, it seems clear enough that their experiences of inequality and barriers are universal.

These inequalities creep into every area of life, from education, to employment, to physical access, to discrimination.

Our response to this is to commit to making change within each of those areas. We do this by working with organisations led by people with disabilities in countries around the world, by delivering our programmes, and by analysing the details of what still needs to change.

The details are key, but might not be what one expects. Take data-gathering, for example, which is one of the areas we are focusing on ahead of the 2022 Disability Summit.

The global picture of disability

There is still much we don’t know about the global picture on disability because of the scarcity of numbers from many countries.

This means that deciding how to tackle barriers people with disabilities face is more difficult and that more people with disabilities are at risk of exclusion from education or employment because those in a position to ensure their rights do not know about them.

At its extreme, this problem poses a real threat to vulnerable populations living in a world dealing with the impact of climate change and natural disasters, because it leaves them without their needs met.

As we have examined with our research in our climate change report, this means things as fundamental as accessing emergency information in the event of a disaster become difficult for disabled people.

Lack of reliable data, gathered consistently across different countries, also makes it difficult to tackle another giant challenge: removing barriers to education for young people with disabilities, especially girls.

Education for people with disabilities

What we do know only highlights the severity of the problem: extant data indicates that, within developing countries, 9 out of 10 children with disabilities are not in formal education.

When tackling inequality at this scale, we need all the data we can find, which is why we’re committing to research into the barriers – research which we’ll apply to breaking these barriers down.

We’ll be making similar commitments to break down barriers to employment, which is another key mission for delegates at the Disability Summit.

Globally, people with disabilities face entirely disproportional levels of unemployment. For young people, this can mean barriers faced at school simply magnify as they try to grow into independent adults.

Young disabled voices

Speaking of youth, another comparison between climate conferences like COP26 and the Global Disability Summit springs to mind.

The voice of young activists has been loud and clear in the fight to limit global warming and cut carbon emissions. In a similar way, the voices of young people with disabilities are bound to play a key role in February. They will have their own forum, the Global Disability Youth Summit, on 14th February.

As we have seen time and time again, youth with disabilities are some of the most powerful and informed voices in the fight against inequality.

Last year, youth with disabilities spoke to us in our research about the impact of COVID-19 and told us, loud and clear, that they wanted – and needed – to be part of the world’s recovery from the pandemic.

It’s fantastic to see young advocates that we’ve worked with, from Kenya, Thailand and other countries, preparing to raise their voices in February.

With all of this in mind, and despite a very challenging couple of years due to the pandemic, this remains an exciting time to be fighting for equal rights. The second Global Disability Summit feels like another step towards welcome changes for people with disabilities all over the world.

We strongly encourage people to take notice, tune in to watch the Global Disability Summit and think about what you can do to address the challenges that one billion people with disabilities around the world face.

By Leonard Cheshire

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