Secretary-General pledges support to ‘strong and unified’ disability movement

05 December 2023
Commonwealth SG pledges support to ‘strong and unified’ disability movement

Delegates at a two-day Commonwealth conference have outlined strategies and actions to achieve true equity and inclusion for all persons with disabilities.

Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Disabled People's Forum, the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of the West Indies, and the Commonwealth Children and Youth Disability Network, the Conference on Advancing the Rights of Persons with Disability was designed to help shape the Commonwealth's programmes and resources for people with disabilities.

Scheduled days before the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the roundtable drew participants from around the globe, including representatives from governments and international organisations, as well as persons with disabilities and their advocates.

Topics included the practicalities of strengthening accessibility and mainstreaming disability rights and inclusion throughout the operations of governments and organisations.

On day one of the event, Senator Floyd Morris, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRDP), stressed the importance and timeliness of the Conference.

Focussing on this year's International Day for Persons with Disabilities theme, he said:

"It is very important that the theme is configured 'for, with and by persons with disabilities'. That means persons with disabilities must be involved in all aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

Senator Morris urged countries to implement the provisions of the UN's Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which, he added, along with the implementation of the SDGs will lead to "significant transformation in the global landscape of persons with disabilities".

Dr Samuel Kabue, also a member of the UNCRDP, echoed Senator Morris' sentiments. He questioned how well countries have been implementing their commitments. Urging the delegates to collaborate to "strengthen the disability movement" and "keep governments on their toes", he stressed that if people with disabilities are not participating in the public and political life where decisions are made, their rights and concerns will not be represented.

The Conference allowed disability rights advocates and people with a range of disabilities from all Commonwealth regions to give updates and share their concerns and ideas.

Vice-Chair of the Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum Dr Sruti Mohapatra highlighted the importance of improvements in data collection, inclusive legislations and policies backed by budget allocations and effective implementation strategies to facilitate the "journey from the invisibility of people with disability to true equity".

Others called for additional support for particularly underrepresented people with disability such as those with Down Syndrome and improvements to education, including more inclusive curricula.

Head of the Social Policy Division, Layne Robinson, said the Secretariat will carefully consider the recommendations of the Conference. He added:

"We have heard today that we need a robust and unified approach to advancing the rights of persons with disability. We aim to ensure that these recommendations, which, in addition to legislative and policy changes, include a Commonwealth strategy or plan of action on disability rights and an advisory committee focused solely on the concerns of persons with disability, are shared with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, leaders and stakeholders at our summits for ministers and our Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa next year."

In her remarks, Commonwealth Secretary-General the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, called on Commonwealth countries to prioritise advancing the rights of people with disabilities. She said:

"This is not just a moral duty; it is our obligation under the UN Convention. I encourage all our member governments to more closely collaborate and consult with disabled people and their representative organisations – to ensure that their voices are included in all aspects of political, social and economic decision-making."

The Secretary-General also pledged that the Commonwealth Secretariat will lead by example by raising the expectations and standards on disability inclusion across all of its work and operations.

    Media contact

    • Temitope Kalejaiye  Public Relations and Engagement Officer, Governance and Peace Directorate, Commonwealth Secretariat
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