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Use the International Day of Disabled Persons to Assess Public Accessibility & More

Since 1992, the International Day of Disabled Persons has been promoting “the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increas[ing] awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life,” according to the United Nations, which created the event that year. This year, the International Day of Disabled Persons falls on Tuesday, Dec. 3.

The event received even more recognition when, in 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was adopted. That action further advanced the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities that the United Nations and its many partners are undertaking along with other global initiates that include disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, and more.

Assistance comes in many ways—wheelchairs, ramps, seeing-eye dogs, medication for pain or a condition such as asthma, and even a simple pair of eyeglasses for reading. And the need is widespread:

  • At least 10 percent of the world's population, or 650 million people, live with a disability.
  • 20 percent of the world’s poor are disabled.
  • The percentage of children with disabilities not attending school is extremely variable and is between 65 percent to 85 percent in some African countries.
  • Mortality for children with disabilities may be as high as 80% in countries where under-five mortality as a whole has decreased to below 20 percent.
  • In many low-income and middle -income countries, only 5 to 15 percent of disabled people who require assistive devices and technology have access to them.

Last year’s event focused on empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality, as part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That effort pledges to leave no one behind, and “persons with disabilities, as both beneficiaries and agents of change, can fast track the process towards inclusive and sustainable development and promote resilient society for all,” according to the UN.

Accessibility a focus now and going forward

In 2019, the event will have a theme of “The Future Is Accessible,” and work to heighten awareness of barriers. According to planners, that means building a future where those with disabilities:

  • can access a building without using stairs
  • can access a ramp to the beach
  • can get a job without fear of discrimination
  • can access a mainstream classroom

These seem like very simple, and sensible goals. But if these issues continue to be challenges in the United States and other developed nations, imagine the barriers faced by those living with disabilities in parts of the world that lag behind in terms of technological advances.

There have been many advances for those living with disabilities. Improved treatments for many types of injuries, such as those involving the spinal cord, are helping people who might have been permanently disabled recover some mobility, for instance. Less complex, but equally vital, are recognitions by local governments and community organizations about the need to have not just access, but easy access to everything from government agency meetings to theatrical productions. The Americans with Disabilities Act spurred many of these changes and continues to serve as a framework as it nears 30 years old.

How much better would it be, though, if planning for accessibility wasn’t spurred by an attitude of compliance, but rather one of inclusion? That’s the mindset behind this particular global day of recognition, and one that healthcare providers especially should foster in their workplaces and communities every day.