December 3, 2011 marked the 19th annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), an international day of observance sponsored and promoted by the United Nations (UN) to bring attention to the issues faced by persons with disabilities around the world.
While in the U.S., Social Security Disability and entitlement reform are becoming hot-button issues in our political climate and the upcoming 2012 election, it is important to keep in mind that disabled people are a major part of our population that must be accounted for and protected.
Disabled individuals make up about 15% of the global population and about 18% of the total U.S. population – that’s approximately 51.2 million Americans who are disabled, with 21% of those individuals, or 32 million Americans, being severely disabled.
The UN-sponsored IDPD serves to promote greater understanding of issues facing the disabled both nationally and internationally. Specifically, IDPD is intended to bring about positive change at the social and political levels in nations across the globe, in support of the rights and overall wellbeing of the disabled.
History of UN Disability Initiatives
The 2011 day of observance marked the 19th anniversary of the IDPD, but the UN’s promotion of disability issues on a global stage far predates the inception of IDPD.
In 1976, the UN declared 1981 to be The International Year of Disabled Persons, calling for nations around the globe to enact reforms in an effort to provide equal opportunities for those with disabilities by 1981. The theme for The International Year of Disabled Persons was “Full Participation and Equality” and the UN emphasized the need for governments and organizations around the world to make strides in integrating disabled persons into mainstream society and the workforce.
Further promoting global initiatives surrounding the disabled population, the UN declared the Decade of Disabled Persons (1983 – 1992), a period during which governments and non-governmental organizations were encouraged, with specific recommendations from the UN World Programme of Action, to enact the legal, social, and political adjustments. Those adjustments were meant to bring about real and lasting change on behalf of the world’s disabled population, allowing them to fully participate in the political, social, and economic activities of their own communities.
2011 International Day of Disabled Persons Theme
The main theme for 2011 is “Together for a Better World for All: Including Persons with Disabilities in Development.” According to the UN, the 2011 subthemes for international activities are:
- Mainstreaming Disability: Including a Disability Perspective in All Development Processes
- Gender: Including Women and Girls with Disabilities in Development
- Including Children and Youth with Disabilities in Development
- Accessibility: Removing Barriers and Promoting Disability-Inclusive Development
- Promoting Data Collection and Statistics on Disability International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Since 1992 the UN-sponsored IDPD observance day has focused on a different theme related to the challenges surrounding the full integration and engagement of the international disabled population.
Some may question the need for an international day of observance dedicated entirely to a “small percentage” (an estimated 15%) of the world’s population. However, the UN emphasizes that nearly a fifth of those who live with disabilities (110 – 190 million individuals) continue to face significant challenges in everyday life, and that includes individuals in The United States.
Additionally, the day serves to illustrate that it is not only those with disabilities who are directly affected by social and political issues related to disability, as about a quarter of the global population is directly affected by these issues as family members and care givers of the disabled.