DPI/NGO Briefing
11 June, 2009

“Development for All:
Integrating Disability into the Millennium Development Goals”


Dr. Maria Martinho, Statistician at the Development Indicators Unit of the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), began by discussing the challenges of mainstreaming disability into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). She emphasized the need to include persons with disabilities in the MDGs making the point: “We need to include everybody; persons with disabilities are sometimes denied rights to education, access to health care and so on. They were not included in the MDGs, just like women.”

Dr. Martinho highlighted that a major obstacle to the inclusion of disability into the MDGs was the lack of comparable data across countries for most of the issues covered under the MDGs, as they affect persons with disabilities. A few countries had collected data on access to education, full employment, proper health care, sanitation facilities and water sources. However, the problem with the collected data was that there was no standard methodology used to gather such statistics, which in turn led to a lack of comparable data. Dr. Martinho gave the example of a survey conducted in Zambia which indicated that 2% of its population was disabled, and another conducted in Brazil, which identified 18% of the population as persons with disabilities.

She pointed out that although the Brazilian survey had a higher numeric result, it did not necessarily indicate that Brazil had a higher percentage of disabled persons, but rather that they used a completely different method of sampling the population, than that used in Zambia. The disparity in methodology resulted in two sets of data which could not be properly compared.

Another issue addressed by Dr. Martinho was the problem of time. She noted that because the deadline for meeting the MDGs was 2015 it had become imperative that the issue of disability be included as soon as possible. Dr. Martinho urged the NGO community to help develop ideas and new ways to address these challenges as it continued to explore ways of mainstreaming disability into the MDGs monitoring process. She asserted that improving data collection and developing a solid new universal methodology of collecting data would be a great start because it would make it easier to measure and monitor the different MDG targets.

She also noted that it was important to support initiatives and work done at the local level in order to encourage and train countries to effectively collect data on persons with disabilities. In her closing remarks, Dr. Martinho stressed the importance of exploring the potential usefulness of existing data by using the available facts and data on disability in order to share the stories of persons with disabilities. This was especially important for women with disabilities who sometimes faced double discrimination and whose stories were often not heard.

She urged the NGOs and the international community to start planning future activities including the 2010 Special MDG event, to address the issue of how to include persons with disabilities. She encouraged the audience to start thinking about what should be done after the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs, emphasizing: “This is the right moment to make people aware of the need to include persons with disabilities into the Millennium Development Goals and whatever comes next.”

Dr. Diana Indjov, Chairperson of the Global Disability Movement, National Council for Integration of People with Disabilities toward Council of Ministers, opened her presentation by stating that persons with disabilities needed real inclusion in the MDG targets not merely lip service. She urged that heads of state should meet to discuss this pertinent issue. A woman with a disability herself, Dr. Indjov stated that women and children with disabilities faced the most discrimination, and were often excluded from mainstream education and employment.

She informed the meeting that despite the many challenges faced by Europeans with disabilities, the European Disabled Community was a united group that brought together persons with mental, sensory and physical disabilities. This group was working together to exert political pressure on their respective leaders to address their needs. Dr. Indjov expressed the view that the international community was not adequately promoting the concept of universal rights for all, or insisting that countries enact needed legislative changes. Drawing attention to the work her organization the Global Disability Movement was engaged in to ensure that legislative changes were implemented in her region, Dr. Indjov stressed that they needed the support of the United Nations to promote their efforts.

Dr. Indjov further stated that mainstreaming disability into the MDGs would require much needed funds and the support at the highest levels of government representatives, since without their assistance the rights of the disabled would not be protected, and real effective mechanisms for change would not be instituted. She asserted that the issue of disability needed to become a high priority in all government programmes, noting that at the current time this was not the case in Eastern or Central Europe. “Disability is not in the center, for the moment it is just an episodic element,” she protested.

Dr. Indjov suggested that there was a need to monitor services to person with disabilities in order to ensure that the commitments made by governments were followed through. She was also of the view that the European Parliament needed to issue special directives if persons with disabilities were to get access to their rights. Pointing to the link between poverty and disability Dr. Indjov asserted that poverty reduction was critical because in many post-communist countries, employers were not hiring persons with disabilities, leaving them with few employment opportunities. Her organization, The Global Disability Movement was taking appropriate measures to reduce poverty because in its view, it would ameliorate many of the challenges faced by disabled persons. Dr. Indjov stated that the key to poverty reduction was for people with disabilities to make their issues known to their governments. In her closing remarks, Dr. Indjov urged the disabled community as a whole to come together and address the challenges they face such as discrimination and marginalization particularly as it affects the mainstream education system. She insisted that women and children with disabilities needed lifelong education, equality of treatment and integration into the mainstream. Dr. Indjov reiterated that addressing the issue of disability would require collective cooperation between government, non- governmental organisation representatives and the disabled community in order to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Ms. Akiko Ito, Chief of the Secretariat on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the United Nations Focal Point on Disability in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), began by putting in perspective why DESA was concerned about the issue of making the MDG’s inclusive of persons with disabilities.

She explained that one of DESA’S aims was to work closely with other entities of the UN system and other stakeholders to strengthen the link between development and human rights, such as through the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in development.

She described persons with disabilities worldwide as the world’s most marginalized individuals, and noted that according to recent data, they made up 20% of the world’s poorest citizens. The global unemployment rate for persons with disabilities was between 82%-85%, with women with disabilities and persons with multiple disabilities at an even greater disadvantage. She put forward the view that the newly adopted Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was an instrument that could serve as a catalyst for the extension of fundamental rights to persons with disabilities as it was a unique platform aimed at advancing their rights.

Ms. Ito stated that although the principle of equality was highlighted in the MDGs, there were no specific targets for persons with disabilities. She explained that in response to this, in 2008, the UN General Assembly had reiterated its commitment to mainstream disability into the MDGs by adopting resolution 63/150 which focused on this issue, DESA was therefore trying to engage all stakeholders in a dialogue on this issue, especially since the year 2010 was a review year of the MDGs. Ms. Ito mentioned that DESA was trying to identify entry points and develop a road map as to how disability could be included in the MDGs. There had been expert meetings held in April 2009 at which DESA, in collaboration with the UN Disability Statistics Division and the World Health Organization (WHO), had examined key related documents and explored the issue. Ms. Ito stated that a full report on this effort would be available shortly to be shared and discussed at both the national and international level, in an effort to find ways to collaborate on this issue and to capitalize on existing knowledge. Ms. Ito mentioned that the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with economic and social issues on the UN’s agenda, was also expected to debate this matter during its fall session.

What was needed, Ms. Ito stressed, was a practical plan of action that addressed the issue of integrating disabled persons into the MDGs. She stressed that it was essential that experts working to implement the MDGs participate in these discussions, as only through specific action could the inclusion of persons with disabilities become a reality. Time was of essence, she emphasized, and it was crucial to begin executing practical action plans from now until 2015.

Ms. Ito underscored the fact that NGOs could play a pivotal and successful role in making the universal goal of mainstreaming disability into the MDGs a reality. She expressed the view that NGOs could among other things, involve new stakeholders in the process. Ms. Ito identified a number of critical steps that needed to be taken to address this issue including building capacity to work together on the human rights aspect of this issue. One was to promote an awareness campaign on the importance of including disability in the MDGs. A second step was to create special communications tools for person with disabilities, especially for the poor and those living in hard to reach areas. Third, she suggested, ensuring that persons with disabilities had access to all MDG action plans and most importantly, making certain that every time the MDGs were discussed that there would be a representative of the disabled community present. Ms. Ito concluded by stressing that it was critical to engage in meaningful dialogue, and to build on existing work and to be strategic in developing a special focus on how to include disability in the 2010 MDG review process, most importantly, beyond the period of the deadline for meeting the MDGs of 2015.

Question &Answer Session:

During the Question and Answer session one questioner asked whether there have been efforts between developed and developing countries to share programmes focusing on Downs Syndrome, Autism, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and other mental disabilities. Ms. Ito answered that indeed there had been cooperation between countries, and a General Assembly resolution was adopted on Autism in 2007.

Moreover, in April 2009, there was a second commemoration of World Autism Day, where groups of NGOs and government representatives came together to discuss and share how they had collaborated with different countries to provide assistance to children with autism and other disabilities. She pointed to the fact that there had been many international NGOs working on this issue in developing countries. The World Health Organization and other agencies and programmes which worked closely with DESA, had cooperated with many local organisations to facilitate progammes, exchange information and communicate on the issue of disability as well as provide assistance to children with autism.

Dr. Indjov indicated that the Global Disability Movement had worked with several different countries to enable them to reach the goal of providing a decent life for persons with disabilities and, more broadly, universal human rights. “Our goal for human rights is to work with women and children and other vulnerable groups because we know that persons with disabilities are prisoners in their own homes. This is a goal in harmony with the MDGs and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” she underscored.

There were a number of questions on the issue of data collection. Dr. Martinho was asked whether there was data available on the double discrimination faced by persons with disabilities who were part of a minority group (including those who were discriminated against on the grounds of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation). Dr. Martinho responded that the UN did not collect data directly but rather encouraged countries to collect their own national statistics, and tried to promote initiatives to define standards for data collection and/or statistics.

The UN also provided technical assistance to countries so that they could train and equip local personnel to collect statistics. She explained that collecting data on disabled persons in terms of their race, cultural background and sexual orientation was more complex than simply collecting data on persons with disabilities. Dr. Martinho added that methodologies to collect data on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion were being developed, but the absence of a single, uniform methodology often made it difficult to compare data internationally.

She gave the example of a country like France, where national legislation did not allow the collection of data on race, thereby creating further obstacles for statisticians. Another questioner asked whether any time and money were being allocated for creating one standard of methodology that would have more validity. Dr. Martinho underscored that new ways of collecting data were still being developed because monitoring disability had only begun in early 2000-2001, and was therefore a work in progress.

In response to a question as to how disability was defined in the data collection process, Dr. Martinho asserted that there was also a problem in determining an international definition of disability. Some groups, she noted had adopted what they call an “operational definition,” which was based on activity limitations. Another question posed looked at the importance of family in the context of disability.

Ms. Ito stated that there have been various meetings focused on the role of the family in promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. She said though this had not been a major theme, it had been treated as an important component in discussions on disability issues. An NGO representative commented on the fact that progress should not only be seen as dependent on government action but also through the efforts of civil society that should push for the changes they wanted to see. Ms. Ito affirmed that indeed there were many stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, and civil society who were at the forefront of the struggle for the advancement of the rights for persons with disabilities. She urged that all those working on the issue of disability needed to ensure that their efforts and resources were accessible to each another as she believed that this was fundamental to achieving their common objectives.

Ms. Ito said she looked forward to working with different groups to advance “our common goal of making the MDGs realized for all persons.”

This Briefing was attended by over 170 representatives of NGOs, United Nations and Permanent Mission staff as well as interns from various Departments and NGOs


Prepared by Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Aicha Diallo and Jennifer Basch, United Nations, Department of Public Information, NGO Relations.

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