Our Perspectives

The 2030 Agenda: Leave no person with disabilities behind


Up to 150 million children around the world are estimated to be living with a disability. Many are excluded from education and other opportunities. Photo:Logan Abassi UN/MINUSTAH

In February 2016, I was proud to stand up and present to the plenary session of a youth-issues forum. Just over 24 hours later, I could barely stand at all, due to a sudden and mysterious pain and weakness in my right leg. As it progressively worsened over the following weeks, then months, I needed crutches or a cane to get around. The city I had once effortlessly navigated my way around abruptly became intimidating and hard to manage. People began to stare at me as I struggled to coordinate walking, and any place that involved stairs or a long walk was off-limits. Without warning, I had been thrust into the world of disability.

I’m not alone in my experiences. It is estimated that 15 percent of the world’s population – around one billion people – live with a disability, so even if you do not have a disability yourself, you are likely to have a friend, family member or co-worker who does. There is huge diversity amongst people with disabilities (PwD), they can be of any age, gender, race, class, or ethno-cultural background. There are, however, certain people who are more likely to be affected by disability.

Older people fall into this category, because as people age they become more susceptible to disability. Demographic changes across the world show that the older population (aged 60 and above) is expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2030, so we can expect to see an increase in older PwD. At the other end of the spectrum, up to 150 million children are estimated to be living with a disability, including millions who are excluded from education, particularly those living in developing countries. Developing countries are in fact home to a disproportionate number of PwD, with around 80 percent of all PwD residing in the Global South.

Poverty and disability are closely linked, and PwD are more likely to face socio-economic disadvantage. For example, impoverished people may be unable to afford or access proper nutrition and health care, which increases their risk of disability; they may live in a community without social protection programmes to help provide for their daily needs; their built environment may not have the appropriate accommodations; and they are more likely to be unemployed.

The difficult circumstances facing so many PwD mean that a concerted effort must be made to ensure they are included in the current efforts to transform our world with the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A central impetus of the Agenda is to ‘leave no one behind’, meaning that all people everywhere, regardless of their individual circumstances or characteristics, must be included as active participants in the journey to 2030. It means going beyond averages, ensuring the inclusion of people who have previously been excluded, uncounted, left behind or overlooked due to their vulnerabilities or stigmatization – which has often been PwD. For example, the major development process at the turn of the century, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), did not reference PwD, thus excluding them from a wide range of initiatives, and reducing opportunities for their voices to be heard and their needs to be met.

The 2030 Agenda is much more inclusive – the words “disability” or “persons with disabilities” are specifically mentioned 11 times in the Resolution (70/1), as well as in targets for Goals 4, 8, 10, 11 and 17. Of course, the universal nature of the Agenda means that all Goals and targets are relevant for PwD, as for any other group of people.

Even before the 2030 Agenda had come into play, the world had started to move in the right direction with the 2006 adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), (A/RES/61/106). CRPD has been a vital framework to ensuring all rights for PwD – civil, cultural, political, social and economic; and has a scope and ambition that goes well beyond previous initiatives such as 1993’s ‘Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities’. The implementation of the CRPD is monitored through regular meetings of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a body made up of 18 independent experts, many of whom have disabilities themselves.

Beyond these commitments, it is essential for the global processes that support and drive global development to consider the diverse needs of PwD and enable them to be the agents of change in their own lives. Special efforts must be made to ensure that PwD are consulted in preparatory conversations, are visible through specific language, have the appropriate accommodations to be included in implementation, are counted in monitoring and data collection, and have their voices heard in reviews and follow-ups. Disabled people will certainly benefit from the full implementation of the SDGs, and associated commitments, but also have much to contribute to the implementation efforts as active participants.

Here at UNDP, we commit ourselves to the inclusion of all, including PwD, in our work to empower people and build resilient nations, and in our work towards the SDGs. UNDP is part of the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), a unique collaborative effort between UN entities, governments and civil society that supports country-level work towards implementation of CRPD. UNDP country offices have also supported a variety of programmes that focus on PwD, including in Albania, Turkey, Cambodia and Yemen.

Not only does UNDP support PwD as programme participants, it also supports its own staff who have disabilities. A new initiative is underway to advance the inclusion of PwD across all UNDP workplaces. I consider myself very fortunate to be part of an organization that is working actively to create a welcoming and accessible environment for all staff.

Following my initial shock entry into the world of disability, I underwent extensive medical investigations, culminating in December 2016 with a diagnosis of a neuro-degenerative condition involving my central nervous system malfunctioning. This type of condition is generally caused by a genetic mutation, so there is no way to treat, cure or reverse this. It will worsen over time, and I will always be a person with a disability. However, when I look at the challenges faced by other PwD, I consider myself lucky – I am in an inclusive and accessible workplace, living in a country where my rights are enshrined in law. I feel that I am at no risk of being left behind – now I am driven to ensure that no other person with a disability is left behind either.