Global Disability Summit

Opening speech at Global Disability Summit - London, UK.

July 24, 2018

As prepared for delivery.

I am very pleased to join you here today at this first ever Global Disability Summit. I sincerely thank the co-hosts: the Governments of Kenya and the United Kingdom and the International Disability Alliance (IDA), for bringing us together for this important occasion.

We are here to discuss how we – as individuals and societies – can fight discrimination and remove the barriers faced by persons with disabilities.

We are also here to ensure that persons with disabilities are given equal access and voice in society, so that they can realize their fullest possible potential.

And we are here to do our utmost to make our world a more equal and just place.

And we have come a long way.

The General Assembly’s adoption of the landmark Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006 was a critical moment. The fact that this is the fastest ratified treaty in the world, now being implemented by over 90 percent of UN member states, is a powerful demonstration of an issue that all countries can embrace and help realize.

And the Convention’s guiding principles couldn’t be more pertinent: non-discrimination; participation and inclusion; equality and accessibility; respect and dignity; and the respect for difference and embracing disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity.

The 2015 global agreement on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals was another critical milestone.

Indeed, to realize the promise of the 2030 Agenda – and its core pledge to leave no one behind - it is essential that all peoples, particularly those facing discrimination and exclusion, have access and voice and can participate equally in every aspect of life.  This is a matter of justice, and equal opportunity, as well as economic growth. The costs of exclusion are simply too high.

At the UN we have long been committed to supporting and advancing the rights of persons with disabilities around the world. Be it in humanitarian action where we strive to ensure that persons with disability have equal access to and participation in relief, protection and recovery efforts, or in our development work, where the needs and rights of the disabled are so central to our mission to accelerate SDG achievement and leave no one behind.

But we are committed to do so much more and to do it better.

To this end, the UN Secretary-General has launched a comprehensive review of how the UN system supports the rights of persons with disabilities – covering the critical areas of accessibility, employment, and mainstreaming in development and humanitarian action

This is important because it will look at our policy, planning and operational frameworks; programming and issues of data; and capacities to see what works and what we can do better.

I am pleased to confirm today that this review has already been initiated and will include perspectives from across the UN, including form our UN Country Teams on how we are supporting persons with disabilities on the ground. This is critical as we consider how to make a difference in the countries we serve, and for the governments and partners with whom we work.

The plan is to have a new UN system-wide policy, action plan and accountability framework on disabilities ready by early 2019. The Framework will have significant bearing on all our work, not least how we support countries to deliver on the SDGs and leave no one behind.

Protecting and advancing the rights of persons with disabilities is also something that I personally feel very passionate about. I fully recognize my responsibility as a UN leader to help drive forward progress on this issue, including in the context of the current reform of the UN Development System.

At the UN Development Programme, the organization which I head, we are absolutely committed to play our part. Reflecting this, our new Strategic Plan commits us to ensure that disability is more deeply embedded in all our work, and by the end of the Plan’s duration, I am committed to ensure that UNDP will have made tangible progress in this regard.

At UNDP we firmly believe that to achieve progress, the issue of disabilities cannot be approached as a standalone issue, but needs to be promoted across all policies and programmes

Reflecting this, UNDP promotes this critical agenda across all the areas in which we work. For example:

We help to bring the voice of people with disabilities to the table as key stakeholders as we have been doing supporting the African Disability Forum.

We support countries as they work to implement the Convention and develop government-wide inclusive legal frameworks and policies such as in Albania and Liberia.

And we are actively pursuing innovative solutions, such as in Georgia where, along with people with disabilities and the Georgian emergency services, UNDP co-designed an innovative system to ensure equal access to life-saving emergency services.                                                                                                             

Throughout our efforts, we have seen how broad-based collaboration and partnerships are key to success.

The United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the UNPRPD - is a unique collaborative effort that promotes such partnerships by bringing together UN entities, governments, organizations of persons with disabilities and broader civil society.

Since its launch in 2012 the UNPRPD has successfully promoted joint UN action in close to forty countries. For instance, in Moldova, we helped to ensure that persons with mental and intellectual disabilities can live independent lives; in Viet Nam we supported persons with disabilities to get access to justice; and in Uganda, children with disabilities benefit from assistive technology as an enabler of inclusive education.


While we have travelled a long way in our journey to realizing the rights of persons with disabilities, we all know there is further to go.

At times it may seem impossible to reach our destination, but I am certain that with the concerted efforts of all of us – and under the guidance of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations - a world free from discrimination and marginalization of persons with disabilities is within reach.

Nothing about us without us” is the mantra of the disability movement and I would like to close my remarks by assuring you that we – the UN system - stand behind this, and with all of you, as we move this important agenda forward together.