Promote the participation of persons with disabilities in the sustainable development process, ensuring no one is left behind

By Mr Tim De Meyer, Director, ILO Country Office for China and Mongolia

Statement | Beijing, China | 30 June 2017
Distinguished guests,
Partners on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,
Representatives of China’s coalition to advance the rights of persons with disability,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a personal pleasure for me to welcome all of you here today on behalf of our UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disability in China. We joined hands, hearts and minds 3 years ago to support China in its efforts to create a more inclusive society capable of recognizing and nurturing the ability of people with certain impairments. Today’s forum offers a unique opportunity to reflect what has worked so far and what must work better in future. First, allow me to put our work – your work – in context.

The Global Partnership was established in 2011. It galvanizes an alliance of the UN system, governments and civil society around the world. It supports the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by facilitating policy dialogue, coalition-building and capacity-development at country, regional and global level. In doing so, it leverages the comparative advantage of multiple stakeholders to advance the vision of a “society for all” in the 21st century. Today, the UNPRPD has been instrumental in cultivating disability-inclusive development in 22 countries.

One billion people or about 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability. Another billion live indirectly with a disability as member of a household. Persons with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed; and significantly more likely to be economically inactive. At an even greater disadvantage are persons with intellectual and mental health disabilities and women with a disability. Besides placing persons with disabilities at a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion, these patterns combine to bring about significant social and economic losses, estimated at between 3 and 7 per cent of GDP. It seems it is not disability we need to fear, but the fear of disability itself.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals cement a universal commitment not to leave the disabled behind. 172 countries have ratified the UN Convention. 195 countries have endorsed the SDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework includes seven targets which explicitly refer to persons with disabilities and six further targets aimed at the broader category of persons in vulnerable situations. The SDGs address essential development domains such as education, employment and decent work, social protection, resilience to and mitigation of disasters, sanitation, transport, and non-discrimination.

Today, we celebrate resilience, diversity and partnership – three human factors without which all these lofty principles and targets remain dead letter. First, resilience. The resilience of persons with disabilities demonstrating how to overcome physical, informational, institutional and attitudinal obstacles in their daily lives. But also the resilience all of us will need to muster whittling away at the cultural norms that prevent real equality. Secondly, diversity. The diversity of organizations that bring together people with different abilities reduces our blind spots; fosters our ability to innovate and solve the problems of an ever-more complex world; and makes us all more complete as human beings and more successful as organizations. It is that diversity that we have tried to leverage in our Partnership, marrying the commitment and institutional expertise of established actors such as the CDPF and CDPOs with an enhanced awareness of a wide range of professionals. And so, I said it: partnership. I reckon there are over 150 persons representing more than 50 organizations from various sectors, governments, embassies, UN systems, civil society, disabled persons’ organizations, businesses, training service providers, legal services, and universities. I hope you will forgive me if I have missed some of your organizations. You do not just represent diversity, but the resilience to work together towards a crucial goal no matter how distant or elusive. We would not, could not have expected this years ago when we started our campaign.

Ladies and gentlemen, Friends,
As you will be reviewing our collective experiences and deliberating the way forward, allow me to offer a few words not of wisdom but of working forward:

China is home to an estimated 85 million people with disabilities. A human resource base comparable to the population of Germany – and a figure that could well be higher if one counts impairments not only using medical criteria but aspects of broader social functionality. Three quarters live in rural areas where it is more difficult to lift them out of poverty, particularly as we move closer to the goal of a poverty-free China in 2020. An estimated 40 per cent of the remaining poor in China have physical or mental disabilities that make it difficult to hold down a steady job.

China lacks no political commitment towards either the eradication of poverty or the well-being of persons with disabilities.
  • Stable financial support, better medical care and rehabilitation for PwDs, along with the creation of public welfare jobs, free employment services, a job quota system and favourable tax policies were added to the arsenal of policies in 2008. Similar initiatives to support disabled entrepreneurs and occupational skills training and certification were more recently introduced as part of the current 5YP.
  • By 2020, 80 percent of people with severe mental illness should have access to continuing medical treatment. The Ministry of Health aims to double the number of trained psychiatrists and increase their salaries. These targets bolster the policy shift towards social inclusion of people with mental illnesses heralded by the Mental Health Law adopted in 2012.
  • Another major policy shift bodes well for the majority of children with disabilities that have been segregated in special schools or are kept out of the classroom altogether – in particular children of migrant workers. Recent regulations have for the first time established the principle of inclusive education in mainstream schools, backing it up with guidelines to improve teaching capacity and accessibility of schools, as well as on the provision of reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities in national education testing. Today, 28% of disabled school-aged children are not participating in nine-year compulsory education; and 43% of persons with disabilities are illiterate at the age of 15.
My colleague Marielza Oliviera will give you a detailed progress report shortly.

What should be our next steps on the road from right to reality?

The answer will depend both on our assumptions of what reality will be and our aspirations of what all of us want that reality to be.

The vision that is laid out to us is that of an economically transforming and socially inclusive China, a China that puts a premium on innovation, rejuvenation and higher value creation for people and economy alike.

It is a vision that can work for people with disabilities, provided we manage to convince, support and nudge society towards valuing people with different abilities but the same dreams.

Convincing will mean better data collection, analysis and dissemination in a more rapidly changing environment, deepening and widening our understanding of what disability means for different age groups, for men and for women and for different types of disability.

Supporting will mean actively helping teachers, employers or health care professionals to give their best and to make the best of the different abilities they raise, use or nurture. Our work on supported employment for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities has really demonstrated that the absence of PwDs in mainstream employment owes primarily to the disability of employers to use the ability of PwDs, but also that it is an impairment that can be overcome.

Nudging will mean continued sensitization to deal with attitudinal barriers and stigma following the example set by the Disability Equality Training. But it should also mean reduced tolerance towards discrimination; sharper articulation in law of what is acceptable and what is not; more legal support and much lower thresholds for access to justice.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends,
United we stand, divided we fall. I believe our Partnership has laid a sound foundation of trust and commitment among the CDPF and CDPOs, UN Agencies, international NGOs, Embassies. We will seek to build on that foundation inside and outside the UN Sub-group on Disability (UNSGD), building in the firm knowledge that whatever our abilities we form a community of common destiny.

Thank you for your insights, your efforts and your commitment. I wish the Forum every success.