Ladies and gentlemen,
Colleagues and friends,
I’m so pleased to welcome the Zero Project Conference to the Vienna International Center again this year.
The World Health Organization estimates that one in every six people on our planet experiences a significant disability.
That is: 1.3 billion people whose voices need to be heard and whose challenges need to be understood and addressed.
Thanks to your efforts, and those of similar civil society organizations around the world, policies and attitudes are indeed changing.
Accessibility is expanding.
The legal rights of persons with disabilities are being strengthened around the world.
This year we celebrate ten years of fruitful partnership between the United Nations in Vienna and the Essl Foundation.
Mr. Essl, I would like to thank you and your family for your enduring dedication to supporting persons with disabilities. I share your passion and commitment.
Since the UN in Vienna first hosted the Zero Project Conference in 2012, it has grown to become one of the world’s largest gatherings for disability inclusion.
Over the years more than 5,000 people from over 100 countries have come together to share ideas and good practices, to network and collaborate. I am proud of our longstanding support for your important work.
The UN in Vienna has also benefited from our partnership. The Zero Project provided us with valuable insights and advice as we developed our Action Plan on Disability Inclusion for UNOV/UNODC.
And hosting this conference has helped make our own events more accessible.
I look forward to continuing our excellent cooperation.
Me complace saber que la Conferencia Zero Project para América Latina y el mundo hispanoparlante se lleve acabo aquí por primera vez. ¡Bienvenidos a Viena!
Ms. Rubia Duran, thank you to the Fundación Descúmbreme for making this happen.
The twin themes for this year’s conference – independent living and political participation –underscore that disability rights are human rights, and that human rights are disability rights.
Disabilities are a natural part of human diversity. People with disabilities have the same rights as everybody else, and deserve additional support to exercise these rights.
186 countries have acknowledged this by ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Convention underscores that all persons with disabilities are entitled to enjoy all human rights and to exercise all fundamental freedoms.
With education, skills, appropriate services and support, persons with disabilities can take charge of their lives and fully participate in social and political life.
They know best what they need, so they should have choices and control in their everyday lives.
Independent living means having choices around housing, physical care, education and employment.
Full access to services, public facilities and transport are needed.
All this requires special attention from governments and adequate resources.
The aim should be integration, not isolation.
Yet the World Health Organization estimates that 40 percent of people with disabilities lack the necessary assistance to live independently. This gap is even larger in less developed countries.
Globally, only 10 percent of people who need assistive technologies have access to them. In low- and middle-income countries, high costs and gaps in healthcare infrastructure put these technologies out of reach for those who need them most.
So I look forward to hearing from Mr. Chiira about his work with Africa’s first assistive technology accelerator.
Dear participants, the ideas and solutions for supporting independent living that you will be sharing at this Conference are incredibly important. I hope many are geared toward women with disabilities, who face double challenges in their daily lives.
Women in general have less access to education, are employed at lower levels, and are more likely to live in poverty. They also face gender-based violence.
In many societies, women face additional barriers from stereotypes, biases and cultural traditions.
Women also tend to live longer than men.
All of these factors contribute to higher rates of disability among women, especially in less-developed countries.
We need to hear the perspectives of everyone in the disability community – regardless of age or gender. They need to be able to advocate for themselves to get the support they need.
Building networks is one way to amplify their voices – this conference is a good example.
Increasing political representation is also critical to giving persons with disabilities a say in policies and decisions that affect their lives.
Participating in political life, voting, running for and holding office – these rights belong to everyone.
We all benefit when persons with disabilities participate in government and civil society. They can be powerful advocates for a more inclusive, accessible and equitable future for us all.
I know this from my own personal experience when I was Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity before joining the UN.
One of my priorities as Minister was passing the country’s first comprehensive disabilities law in 2018, which expanded the disabilities officially recognized in Egypt from 4 to 13.
I worked very closely with people with disabilities, their families and their communities to get this law passed. I am proud to see some of the NGOs I worked with present here today.
As a result of this law, millions of children and adults are gradually gaining access to the services and support they need.
This remains one of my proudest achievements.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Building inclusive societies takes a joint effort by government, civil society, business and academia. The United Nations and other international organizations can play an enabling role.
I’m so pleased that the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is one of this year’s Zero Project award winners – recognized for its inclusive work in creating an election policy toolkit for people with intellectual disabilities.
In recent years, the Zero Project has recognized several other members of the United Nations family for their support for persons with disabilities – including the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union and UNICEF.
Here in Vienna, we are making good progress on implementing our Action Plan on Disability Inclusion for UNOV/UNODC, which I launched in 2020.
We will continue to ensure that we mainstream disability in our work, and in how we work.
This approach is reflected in the UNODC Strategy for 2021 to 2025, and in UNODC’s Strategic Visions for Africa and for Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is critical as some 80 percent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries.
UNODC’s field offices in more than 90 countries have begun mainstreaming disability inclusion in technical assistance, facilitating national consultations engaging persons with disabilities, and providing targeted assistance to people with disabilities.
They are integrating disability issues into work on topics like countering human trafficking, preventing violent extremism, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities in the criminal justice system, and enhancing their access to justice.
We all have the right to choose our own path in life – without barriers.
Every one of you here today is helping to achieve this vision.
I thank the Zero Project for bringing us together to exchange ideas and share effective solutions for independent living and political participation.
By working together, we can speed up progress toward creating an inclusive and accessible world where no one is left behind.