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Sightsavers calls for equity and inclusion in statement to UN disability conference

June 2021
A busy conference chamber at the United Nations.
The main debating chamber at the United Nations. Image taken pre-COVID-19.

Sightsavers has delivered a video statement calling for disability rights to be upheld in the global pandemic response, as part of the 14th Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) being held this week in New York.

In the statement, Sightsavers’ head of policy Hannah Loryman called on the global community to uphold the CRPD in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: “COVID-19 brought to the forefront what we already knew – that progress on disability rights has been too slow. That exclusion is still built into the systems which impact on everyone’s ability to live a fulfilled and independent life. And this exclusion is made is even more severe in times of crisis.”

Loryman also highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities – particularly women and other groups of people who face intersecting forms of discrimination. She emphasised the need for better disability data, as well as robust planning and budgeting for inclusion, and reiterated the call of Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign for inclusive education for children with disabilities to be available, accessible and adequately funded.

Watch the video to see the statement, or read the full statement below.

Full statement

I am speaking today on behalf of Sightsavers, an international organisation working to promote disability rights in around 30 countries globally.

Can I first of all congratulate all the new members of the CRPD committee. Through Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign we made the case for gender balance on the committee and we welcome that gender parity has now not only been achieved but now exceeded.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unequally felt. Existing inequities and the lack of inclusive responses mean that the impact on persons with disabilities has been disproportionate. This is particularly the case for people who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

Women with disabilities have told us about the fear and uncertainty they have experienced, the lack of access services and increases in violence. One woman told us that, “This virus has changed us all. We are still wondering what will happen in the future.”

As we look towards this future, States Parties have a responsibility to make sure that they secure one which is equitable and inclusive of persons with disabilities.

COVID-19 brought to the forefront what we already knew – that progress on disability rights has been too slow. That exclusion is still built into the systems which impact on everyone’s ability to live a fulfilled and independent life. And this exclusion is made is even more severe in times of crisis.

Governments must ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are systematically embedded into COVID-19 recovery plans – to make systems more inclusive now and future periods of crisis. It is critical that better data is collected, that policies are put in place – and that these include robust implementation plans and budgets which actually shift away from old models of exclusion. This must be done in proper co-production with organisations of persons with disabilities, in line with article 4.3 of the CPRD.

The United Nations, supported by members states, must ensure that the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) is fully and systematically implemented. The Secretary-General highlighted that the lack of resources for UNDIS risk its implementation, and member states must take concrete steps to address this.

We welcome the focus on education at this year’s Conference of States Parties. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated an already existing learning crisis. Through Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign, we are calling on world leaders to invest in inclusive education. With the right education children with disabilities can not only learn, but also find and raise their voices and have choice and control over their lives. This will be a crucial part of an inclusive recovery.

Thank you.

A teacher in Mali points to a sign showing the braille alphabet.

Equal World campaign calls for inclusive education

More than 21,000 supporters of Sightsavers’ Equal World campaign have signed an open letter calling on the leaders of the G7 to meet their commitments to inclusive education for children with disabilities.

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