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Global Summit Shines a Spotlight on People with Disabilities

July 24, 2018

People with psychosocial and learning disabilities are the most discriminated group of disabled people, according to campaigners.

As well as being subject to forced treatment and medication people with mental health disorders are shackled and regularly excluded from society.

The warning comes as the UK, alongside the Kenyan government and the International Disability Alliance, today hosts the first Global Disability Summit - the largest ever gathering of disabled people, governments, charities and business leaders.

The summit aims to ensure people with disabilities are included in both policy making and society as a whole.

Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary, will urge leaders at the summit to "move from rhetoric to action" on improving the lives of disabled people, including some of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.

She said: “Discrimination and stigma against disabled people is a global injustice - one that has been ignored for too long - and one we need to fix urgently.

“Today I am calling for countries around the developing world to stand alongside disabled people in their countries and commit to end stigma and fully value the contribution disabled people can give to the success of those nations.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do for humanity – it is also the smart thing to do because it’s impossible to end extreme poverty if a significant part of your society is left out of the deal."

The picture for disabled people is, of course, vastly different around the world. But, says Vladimir Cuk, executive director of the International Disability Alliance, whether living in the richest or poorest country people with psychosocial disability - such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia - or learning disability face the biggest hurdles.

“They undergo a lot of mental and physical abuse and are receiving forced treatment and forced education. In some countries people with mental health disabilities are shackled and even subjected to witch hunts,” he said.

Overcoming such stigma will take time, he admits.

Discrimination and stigma against disabled people is a global injustice we need to fix urgently.Penny Mordaunt, International Development Secretary

"There is still not enough impetus or understanding of the situation that disabled people face - either at a global or local level," he says.

While the summit is mainly focused on low and middle income countries, the problems facing disabled people are common around the world, says Mr Cuk.

“In the richest countries you have people living below the poverty line and who are not participating in employment or society as a whole,” he said.

More than 170 countries around the world have signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of of Persons with Disabilities.

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This is focused on moving the view of people with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of making decisions as well as being active members of society.

Mr Cuk acknowledges that some countries are further than others in implementing the UN convention but wherever budgets face cuts the axe often falls on services for disabled people first.

“Some developed nations are going through the process of cutting back on resources available to disabled people. But poorer countries are also cutting back on social spending to pay for loans,” he says.

Dominic Haslam, director of policy and programme strategy at UK charity Sightsavers, hopes the summit will encourage governments around the world to turn their words into action.

“India has pretty good international disability legislation and started to develop an excellent national programme on ensuring disabled children have access to education. But if you go to a rural part of West Bengal, for example, you will see people with disabilities excluded from school and health care.

“This is not a weakness of policy but a weakness of enactment. It’s not always about money but in some ways making sure people have the right technical expertise,” he says.

Mr Cuk says there is still not enough understanding of the barriers disabled people face, mainly because there is very little data. There are thought to be a billion disabled people in the world - about one in eight of the global population - but actually many governments don’t know how many disabled people there are in their countries, making policy making a challenge.

Mr Haslam says: “There is a massive data gap. People with disabilities aren’t being counted - the methodology isn’t appropriate. This is a critical piece of the puzzle."

Source: The Telegraph