Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure for me to open today’s conference on disabilities called “Leave no person with disabilities behind – with accessibility to inclusion”.
Using this opportunity, I would like to thank the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan for organising this three-day event.
Societies will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals without the full participation of everyone, including people with disabilities.
According to the UN flagship report on Disabilities and Development, called “Realizing the SDGs by, for and with persons with disabilities,” one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability.
Many of them are still facing exclusions in today’s society: lack of accessibility in physical and virtual environments, negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination, lack of access to energy, access to assistive technology and rehabilitation and lack of measures to promote independent living.
Persons with disabilities face drawbacks in many aspects of their daily lives – when it comes to job opportunities, wages, accessibility to the workplace, to businesses and public spaces and institutions, as well as access to sanitation facilities and new technologies.
If the international community wants to keep its promise of leaving no one behind in its pursuit of realizing the SDGs, these goals have to be realized for everyone – with or without disabilities – also in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which was adopted in 2007 and which has so far been ratified by 177 States, including Azerbaijan.
But signing and ratifying the Convention is not enough. Implementation is essential.
I welcome Azerbaijan’s recent steps to promote inclusive society and to eliminate discrimination based on disability.
Azerbaijan adopted a new law on the rights of people with disabilities in 2018. This provides a legal basis for eliminating discrimination based on disability, as well as promotes social inclusion and involving people with disabilities in decision-making process related to their lives. It also underscores the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities based on equal opportunity.
A new state programme on inclusive education, unveiled in 2018, focuses on the importance of quality education for children with disabilities in the mainstream school sector.
In May 2018, a National Action Plan on Early Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Disabilities was approved by Presidential Decree. This aims to reduce the prevalence and severity of disabilities among children through early detection of risk factors and diseases at antenatal, post-natal and later stages of childhood.
UN agencies operating in Azerbaijan have been working closely with the government and civil society organisations to support implementation of such programmes.
UNICEF provided support to the Ministry of Education to implement the State Programme on Inclusive Education. Building on the existing pilot underway since 2015, a more comprehensive approach towards inclusive education was developed and implemented with a teacher education package for pre- and in-service teacher training on inclusive education.
UNICEF continued to promote the rights of children with disabilities, focusing on shifting perceptions of disability from being a medical issue to a social one.
A comprehensive Communication for Social Change Strategy is under development with the objectives to reduce stigma, discrimination and isolation of children with disabilities and help build a more inclusive society.
At the same time, with UNDP support, around 30 civil society organizations reached out to people with disabilities. There were many results of this work, but a key impact saw the Shirvan Regional Child Mental Health Department being able to provide a wide range of psychological and development services to about 100,000 disadvantaged children and their families from Shirvan and seven surrounding regions.
In an effort to reduce gender stereotypes, UNFPA hosted a Special Olympics to provide girls and young women in Azerbaijan, with and without intellectual disabilities, with equal opportunities to participate in sports. The project strived to break barriers of integration for girls with intellectual disabilities, and combat gender inequality and disability stigma.
Together, we can remove barriers and raise awareness, so that people with disabilities can play a full part in every sphere of society, in this country and around the world.
The United Nations stands ready to support Azerbaijan’s efforts to improve the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities.
I wish you a productive and engaging conference!