Photo © David Boutcher / Reed Smith
On the 24th of July, I attended the first ever Global Disability Summit at the Olympic Park in London co-hosted by the governments of the UK and Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. It was a wide-ranging summit with an emphasis on getting commitments from governments, NGOs and businesses to address the inequality and prejudice being suffered by those with disabilities around the world.
GBC-Education Pledges to Charter for Change
Many, including the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) and Reed Smith, have signed up to the Global Disability Summit Charter for Change which seeks to ensure the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for all those with disabilities. GBC – Education has made a commitment to the Global Disability Summit as follows: –
“To publish a policy brief and recommendations on how business can engage in inclusive education. The brief will include a comprehensive landscape of best practices and gaps in the private sector’s engagement in inclusive education for children and young people with disabilities. GBC – Education will also support the business community to implement the recommendations”.
Reed Smith has also made a commitment to the Global Disability Summit as follows: –
“Following the recent launch of Reed Smith’s Global Solutions Initiative providing dedicated support across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the firm will implement a 3 year plan for increased diversity across its offices in Europe including a commitment to build on the current level of more than 10% of new trainee lawyers in our London office having a disability and a 5 year plan to grow the proportion of personnel with disabilities globally.”
World Leaders Deliver Powerful Remarks About Disability Rights
At the Summit both the governments of the United Kingdom and Kenya launched policies and programmes for those with disabilities, and in particular committed to devote resources to assisted technology and training for teachers for all children with special needs. There was also a video message from the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, endorsing her personal commitment to empowering people around the world with disabilities and many political leaders present focused on the enormous cost of not utilising the talent of people with disabilities.
There was a passionate presentation by the President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno, who is the only head of state with a physical disability. He spoke with great commitment and emotion as he described how in the recent past many of those with disabilities were left to die and even now carry a stigma of being considered to be “ill”.
Many emphasised the stigma still felt by a number of those having a disability, and the fact that in many countries a number of people with disabilities were still thrown into institutions which were similar to prisons, and certain countries still required a letter confirming that you have no psychiatric illness before you are able to vote.
There were numerous references to the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and a reference to the pledge to “Leave No One Behind”. The Vice Chair of the UN Development Group made a presentation on behalf of the Secretary General and announced that there had already been launched a review of the UN’s policy towards disabilities and to have a new framework for disabilities by 2019.
Kristalina Georgieva, the Chief Executive of the World Bank, also gave a very personal presentation about members of her own family who have disabilities and how they had dealt with the challenge of being someone with a disability. She emphasised that all education projects should be disability inclusive. Similarly Zhang Haidi, Chairperson of the China Disabled Persons Federation, gave a very impassioned presentation explaining how she had been paralysed since the age of five and never had any schooling and had taught herself everything she knows, including how to speak English. However, she pointed out the Chinese Government had recently announced that it was committing financial resource to support children with disabilities up to the age of six years.
With one in eight people around the world with some form of disability, it’s critical to embrace dignity and respect for all. At the summit, there was even criticism of the word “disability” and calls for those affected to be referred to simply as ‘different’ and perhaps invent a word such as “diffability”. It was even mentioned that the Summit itself should be referred to as a people’s summit rather than a disability summit.
There was a section on technology and innovation, which focused primarily on assisted technology for those with physical disabilities and the need for prosthetics. There was an emotional video about a man in India who had lost his leg in a road accident and through the use of prosthetic leg was able to recover from the depression he suffered following the accident, start a business, employ people and was now sending his daughter to medical school. So just one prosthetic leg had improved lots of lives!
NGO and Business Leaders Push for Inclusive Education
There was a good session on inclusive education where the importance of teaching children with a disabilities alongside other children was considered to be so important. Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, mentioned how about half of the world’s children who have a disability do not go to school, in many cases simply because of the stigma and prejudice. The situation is even worse with girls with disabilities and the prejudices suffered by them. This is why the focus on girls’ education is so important.
Alice Albright, the Chief Executive of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), also spoke and mentioned that the GPE had done its own survey of 50 countries, the results of which had shown that only 5% of disabled children were in primary education. Penny Mordaunt, the UK Secretary of State for International Development, announced an initiative to provide small financial loans for certain developing countries to help support those with disabilities. Jordan’s Minister for Education mentioned that his country had introduced new laws to help ensure that children with disabilities had equal rights to education.
A number of the politicians and NGO leaders said that they would like more help from business in resolving the issues affecting those with disabilities. However, Piotr Pluta, the Director of Corporate Affairs for CISCO, announced an initiative to support more education for disabled children, and the Chief Executive of Unilever, Paul Polman, committed his company to increase its proportion of employees with a disability. He made the point that inclusive business generates an inclusive society, and that of course economic empowerment needs business which should be joining forces with governments and NGOs.
In summary, many organisations made commitments and the point was made that we all need to be held to account for those commitments. A number of new initiatives and policies were announced and again, the point was made that all are encouraged to partner with one another to help achieve the objective of ensuring the rights and inclusion for all those with disabilities.