Development, International relations, Social policy | Australia, Asia, The World

18 October 2022

Policymakers in Asia and the Pacific must recognise the role people with disabilities can play in making their societies more inclusive, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana writes.

In 2012, the Asia-Pacific region came together and designed the world’s first set of disability-specific development goals: the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific. This week, they meet again to assess how governments have delivered on their commitments, to secure those gains and develop the innovative solutions needed to achieve fully inclusive societies.

Ministers, government officials, persons with disabilities, civil society and private sector allies from across Asia and the Pacific will gather from 19 to 21 October in Jakarta to mark a new era for 700 million persons with disabilities and proclaim a fourth Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities.

Our region is unique, having already declared three decades to protect and uphold the rights of persons with disabilities; 44 Asian and Pacific governments have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and we celebrate achievements in the development of disability laws, policies, strategies, and programmes.

Today, the Asia-Pacific has more parliamentarians and policymakers with disabilities. Their everyday business is national decision-making. They also monitor policy implementation. We find them active across the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Bangladesh, China, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Türkiye.

They have promoted inclusive public procurement to support disability-inclusive businesses and accessible facilities, advanced sign language interpretation in media programmes and parliamentary sessions, focused policy attention on overlooked groups, and directed numerous policy initiatives towards inclusion.

Less visible but no less important are local-level elected politicians with disabilities in India, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Indonesia witnessed 42 candidates with disabilities standing in the last election. Grassroots disability organisations have emerged as rapid responders to emerging issues such as COVID-19 and other crises.

More on this: Disability in Indonesia – from charity to human rights

Organisations of and for persons with disabilities in Bangladesh have distinguished themselves in disability-inclusive COVID-19 responses, and created programmes to support persons with psychosocial disabilities and autism.

The past decade saw the emergence of private sector leadership in disability-inclusive business. Wipro, headquartered in India, pioneers disability inclusion in its multinational growth strategy. This is a pillar of Wipro’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Employees with disabilities are at the core of designing and delivering Wipro digital services.

Yet, there is always more unfinished business to address.

Even though we applaud the increasing participation of persons with disabilities in policymaking, there are still only eight persons with disabilities for every 1,000 parliamentarians in the region.

On the right to work, three in four persons with disabilities are not employed, while seven in 10 persons with disabilities do not have any form of social protection.

More on this: Podcast: Preventing violence against women and girls with disabilities

This sobering picture points to the need for disability-specific and disability-inclusive policies and their sustained implementation in partnership with women and men with disabilities.

One of the first steps to inclusion is recognising the rights of persons with disabilities. This model focuses on the person and their dignity, aspirations, individuality and value as a human being. As such, government offices, banks and public transportation and spaces must be made accessible for persons with diverse disabilities.

To this end, governments in the region have conducted accessibility audits of government buildings and public transportation stations. Partnerships with the private sector have led to reasonable accommodations at work, promoting employment in a variety of sectors.

Despite the thrust of the Incheon Strategy on data collection and analysis, persons with disabilities still are often left out of official data because the questions that allow for disaggregation are excluded from surveys and accommodations are not made to ensure their participation.

This reflects a continued lack of policy priority and budgetary allocations. To create evidence-based policies, we need reliable and comparable data disaggregated by disability status, sex, and geographic location.

There is hope in the technology leap to 5G in the Asia-Pacific region. The implications for the empowerment of persons are limitless: from digital access, e-health care and assistive devices at affordable prices to remote learning and working, and exercising the right to vote. This is a critical moment to ensure disability-inclusive digitalisation.

We live in a world of volatile change. A disability-inclusive approach to shape this world would benefit everyone, particularly in a rapidly ageing Asia-Pacific region where everyone’s contributions will matter.

As we stand on the precipice of a fourth Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, it remains our duty to insist on a paradigm shift to celebrate diversity and disability inclusion. When we dismantle barriers and persons with disabilities surge ahead, everyone benefits.

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