Leave No One Behind

"The time has come for us to take action." --Mr. Macharia Kamau, President of the Sixth Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Ambassador of Kenya

Did you know that 15% of the world's population, an estimated 1 billion people, are currently living with a disability? That qualifies for people with disabilities to be one of the most vulnerable groups in the entire world. Despite this statistic, we have international movers and shakers who are implementing better access to employment, education, sport and recreation, standard of living and empowerment for people with disabilities. Last week, I had the honor to observe their findings at the Sixth Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at United Nations Headquarters. Here is what I found.

The primary goal for this year's Conference was to ensure an adequate standard of living, empowerment and participation for people with disabilities. State Parties who have signed and ratified the Convention had the opportunity to express their improvements regarding employment, standard of living, and providing accessible and inclusive infrastructure. For instance, Barbados, a country that ratified the Convention in February of 2013, celebrates the Month of the Disabled every March, established a sign language program and created the National Disabilities Unit. Another country meeting the Convention standards is Honduras as they are providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and created 100 households abiding by accessible standards within one year. Yes, there are more challenges and disability barriers to address, but we cannot forget that with collective effort, we are making global improvements.

As a young person with a disability, I enjoyed learning innovative ideas regarding infrastructure and accessibility. I also had the opportunity to learn about The Most Inclusive Office Building in the World by founder Stig Langvad, Chairman of Disabled Peoples Organizations Denmark and expert member of The Committee under the UN CRPD. Langavd's main message is to provide human dignity and self worth through accessible infrastructure. With his design, Langvad proved that accessibility for all disabilities is not only possible, but affordable. It is people like Langvad that I came across everyday at the United Nations who are redefining society's expectations on people with disabilities. It is people like Langvad who are leaving no one behind.

Regardless that 156 countries have signed the Convention and 133 have ratified the document, our disability leaders know that ratification is not enough. We need to change societal attitudes. As I've said before, the person is not disabled. Despite apparent limitations, let me remind you that everyone has limitations. Society disables the person in the physical and social realm from infrastructure to social interactions.

Every individual living today has a set of basic human rights, including people with disabilities. It is the mission of the Convention and disability leaders, like myself, to make the rights for people with disabilities respected by communities, governments and legislation.

My hope is for the world to treat people with disabilities as equal contributors to their communities. We can start by looking each other in the eye as humans with shared experiences instead of differences. We can treat each other with respect and dignity deserved, including those with disabilities.

We are making progress, but there is more to do. People with disabilities have a voice, and with the Convention and global efforts, it is time act and leave no one behind.