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People with disabilities – who account for 15 per cent of the world’s population (over a billion people) – are a part of every society. They may face social, economic and cultural barriers limiting their access to full and effective participation in a society, including economic development, education, employment and health services.
Actually it is these barriers, rather than the physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which disable people, and can lead to poverty and disempowerment. An estimated one-in-five people living in poverty in developing countries have some form of disability.
At the same time, people with disabilities are a part of everyday life, contributing significantly to the diversity and capacity of communities around the world. They are as entitled to respect, dignity and human rights as every other person. The removal of these barriers is essential.
For the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement contributing to the social inclusion of people with disability is a priority, as reaffirmed in last month’s statutory meetings in Sydney, where 189 National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, as well as the IFRC and ICRC, came together to take strategic decisions for action.
A central pillar in the Movement’s work on the social inclusion of people with disability is the principle of ‘nothing about us without us’. In other words, people with disabilities must be central to all decisions and at all levels in our activities on this issue, and we must focus on strengthening their sense of belonging to and being valued by their community.
In the Cambodian Red Cross Society, youth and volunteers are including people with disabilities in the forefront of their activities on road safety. They are encouraging young people with disabilities to be peer educators in their campaigns to prevent accidents and the potential disabilities that may result.
Also key to the Red Cross Red Crescent mandate is to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are met in situations of risk, armed conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters. They must not be seen as only beneficiaries or affected people. They are also – and must be profiled as – important contributors to building resilience of their community. In the Colombian Red Cross Society’s Tolima branch, for instance, blind and deaf people have become Red Cross volunteers after being trained on first aid. The Australian Red Cross trains on emergency preparedness for people with a disability, their families and carers.
In addition, the Movement seeks to change mindsets, attitudes and behavior in society, breaking myths and stereotypes and building a culture of respect for diversity and social inclusion, rather than stigmatization and exclusion. As their auxiliary in the humanitarian field, National Societies, such as the Viet Nam Red Cross Society or the Red Crescent Society of the Islamic Republic of Iran, work closely with public authorities to remove legal and policy barriers for people with disabilities and to actively implement the 2006 Convention on Rights of People with Disability.
Finally, Red Cross Red Crescent youth are a powerful driving force, and through behavioural change initiatives, such as Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change (YABC), youth volunteers have been able to raise awareness with young people on the needs, rights and aspirations of people with disabilities in schools, for instance in France, or engage in joint sporting activities involving people with intellectual disability in Lebanon, as part of our partnership with the Special Olympics.