August 03, 2018 – The Pacific region is home to approximately 1.7 million persons with disabilities, almost 15 per cent of the total population of our ocean of islands in the Blue Pacific. This is a development issue being addressed collectively at regional level since Pacific Islands Forum Leaders’ adoption of the Pacific Regional Strategy for Disability in 2010, and subsequently the successor, Pacific Framework for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (PFRPD) in 2016.
Attending the first Global Disabilities Summit in London on 23 – 24 July 2018 was a Pacific delegation consisting Government officials form Nauru, Tuvalu and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Pacific Disability Forum and representatives of Disability Persons Organisations from Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. Deputy Secretary General of the Forum Secretariat, Cristelle Pratt, supported the team and said that in adopting the Framework, Forum Leaders called for an inclusive, barrier-free and rights-based society for every Pacific person, in the spirit of the Blue Pacific, which promotes collective action for the good of all.
“Persons with disabilities in the Pacific countries are among the poorest and marginalized members of their communities and face deep levels of stigma and discrimination. Women and girls with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged due to intersecting identities based on gender and disabilities.
A key feature of the PFRPD is its practical focus on the central role of persons with disabilities through their representative organisations, which remains true to the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) being “Nothing about us without us”.
The Summit and the themes it explored are relevant for us in the Pacific and timely as we implement the Framework. This requires stronger partnerships, learning and sustained resources to ensure the Pacific as a region delivers the global Agenda 2030 and the CRPD.”
Ms Pratt further spoke on the dynamics between global and regional frameworks for persons with disabilities in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, emphasising the centrality of people when addressing inequalities, discrimination and exclusion. Pacific Governments have also prioritised empowering persons with disabilities as one of the issues requiring collective attention in the 2017 Roadmap for Sustainable Development.
The PFRPD advocates for the promotion of opportunities through inclusive economic development and decent work, for mainstreaming or ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities are included in development strategies, for establishing and mainstreaming disability rights across all national and local policy and legal frameworks, for nurturing leadership, and for maintaining an enabling environment for strengthened research, statistics and analysis in disability-related issues.
Over the last decade, Pacific Islands Forum leaders have strengthened their commitments to tackle barriers faced by persons with disabilities, with most countries now having ratified the CRPD. To date, most Pacific Islands Forum countries have ratified or acceded to the CRPD.
A 2016 study carried out on the process of CRPD ratification in the region highlighted the key roles of awareness raising, advocacy and mobilization by disabled persons’ organisations (DPOs) in achieving this strong and important metric. A key factor for this progress has been the unique and fruitful regional and multi-stakeholder collaboration between Governments, DPOs, regional and international development agencies and donor partners. In particular, the Government of Australia has been a consistent, invaluable partner for disability-inclusive development in the Pacific.
The Summit revolved around four main themes: Dignity and Respect for all; Inclusion in education; Routes to economic empowerment; and Harnessing technology and innovation. The Summit also covered two cross cutting themes: conflict and humanitarian settings; and women and girls with disabilities.
Chairing the session on technology and innovation, PDF Chief Executive Officer, Mr Setareki Macanawai, emphasised the challenges of accessing assistive technologies, in particular the right assistive technologies to enable persons with disabilities to enjoy their rights and live healthy, productive, independent and dignified lives. Assistive technologies include traditional aids such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and walking sticks, and increasingly digital solutions, such as apps to convert speech to text – utilised by persons with disabilities and older people, and can transform the lives of those who use them.
Mr Macanawai was pleased with the real commitment demonstrated at the Summit to bring about transformational change at a global level in access to assistive technologies.
“Working in partnership between governments, business and civil society, and putting persons with disabilities at the heart of what we do is key. Of course, success will be measured by actions and the impact that these commitments have on the lives of people with disabilities. Today is just the beginning, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable for the commitments made here. For me, it’s committing global and impacting local.”
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