In an address to the 182 countries party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UN chief António Guterres called for a “greater inclusion” of people with disabilities, a goal that can only be achieved by dismantling ableist structures and tackling discrimination aimed at this population segment.

“Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is crucial to fulfilling the core promise of the 2030 Agenda: to leave no one behind,” he said Monday.

“In all our actions, our goal is clear: a world in which all persons can enjoy equal opportunities, participate in decision-making, and truly benefit from economic, social, political and, cultural life. That is a goal worth fighting for.” 

The session took place ahead of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which happens each year on December 3. But COVID-19 has switched up the 2020 format, with some participants attending online.

Guterres acknowledged the pandemic has “deepened pre-existing inequalities,” adding disabled individuals are less likely to have inclusive access to education, healthcare, and jobs, and to be included in their communities, even prior to COVID-19. 

“While I celebrate that there now 182 parties to the Convention, the pandemic has made evident that there is still a long way to go in fully understanding the human rights model of disability enshrined in the Convention, and therefore in fully implementing its provisions,” Danlami Umaru Basharu, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said in a video statement, expressing concerns that structural barriers and exclusion against disabled individuals have “worsened” in recent months.

The statements echo those made by Guterres in May, when the Secretary-General released a policy brief highlighting how COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the world’s approximately 1 billion disabled individuals.


Guterres is calling for a more inclusive approach to pandemic recovery — an increasingly growing concern as some countries enter their second waves of virus spread.

“We must also ensure that the vision and aspirations of persons with disabilities are included and accounted for in a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world,” he said. 


The UN’s repeated calls for disability inclusion help bring visibility to a group often ignored in disability, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.  A 2017 survey, for example, suggests only 12 per cent of companies include disability in their diversity and inclusion efforts — although it’s unclear if that number has risen in recent months, given the recent overall push towards more DEI in professional spaces.

Approximately 15 per cent of the population — or 1 in 7 people — live with some form of disability. And while a large portion of this group can work, it remains an underemployed segment.

In the European Union, about 60 per cent of disabled people are employed, compared to 82 per cent of the general population, the World Economic Forum says.

In the U.S., the stat is 37 per cent compared to 77 per cent, and an estimated 645,000 Canadians who are living with disabilities are unable to find work, despite being qualified to do so.

Workers with disabilities tend to earn less than their non-disabled colleagues. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one can be attributed to employer reluctance to create accommodating spaces. This can prevent disabled employees from taking part in career-building workshops, training sessions, and travel opportunities.

In 2019, Guterres announced the launch of a UN-wide Disability Inclusion Strategy, designed to create “lasting change,” both within the UN and globally.

The strategy reflects how the UN is striving to lead by example, he added, and that the organization “wants to be an employer of choice for persons with disabilities.” 

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