Intro: 14th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was held June 15-17 both virtually and in-person at the UN headquarters in New York. Zhang Haidi, president of Rehabilitation International (RI) and chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) delivered a speech during an online roundtable discussion. The importance of independent living for people with disabilities and how to make communities more accessible were discussed.
What major barriers and challenges still prevent people with disabilities from enjoying the right to enjoy independent lives and being included in their communities, including in the current response to COVID-19? And, how can we remove these barriers and solve these challenges?
In order to try and address these issues, representatives of civil society organizations and UN agencies, dedicated to promoting the rights of people with disabilities, participated in a roundtable discussion as part of the 14th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The conference was held June 15-17 both virtually and in-person at the UN headquarters in New York.
Libna Bonilla, vice president of the conference and minister counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the UN, co-chaired the roundtable discussion and began by stating that independent living and community inclusion are essential to the well-being of people with disabilities. However, many experience discrimination and numerous barriers, and face daily challenges that affect their ability to enjoy these rights and freedoms. These problems have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.
As a panelist, Zhang Haidi, president of Rehabilitation International (RI) and chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), expressed her belief that living independently ensures personal space and dignity, but it remains a luxury for those with disabilities.
Zhang advocated the most important way for people with disabilities to live independently is through rehabilitation, which can reshape their lives. It empowers them to sit up, stand up, hear and see, thus regaining an independent life, she added.
She explained that a state-level University of Rehabilitation Sciences is being built in China in the hope of nurturing high-level professionals to provide better rehabilitation services to more people with disabilities.
Zhang also called for greater attention to creating accessible environments, and eliminating barriers, discrimination and prejudice in all its forms to prevent people with disabilities from becoming further isolated, marginalized or at risk of institutionalization during the pandemic.
Only in this way can they be free from embarrassment and a sense of inferiority, live independently with confidence and participate fully, Zhang said.
Economic empowerment is also vital for the development of people with disabilities, according to Zhang, who promoted government’s living allowances for people with disabilities in financial difficulty and nursing care subsidies for those with severe disabilities. She added that only when their basic needs are met, can they seek better development.
Zhang said that it is necessary to have an international cooperation mechanism in the post-pandemic era, so that people can better mobilize resources, coordinate efforts, exchange experiences and share workable models. She also looks forward to innovations in science and technology, which she believes can improve rehabilitation services and change the lifestyle of people with disabilities in all aspects.