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Fine Words Butter No Parsnips: It's Not Proper 'Development' If One Billion Disabled People Are Excluded

03/12/2013 15:27 GMT | Updated 02/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Today is International Day for Persons with Disabilities, a day dedicated to promoting the inclusion of disabled people in society and development. It's a perfect day to reflect on how far we have come, and celebrate the successes of disabled people.

But I'm afraid that on a day like today I am all too aware that disabled people are still not included in all aspects of society, and they are still overlooked. To name a few areas: they are underrepresented in international development, schools, and politics. Disabled people make up 1 billion of the world's population, yet 80% of people with disabilities in developing countries live below the poverty line. At least 16 million young people with disabilities do not go to school. There are so many young persons with disabilities around the world who face doors which are locked, and barriers too high to climb alone.

Today a group of young campaigners with disabilities from around the world - have released a report, which we have launched at the UN's headquarters. It focuses on how governments are implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), together with their recommendations for what they think needs to change.

Through Leonard Cheshire Disability Young Voices I have seen what our future could be - how bright, how engaged, how determined - and how much of a difference these young people can make. How terrible would it be if these young people did not realise their potential? If they did not have the opportunities they could have because we did not hear their voice and change the world.

At Leonard Cheshire we are working for change. We are supporting thousands of children with disabilities to go to school, and for their communities to accept and support this.

Over 1,200 Young Voices have campaigned for progress. For example, in Sierra Leone they have made buildings and buses accessible. In China they have improved accessibility at the Forbidden City in Beijing. But they can not do this alone.

We are largely agreed on what we believe must happen. What is important now is how we get there. There have been many fine words spoken at the UN. But as my Grandmother used to say "fine words butter no parsnips". We can't achieve development goals, either now or in the future, if one billion disabled people are not included.

It's not proper development if it's only for non-disabled people.

We must make sure that our fine words become more than just words. Otherwise we will let those young people down. To do that we must be clear about the answers to some rather dull questions. Where is the UN plan for the inclusion of disability in the post-2015 agenda? Who is writing it? When will we see the first draft?

I call upon the UN to confound its critics. To demonstrate that it is no kind of talking shop. But the most practical and grounded international organisation in the world. In short, I call upon the UN to be a role model for inclusion. To demonstrate to the world how you construct an agenda for post-2015 where the interests of disabled people are front and centre. Fully included. As they should be.

And then we will have proper development.

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