The Simon Heng column

I often feel lucky, as a disabled person, to be living in a country that can afford the support and equipment that I need to take an active part in society. Where spending on bobbly pavements near road crossings (for people with visual impairments) and dropped kerbs (for wheelchairs) is expected, and where Ryanair makes the headlines for daring to charge for the use of a wheelchair. I know I am lucky to live in one of the 45 countries in the world which has legislated for equality for disabled people.

Of the 650 million people who have an impairment, 80 per cent live in the developing world. If they are not forced to live in
institutions, where human rights are routinely ignored, many of the world’s disabled people rely on the goodwill of their  neighbours to survive, and begging is the only lifestyle alternative to starvation.

In war and natural disasters, when the number of disabled people rises, even rich countries fail their disabled citizens. The US government has been criticised for its lack of consideration for the disabled victims of Hurricane Katrina last year, both during and after the crisis.

All of this is highlighted by the ratification of the United Nations convention on the rights of disabled people. This agreement sets out the areas that countries need to address in order to combat discrimination and promote equality, from the right to own property, raise children, education and health care, to inclusion in sport, cultural life and leisure.

Will this instantly bring equality to all of the disabled people in the world? Of course not. Disability equality legislation hasn’t even done that in this country yet, for all of the advantages I mentioned. What everyone hopes is that the UN convention, like UK disability legislation, will be a benchmark, a series of expectations by which a nation will be judged and by which its citizens
will judge it.

Additionally, it is to be hoped it will legitimise political protest against inequality. China, for example, might stop locking up disabled people for campaigning for equal rights. 

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