ESCAP hosts ASEAN countries to discuss means to empower disabled persons

As the Asian and Pacific region struggles to sustain its dynamism in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the estimated 400 million disabled persons living in the region are emerging as a force for change, including for their still mostly untapped consumer power.

The potential for the business sector to embrace the rights and concerns of persons with disabilities was a key focus of a regional meeting on South-to-South Cooperation on Disability held on 19 and 20 August at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Over 60 participants, including senior officials from 10 ASEAN countries, representatives of the business sector and disabled people’s organizations explored ways in which business development plans and employment practices could become more inclusive, recognizing that persons with disabilities are generally an untapped consumer market.

“Many of the 400 million or so persons with disabilities in the region live in rural and isolated areas in conditions of abject poverty, encountering deep and persistent barriers”, noted Ms. Nanda Krairiksh, Director, Social Development Division of ESCAP. “Viewing them as contributors to our region’s economic dynamism, as entrepreneurs, employees or an emerging market segment enhances everyone’s prospects for prosperity”, she said.

The Meeting was organized by ESCAP and the Asia-Pacific Development Centre on Disability (APCD), in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

It reviewed the implementation of the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action -- a regional plan for a barrier-free and rights-based society for persons with disabilities, in particular concerning community-based inclusive development. It discussed the feasibility of an ASEAN mechanism to facilitate the movement of persons with disabilities.

“We are focusing on the ASEAN subregion to develop a mechanism to enhance legislation and policies related to equal opportunities and inclusive development for persons with disabilities”, commented Tanin Kraivixien, President, APDC Foundation. He continued: “But this Meeting is epoch-making since the business sector has also been invited to promote socially inclusive business development”.

The Meeting unanimously adopted the Bangkok Statement on South-to-South Cooperation on Disability [link] which urges “leadership development of persons with disabilities”, “promotion of community inclusive and gender-sensitive development” and “promotion of socially inclusive business development” as strategic priorities for the next regional decade on disability.

Initiated in 2003, the Second Asia-Pacific Decade for Disabled Persons will conclude in 2012. The Bangkok Statement recommended that Governments of Asia and the Pacific should proclaim a new regional decade on disability starting from 2013.

“Today, the vision, mission, goals and strategies pertaining to our work on disability and for the benefit of persons with disabilities are all becoming clearer,” noted Mr. Akiie Ninomiya, Executive Director, APCD, at the closing session.