In Asia and the Pacific, 750 million men, women and children, accounting for 16 per cent of the total population in the region, live with some form of disability. The number is expected to rise over the next decades owing to a combined effect of population ageing, chronic health conditions, natural disasters, and other factors. Despite this expected increase, persons with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers in their participation in society and are exposed to violations of their human rights. They are often excluded from access to education, decent work, social protection and legal support, and are subject to disproportionately high rates of poverty. Studies show that improved utilization of the productive capacities of persons with disabilities can boost the Asian and Pacific economies and contribute to their gross domestic product to grow by one to seven per cent. Yet, negative stereotyping of persons with disabilities prevents them from exercising their rights and fulfilling their responsibilities as equal members of society. In addition, the dearth of reliable and comparable data on persons with disabilities hampers the design and implementation of disability policies and programmes.
The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is the only Regional Commission of the United Nations that has been promoting the rights of persons with disabilities through the four consecutive regional disability decades that started in 1993. The ongoing Decade, from 2023 to 2032, is guided by the Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023–2032, which was adopted by ESCAP member States at the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Final Review of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022, held in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2022.
In the fourth and current Decade, member States identified six priority areas for accelerated actions to advance goals set forth under the Incheon Strategy to “Make the Right Real” for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific and the Beijing Declaration, including the Action Plan to Accelerate the Implementation of the Incheon Strategy, and in line with in line with the vision and spirit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The six priorities identified in the Jakarta Declaration emphasize the importance of addressing existing and emerging challenges, such as population ageing and climate change, and of capitalizing on opportunities presented by digital transformation and the growth of the private sector in the region to advance disability inclusion. The Declaration also calls for a gender-responsive life cycle approach to enable more effective implementation of the Decade and protection of the rights of diverse groups of persons with disabilities, regardless of their gender, age, form of disability, race, ethnicity, nationality and other identities.
Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023–2032
In our commitment to empower persons with disabilities in the region, ESCAP has developed a three-track approach to disability inclusive development: Promoting regional dialogue and cooperation in support of disability-inclusive development; Generate up-to-date knowledge about disability inclusion in the Asia-Pacific region; Enhancing capacity through technical cooperation and mainstreaming disability through the system-wide efforts of the United Nations. Through these strategic priorities, we aspire to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for persons with disabilities in our region.
1. Promoting regional dialogue and cooperation in support of disability-inclusive development
Subregional, regional and interregional cooperation lies at the center of expediting disability-inclusive development. As such, ESCAP facilitates intergovernmental processes among member States in Asia and the Pacific to foster consensus and identify priorities on the regional frameworks that guide the implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decades of Persons with Disabilities. To support full and effective participation of persons with disabilities, persons with disabilities and their representatives, as well as other stakeholders, are regularly engaged in regional dialogues to take stock of progress made and deliberate on continued and emerging priorities disability inclusion in the Asia-Pacific Region.
In 2022, ESCAP convened the High-level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Final Review of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2013-2022 in Jakarta, bringing together 410 delegates, including 222 delegates from 41 Governments, 153 delegates from 58 civil society organizations and 35 delegates from 13 international organizations. The meeting, hosted by the Government of Indonesia from 19 to 21 October 2022, resulted in the adoption of the transformative Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032.
In addition, ESCAP regularly convenes the Working Group on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities which serves as an advisory body to promote the full and effective implementation of the Decade. The first Working Group was established in the previous Decade, from 2013 to 2022. The Working Group consisted of an equal number of government and civil society members. The nature of membership enabled a multi-stakeholder approach to guiding the implementation of the Decade of 2013-2022. For the current Decade, member States requested to continue to utilize the guidance of the Working Group on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, as appropriate, to support the effective implementation of the Jakarta Declaration. In this context, the ESCAP secretariat is facilitating the formation of the Working Group on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032. Following the conclusion of the nomination of government members, ESCAP has announced a Call for Expression of Interest for CSO Membership of the Working Group on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032. More information can be accessed here.
ESCAP also organizes expert group meetings to harness specialized knowledge and insights from experts, including persons with disabilities, in the field of disability inclusion. In June 2023, ESCAP organized an expert group meeting to generate substantive inputs regarding practical actions that could feed into the ‘Operational Guide on the Implementation of the Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032’. The meeting solicited ideas and suggestions on fostering strategic partnerships and technical collaboration between governments and other critical stakeholders, such as organizations of persons with disabilities, private sector entities and international organizations.
2. Generate up-to-date knowledge about disability inclusion in the Asia-Pacific region
The Disability at a Glance series
The Disability at a Glance series, which started in 2006, serves as a companion for policymakers, statisticians and disability practitioners. The publication series can be accessed here. These publications aim to provide a regional overview of disability policies and practices, as well as relevant country data and information on persons with disabilities. The 2023 edition of the ESCAP Disability at a Glance series focuses on disability-inclusive business. It provides an overview of the status quo and presents data and evidence on the benefits of developing disability-inclusive business. Moreover, it lays out concrete measures, good practices and recommendations for private sector entities, governments, civil society organizations and other stakeholders to mainstream disability perspectives into business value chains.
Papers and Briefs
In addition to the Disability at a Glance series, ESCAP also develops a range of policy papers and briefs aimed at expanding the regional knowledge base on disability inclusion. These knowledge products provide member States and other regional stakeholders with a set of tools to strengthen policy advocacy for the implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decades of Persons with Disabilities based on evidence-based research and analysis. The knowledge products cover a wide range of topics encompassing employment, political participation, disability-inclusive communication, early intervention and inclusive education, gender equality and women’s empowerment, disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction, implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and disability inclusion in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disability at a Glance 2023
3. Enhancing capacity through technical cooperation
Accelerating the implementation of the Incheon Strategy and the Jakarta Declaration
To accelerate the implementation of the Asian and Pacific Decades of Persons with Disabilities, ESCAP provides technical assistance to governments and civil society stakeholders in the region.
To support implementation of the Incheon Strategy to "Make the Rights Real" for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP has assisted Asian and Pacific governments and civil society stakeholders in 1) developing a disability-inclusive national statistical framework for evidence-based policymaking and 2) strengthening national disability policies and programmes through the provision of policy advisory services and capacity-building initiatives.
Recognizing the dearth of disability data in the Asia-Pacific region, ESCAP developed the Incheon Strategy Indicators Database. The database presents disaggregated data and information on the core indicators of the Incheon Strategy, with baseline and end-of-decade data, as well as secondary desk research. Drawing from findings of the final review of the previous Decade from 2013 to 2022, country/territory profiles were created for ESCAP members and associate members in Asia and the Pacific. The database provides policymakers, civil society organizations, development partners and other stakeholders with insights into the current state of disability-inclusive development in the region. It contributes to the progress-tracking of the implementation of the previous Decade, 2013–2022 and inspires evidence-based policymaking during the new Decade, 2023–2032.
ESCAP has also provided technical assistance to several Governments and CSOs in the region to strengthen their capacities to develop evidence-based policies to support the empowerment and participation of persons with disabilities towards the full and effective implementation of the Incheon Strategy. The provision of technical assistance and capacity-building services facilitated the development and implementation of policy initiatives in Bhutan, Lao PDR, India, Maldives, Mongolia and the Philippines, especially in the areas of gender equality, access to justice, physical accessibility, community-based rehabilitation and disability assessment. These efforts enabled steady progress towards the realization of Incheon Strategy goal 3 on accessibility, goal 4 on social protection and health, goal 6 on gender and goal 8 on disability data.
Following the endorsement of the Jakarta Declaration through Commission resolution 79/5 in 2023, ESCAP is supporting member States to implement the Declaration in the ongoing Decade, from 2023 to 2032, and is now in the process of developing an operational guide. The operational guide seeks to outline concrete actions and initiatives in line with the six priority areas, as well as approaches and mechanisms for multistakeholder collaboration in the implementation and progress tracking of the Jakarta Declaration. It will be a living document that is to be periodically reviewed and updated based on evolving contexts in the region throughout the Decade.
Strengthening disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction planning
The Asia-Pacific region is the most adversely affected by disasters. The estimated 750 million persons with disabilities living in the region face disproportionate risk during disasters and emergencies but continue to be excluded from many aspects of services as well as participation at all stages of disaster risk reduction. Goal 7 of the Incheon Strategy focuses on ensuring disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction and management. The midpoint review of the Incheon Strategy revealed that Asian and Pacific Governments had a long way to go in creating enabling policy environments for disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction. In response, ESCAP has been implementing a technical cooperation project, "Facilitating innovative action on gender-responsive disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction policies and programmes in Asia and the Pacific". Through the project ESCAP has developed a model online learning tool to support ESCAP member States in developing and implementing disability-inclusive disaster risk reduction strategies. The tool provides a series of self-paced learning modules to help understand how to design and implement DiRR planning and preparedness strategies that are inclusive for all, including persons with disabilities. The tool is currently being rolled out in Lao PDR, Pakistan, the Philippines and Nepal.
Catalyzing digital inclusion for persons with disabilities
As an integral part of accessibility rights, digital inclusion is enshrined in international and regional frameworks on disability‐inclusive development, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Marrakesh Treaty and the Jakarta Declaration. Despite the strong commitment, a significant digital divide is observed between persons with and without disabilities, exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities and restricting persons with disabilities from accessing healthcare, education, employment, financial services and other essential opportunities. Given the intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination experienced by women and girls with disabilities, they are at an elevated risk of being digitally excluded. In this context, ESCAP is running a technical cooperation project to build the capacities of persons with disabilities and their representative to participate in a digitalized society through supporting the development of accessible digital products and by organizing digital skills training for persons with disabilities. The project is supporting the sharing of good practices and innovative approaches towards realizing the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities.
4. Disability mainstreaming, including the system-wide efforts of the United Nations.
The UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS), launched by the Secretary General in 2019, provides the foundation for sustainable and transformative progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of the work of the United Nations. Through the Strategy, the United Nations system will systematically embed the rights of persons with disabilities into its work, both externally and internally. ESCAP’s Social Development Division (SDD) assumes the role of the UNDIS focal division within ESCAP, provides technical and capacity support to ESCAP Divisions and Units, Sub-regional Offices and Regional Institutions for the implementation of UNDIS, and SDD and coordinates the reporting of ESCAP’s progress on disability inclusion, including preparation of annual reports on UNDIS.
The ESCAP Disability Inclusion Policy builds upon UNDIS, and operationalizes the key commitments of UNDIS to meet the institutional and regional context and needs. It aims to accelerate efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and other international human rights instruments. The policy further supports the achievement of regionally agreed commitments, including the Incheon Strategy to ‘Make the Right Real’ for Persons with Disabilities in Asia and the Pacific, 2013-2022, the Beijing Declaration, including the Action Plan to Accelerate the Implementation of the Incheon Strategy, and the Jakarta Declaration on the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities, 2023-2032.
ESCAP Disability Inclusion Policy