October 21, 2021

Achieving more by working together – remarks on Virtual Briefing of the Permanent Mission of State Parties to the CRPD

On the 21st of October 2021 the Permanent Mission of Denmark to the UN in New York had invited all Permanent Mission of State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to a Virtual Briefing with me as the Danish CRPD Candidate.

By way of invitation, the Permanent Mission of Denmark published the following statement from me:

“Throughout the world, the pandemic has shown us how far we are from the vision of the CRPD. During lockdown, people have been isolated in institutions or at home as services have changed. The employment gap of those with and without disability has risen. And those who cannot use all the new digital solutions are truly left behind.

Too often, the needs of persons with disabilities have come as an afterthought to the emergency plans, whether the emergency is the pandemic, the economy or the climate crisis.

We need to get back to basics and secure the foundation if we are to build back better and achieve the vision of the CRPD – and the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to Leave No One Behind.

We have a golden opportunity to change how we do things, if we recognize that we develop the best solutions together and secure a seat at the table for persons with disabilities.”

Persons with disabilities should be fully included in society. Having the opportunity to live fulfilling lives, with the same rights and opportunities as others.

We need to secure the following 3 elements:

1 Persons with disabilities and their organizations must have a seat at the table

2 Accessibility is a prerequisite for equal access

3 To achieve equality – we need to pay attention to the differences

These were the remarks I made on the briefing:

“My name is Sif Holst, I am the Danish nominee for the CRPD Committee, and I am a woman with a rare physical disability. I am also a board member of the Danish Institute of Human Rights, vice-chair of the Disabled Peoples Organizations Denmark and a disability rights advocate.

I have previously worked as a development consultant working together with youth with disabilities in Ghana and Uganda establishing and strengthening disability organizations and now, I am the chair DPODs grant committee for the program of development work.

Since 2013 I have been first an Alternate and now a member of the European Economic and Social Committee and worked on a Nordic level in an umbrella with the other Nordic disability organizations and in the Disability Council of the Nordic Council, where we disability organizations, disability researchers and government representatives work together to gather more knowledge and new solutions to fulfill the ambition of the CRPD.

I believe in achieving more by working together. Besides the work mentioned, I serve on several boards and committees. Creating new opportunities in the labour market together with employers and labour unions. Creating a new understanding of accessibility and Universal Design, with future architects, engineers and designers. Working with different health authorities to make a more equal health system.

This is how I have worked for many years, and I still believe it is how we can make the necessary change.

But we also need to acknowledge the impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It has been a worldwide emergency, which has affected us all, though in different ways. Often, we have thought of persons with disabilities as at-risk groups. And many are. But persons with disabilities have also been affected by the changed priorities of the health systems, for example with the postponement of non-emergency operations and rehabilitations. There has been temporary and permanent changes to the social systems, changes in transportation systems, lock-down of private enterprises, a challenged education system and an increased employment gap between persons with and those without a disability.

Our societies had to act, to make quick decisions and at least some of cost was known. But too often, the needs of persons with disabilities have come as an afterthought to the emergency plans.

Unfortunately, the pandemic is not going to be the last crises, we need to deal with, the climate and the economy will affect us in the coming years.

And that is why it is even more important what we need to learn from the lessons of the pandemic. If persons with their disabilities and their organizations aren’t at the table, if there is no communication, we will make decision after decision that exclude persons with disabilities. Not on purpose, of course, but because we tend to design our societies, the decisions we make, to fit our understanding.

By inviting the disability organisations, we get input on how we with some consideration can make our plans to include instead of exclude. And if we, do it the right way, we can make a difference, not only for persons with disabilities, but also for others who might need something more.

It is the same when we work with accessibility. As a wheelchair user I might need a ramp, but if we work with Universal Design, we create something new, which will be good for me, but also for the parent with the baby stroller, the elderly person who is less mobile or the worker worn down by a heavy workload. And with that access we can make a more inclusive society.

We need to get back to basics and secure the foundation if we are to build back better and achieve the vision of the CRPD – and the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to Leave No One Behind.

We need to remember, that if we want to create greater equality in our societies, we need to pay attention to our differences, to the intersectionality. That some women struggle with the discrimination we meet as women, but also with the barriers we meet as a person with disabilities. That migrants with a disability are among the most vulnerable.

We made a promise with the disability convention and some years ago, we also made a promise with the sustainable development goals. If we do things right, if we get back to basics and learn from the lessons of the pandemic, we can make a change that will benefit our societies as a whole.“

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