Last week I attended the French EU Presidency Ministerial Conference in Paris on the theme of European Action towards Persons with Disabilities, where I was a speaker during a session on accessibility and mobility. The conference, which discussed the adoption of the EU Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030, brought together the ministers responsible for disability issues of the 27 Member States as well as representatives of civil society.
While preparing my speech, on how we can improve accessibility and access to rights for persons with disabilities, my mind kept turning toward Ukraine and the horrors its people are living through at this time. The speech suddenly seemed rather irrelevant in the face of such an obstacle. And lately, we don’t seem short of obstacles.
We are facing a climate crisis that already has caused fire and flood, hunger, and migrations.
We are facing an energy crisis.
We are still facing the effects of the pandemic.
We are still facing massive inequality – both material and in access to fundamental human rights.
Yet, we must not be deterred by what at times seems to be insurmountable obstacles. Instead, we must see these obstacles as an urgent reminder that we need to lay a new foundation, where all have the chance to live, to be part of a society, to have access to education, health facilities, and job opportunities.
What is happening in Ukraine underlines the importance of the implementation of the strategy. We see that our humanitarian efforts too often leave persons with disabilities behind, unable to flee, unable to access medicine or medical supplies, unable to access shelters or help – deprived of the most basic things you need to survive.
Therefore, it is more vital than ever that we join forces. That we create the necessary change. That we keep laying the foundation for a world where we all, no matter disability, gender, or race, have a fair chance of a future. But if we are to ensure a diverse, inclusive, and sustainable future for all, we need to ensure a seat at the table for persons with disabilities, women, and other marginalized groups.