A decade of awareness

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities is approaching, and it’s an opportunity to see what’s been done and what’s still required

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution 47/3. It aims to promote an understanding of disability rights and mobilise support for the dignity, rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Zain Bulbulia representing South African people with disabilities at the United Nations headquarters in New York, during the session on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

South Africa joined the family of nations by observing and celebrating this day as the national day of persons with disabilities in 1997.

Friday Mavuso was one of the founding members of Disabled People South Africa (DPSA). The slogan “Nothing about us, without us” was born and used throughout the world. It is this slogan that is engraved on the pen that Mr Kofi Annan used to sign the declaration on disability at the United Nations.

The theme this year is “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want”, which notes the recent adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year’s objectives include an assessment of the current status of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and SDGs and laying the foundation for future of greater inclusion for people with disabilities.

The observation of the 2016 IDPD coincides with the 10th year anniversary of the adoption of the CRPD, one of the most swiftly and widely ratified international treaties established by the UN. South Africa was among the first 10 countries to sign the CRPD. In addition, this year’s IDPD will pay special attention to issues concerning accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities in the context of urban development.

Considerable progress has been made in improving the lives of people with disabilities in many areas, including participation in democratic governance, access to quality education and skills development, health care and increased participation in the economy. However, unemployment, poverty and inequality, as well as social ills such as crime and substance abuse, continue to have a negative impact.

While the status of women in South Africa has improved considerably since 1994, efforts should be focused on the advancement of women with disabilities. Against this backdrop, the key objectives of the activities marking this anniversary should be to:

  • Draw attention to the IDPD and to honour disability activists.
  • Harness the energies of people with disabilities as active participants in South Africa’s development.
  • Inculcate a spirit of active citizenship through a civic-education campaign emphasising the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities.
  • Demonstrate commitment by, for example, profiling progress made in disability development since 1994 and facilitating access to services and development opportunities in the public and private sectors.

These objectives can be achieved – it requires application and a clear idea of the outcomes that are hoped for.


Zain Bulbulia led the South African government delegation team to the United Nations (UN), New York, for the ratification and signing of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability. He is currently the acting head for gender, youth and disability in the planning commission of the Premier of Gauteng. email: zain.bulbulia@gauteng.gov.za

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