“Let us work together for the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in an inclusive and sustainable world that embraces humanity in all its diversity.” – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Every year, December 3rd is recognized by the UN as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities re-affirming and drawing attention to the rights of people who live with disabilities. This years theme relates to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – “Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want” highlighting the role each and everyone of these goals plays in building a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities around the globe.
Today more than one billion people or approximately 15% of the world’s population live with some form of disability. Furthermore it has been shown that when barriers to inclusion for those living with disabilities are removed all community members benefit. This concept brings light to the importance of focusing on one’s abilities, rather than one’s limitations. This outlook of focusing on one’s strengths can be seen through many initiatives, especially that of sport. Easterseals Canada focuses on seeing the ability within the disability. They offer summer camp programs across the nation, along with various sport and social opportunities. Their organization also provides opportunities for individuals to continue seeing and believing in their own abilities such as Paralympic athlete, Jason Crone.
In 2015 Marisa Hamamoto launched Infinite Flow, a professional wheelchair dance company that aims to change perceptions on disability and focuses on showing what inclusion in dance and everyday life can look like. Having experienced her own challenges with becoming paralyzed while dancing and eventually regaining full movement, Hamamoto “saw there was an underserved population with people with disabilities.” She focuses on fostering inclusion and social connectedness through dance and innovation as a way of advocating for those excluded from living up to their full potential as productive, creative individuals. Hamamoto states, “I think we can create a better world through accepting and celebrating each other’s differences.” Stopgap Dance Company in the United Kingdom has a similar vision of integrating individuals with disabilities and able-bodied people through the art of dance. Their work is created for the widest possible audience with the goal of “shifting perceptions about difference and inspiring everyone to achieve their potential.”
Michelle Woolfrey, who lost her vision at the age of 16 is another advocate and community leader for disability rights and acceptance. Woolfrey speaks to the importance of creating respectful conversations between able-bodied people and people living with disabilities. She states that, “Disability is still sort of a taboo topic, it’s something that doesn’t get talked about very openly. [This lack of conversation] is something that is a roadblock to social connectedness.” She stresses that safer spaces for those living with disabilities can be created through respectful communication and empowerment. These conversations and ability to ask questions can create the opportunity to learn from one another and bridge the gaps that lead to social isolation.
This concept of working together to learn from one another is demonstrated around the globe by the Special Olympics program Unified Sports, an inclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities). Sports are seen as an avenue through which individuals with disabilities can be treated equally, allowing the opportunity to build self-esteem and confidence that enhances one’s participation in everyday life. By focusing on one’s abilities and working as a team, sports can cultivate a sense of community that allows everyone involved to feel connected to one another.
As we move forward in our journey to accomplishing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it is important to remember we all have a part to play in building an inclusive and equitable world. We must focus on our abilities rather than our limitations, putting emphasis on working together and creating opportunities for respectful communication in order to learn from one another. On this day and everyday, what will you do to help foster greater social connectedness to create an inclusive environment for all?