Taking away prejudices and creating awareness about the daily challenges of persons with a disability is the first, crucial step for achieving more inclusive local policies. This is what we advocated for at the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) World Congress in Daejeon, South Korea, last month. Here, we shared our experiences from the We Are Able!-programme with the UN special envoy for Disability and Accessibility, and local government representatives from around the world. And we learned more about different initiatives and tools for local authorities to become more inclusive and accessible.
In Daejeon, The Hague Academy and VNG International joined the largest, most influential world summit of local and regional leaders to lobby for local inclusion and access to services for persons with disabilities. In meetings with representatives from disability organisations like World Blind Union and World Enabled, the UN special envoy and local authorities, we shared experiences from the We Are Able!- programme.
‘We are Able!’ is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented in cooperation with ZOA, the African Disability Forum, See You foundation and the Leprosy Mission in six African countries: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. As part of the programme, VNG International, The Hague Academy and local trainers organise awareness-raising activities for local authorities and other leaders and facilitate dialogues at the local level with citizens with a disability.
Because local officials meet with persons with disabilities personally and engage in role plays, they gain a better understanding of the needs and challenges that they face. Thanks to training, local authorities also learn how they can promote and enforce the rights of persons with disabilities, improve access to local services, create job opportunities and perhaps most importantly, ensure participation and a feeling of belonging in the communities.
Developing a Local Inclusion Agenda
At the UCLG congress, the mayor of Purmerend, Ellen van Selm, shared the concept of the Local Inclusion Agenda of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) and how the concept is adjusted to the local context in the We Are Able!-countries. She also presented some first results of the We Are Able programme: “after two years, municipal staff are already better aware of the challenges for persons with disabilities. They also understand that persons with disabilities are well able to participate in society if they receive some support. This has led to encouraging initiatives.”
Some of these initiatives are the municipality of Buganda in Burundi, which started to employ persons with a disability as tax collectors, and the municipality of Kayogoro, which has made the local market accessible for persons with a disability. Moreover, in a number of municipalities, committees of persons with a disability were already established to discuss wishes and needs with the local authorities on a regular basis.
UN special envoy
The UN Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility, Maria Soledad Cisternas was also present at the Congress to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities. She met with Ellen van Selm to talk about Dutch initiatives, both in The Netherlands and abroad. They also spoke about the need to involve local authorities in the UN Agenda, since the local authorities are closest to the communities where persons with a disability live. As van Selm explained:
“Persons with a disability unfortunately still face many challenges. But if we want to remove barriers, we must focus on raising awareness, not only of the local authorities but also of the community. Our experience has shown that if people better understand the challenges of persons with a disability, their mentality changes and they are willing to help”
Accessibility tools and initiatives
At the UCLG congress in Daejeon, several initiatives and practical tools were shared that support organisations, and local authorities in particular, to make their municipality better accessible and more inclusive for persons with a disability: