“You really do have to ask, is it the impairment that is a making a person disabled or is it society?”
International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Andrew Parsons has called on institutions around the world to do more to empower and respect the human rights of persons with a disability.
Speaking at the opening of the United Nations Human Rights Council Social Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday (1 October), to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Parsons highlighted how sport is one of the best vehicles for promoting human rights.
“The practice of sport is itself a human right and it is sport that has a unique unifying power to attract and inspire, bringing together and empowering people of all backgrounds free from discrimination,” explained Parsons who used his address to question the stigma still attached to disability.
“Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. If this is the case, then why are people with disabilities still among the most marginalised groups in the world?
“There are more than one billion people on this planet who have some form of disability. Despite this figure, many people with disabilities are still being denied their fundamental human rights. This is leading to poorer health outcomes, lower education achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.
“You really do have to ask, is it the impairment that is a making a person disabled or is it society?
“Going forward, we must empower people living with disabilities and remove the barriers which prevent them participating in their communities; getting a quality education, finding decent work, and having their voices heard.
“The IPC can help contribute to these goals by broadening the impact the Paralympic Games have on society.
“The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, can also play its part reaffirming that all persons with all types of disabilities must enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“But the onus also has to be on governments, non-governmental organisations, professionals and people with disabilities and their families working together in order to secure a better future for all. Working together, we can do more to make for a more inclusive world where everyone has an opportunity to fulfil their full potential. We really can transform lives and transform society.”
During his keynote Parsons talked about the success of the Paralympic Games and how, since the first Games in 1960, the event has transformed the lives of millions of people around the world.
“Today the Paralympics attract thousands of athletes, are watched by millions of spectators and billions of TV viewers. It is now the world’s number one sport event for driving social inclusion,” said Parsons.
“Such global coverage of Para sport has helped turn stereotypes of disability on their head – portraying individuals with disabilities as mobile, empowered, and capable. After London 2012, one in three people in Great Britain said they had changed their attitudes towards people with a disability after watching the Paralympians in action.
“As a result of the Paralympic Movement, countless people with a disability now enjoy better lives, playing active roles in society. This is especially true in cities that have hosted the Games, because not only have perceptions changed due to the sport but so has the infrastructure which has been developed with accessibility and inclusion at front of mind.”
President Parsons also spoke of the IPC’s ambitions to increase the geographical spread of participants competing at the Paralympic Games, especially from Africa, and the organisation’s future aspirations.
“The IPC’s vision for more than a decade has been to enable Para athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world. We want to go further. By working with the United Nations, International Olympic Committee, and other disability groups we really do want to change the world through sport.”
The Social Forum is an annual three-day meeting convened by the Human Rights Council. This year it focuses on “the possibilities of using sport and the Olympic ideal to promote human rights for all and to strengthen universal respect for them.”
In addition to President Parsons’ keynote on Monday, IPC Governing Board member Juan Pablo Salazar took part in a session titled “’Born Free and Equal in Dignity and Right: Sports, Human Solidarity and Universal Values for All Humanity.”
On Wednesday, IPC Education Committee member Miki Matheson, a three-time Paralympic champion, will speak on the subject of “Youth, Children and Future Generations.”