The 15th session of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD (COSP15) took place at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, from 14 to 16 June 2022, during which an election of nine members of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with disabilities was held.
The overarching theme of COSP15 was building disability-inclusive and participatory societies in the COVID context and beyond. COSP15 also focused on discussing the innovation and technology advancing disability rights, economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities as well as the participation of persons with disabilities in climate action, disaster risk reduction and resilience against natural disasters.
During the conference, the representatives from the State Parties to the CRPD as well as NGOs were each given a few minutes to make a statement on behalf of their organisations or country in terms of their priorities under the CRPD, as well as policies and measures they have implemented.
During the general debate EUD President, Sofia Isari, made a statement on the topic of economic empowerment of all persons with disabilities and highlighted that it is fundamentally important to ensure sustainable and inclusive recovery. Ms Isari highlighted that increasing the participation in employment of persons with disabilities is the best way to ensure economic autonomy and social inclusion. However, in Europe, the employment gap between persons with and without disabilities remains high: persons with disabilities have a lower employment rate, are disproportionately affected by unemployment, and leave labour markets earlier. The EUD President emphasised that States Parties to the CRPD must ensure that this gap is closed and strengthen capacities of employment services, promote hiring perspectives through affirmative actions, put efforts in combating stereotypes, ensure reasonable accommodation in and when seeking employment, and meaningfully live up to their obligations under the CRPD Convention. Equal access to the open labour market will not only empower persons with disabilities and unlock their potential and talents but will also be for the benefit of the economy and for the cohesion of society as a whole.
Roundtable 1 – Innovation and technology advancing disability rights
The first Roundtable, on innovation and technology advancing disability rights, was co-chaired by Mr. Sarhad Fatah, Deputy Permanent Representative of Iraq, Vice President of the Conference and Mr. Moses Serwadda Civil Society representative. Presentations were made by a number of speakers from different State Parties, followed by an interactive discussion. The speakers included – firstly, Ms Diana Paola Palma Pardo, from Colombia, mentioned an award-winning communication service they have developed specifically for deaf people to communicate through a sign language interpreter with the caller on the application. Secondly, Mr Meelis Joost, from Estonia, explained that, through their advocacy, they have made it possible for deaf people to watch a broad range of broadcasts via captioning. Thirdly, MEP Ádám Kosa (Fidesz-KDNP, Hungary) made some remarks, offering his perspective from the deaf community, saying that the telephone separated the deaf from the hearing world as they couldn’t use it. However, more than 100 years later, the mobile phone came into existence which offered SMS, and could also be used by the deaf community which enabled them to communicate on an equal footing with others. Mr Kosa also mentioned that now there are interactive chat and video services. Therefore, Mr Kosa stated, we cannot make an inclusive world without innovation and technology innovation. Finally, Mr Alexander Bankole Williams, Chairman of the National Advocacy Committee of the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations (GFD), emphasised the lack of sign language interpreters in Ghana as well as the absence of audio narrative or text-captioning.
Roundtable 2 – Economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities
The second Roundtable on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities, was co-chaired by Ms. Libna Bonilla, Minister Counsellor of Permanent Mission of Guatemala, Vice President of the Conference and Ms. Itto Outini, Civil Society representative. Mr. Dan Rashal, Commissioner for Equal Rights for People with Disabilities, from Israel, highlighted the importance of financial independence, but that there are many challenges with regards to entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities. Mr. Ichiro Kabasawa, Nippon Foundation, Japan, mentioned that the Foundation has provided significant support to deaf and hard of hearing individuals as, over the course of 20 years, they developed a system to provide education in sign language from elementary school through to university in Vietnam. Mr Kabasawa explained that, although there weren’t any deaf students graduating from junior high school in Vietnam when this educational system first began, there are now 33 university graduates who are deaf. They have now expanded this educational system to Philippines and Laos. Further interventions were made by Ms. Sabina Lobato from Spain, Director of Training and Employment, Operations and Transformation, Fundación ONCE, and Mr Josh Wintersgill from the UK, an entrepreneur.
Finally, a representative from the European Union made a statement – the EU has in place the Employment Equality Directive which prohibits discrimination and requires the provision of reasonable accommodation. In addition, the EU supports inclusive entrepreneurship policies through providing support on legal and business matters. There is also the European Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 which reflects the EU’s ambition to ensure inclusive employment and to close the employment gap. The EU is currently working on the Disability Employment Package (the Package) which will be launched in September 2022.
Roundtable 3 – Participation of persons with disabilities in climate
action, disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience against natural disasters:
The third Roundtable was co-chaired by Ms Bogna Ruminowicz, Permanent Mission of Poland, Vice-President of the Conference and Mr. Jose Maria Viera, Civil Society Representative. Mr. Hiroshi Tamon, a deaf attorney from Japan, opened by discussing the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in the event of a natural disaster in his country, such as the difficulty to receive information for support or how to evacuate. Secondly, Mr. Shybe Chalklen, Director of the African Disability Forum, from South Africa, provided some insights as to how persons with disabilities are affected by climate related disaster in South Africa, explaining that they are disproportionately affected by climate change. Mr Shybe Chalklen said that State Parties must ensure that inclusive disaster risk reduction is based on a human rights-based approach, and emphasised the need for disaggregated data throughout the disaster risk reduction planning and policymaking processes.
Following this, Ms Pratima Gurung, General Secretary for Indigenous Persons with Disabilities Global Network and Nepal Indigenous Disabled Association (NIDA), Chair of the National Indigenous Disabled Women Association Nepal (NIDWAN) in Nepal, mentioned that last year, a public telephone service with sign interpretation or transcription was introduced allowing deaf people to make phone calls 24/7. Finally, Ms Mata’afa Fa’atino Utumapu, Nuanua O Le Alofa (NOLA) – DPO in Samoa, stressed that we must ensure that persons with disabilities are included in humanitarian processes and mechanisms. Ms Fa’atino Utumapu also said that NOLA partnered, in May 2020, with the deaf association Samoa, in successfully advocating to include a Sign language interpreter in all national Covid-19 addresses.