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Remarks by Ms. Betty Wabunoha, United Nations Resident Coordinator (a.i) and UNDP Resident Representative:

It is a pleasure to be here this morning to celebrate with you the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 

I would like to start by reading out the UN Secretary General’s message for this International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

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Realizing the rights, agency, and leadership of persons with disabilities will advance our common future. 

We need everyone, including persons with disabilities, on board to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Around the world, persons with disabilities and their representative organizations are taking action to realize the call: ‘Nothing about us, without us’. 

COVID-19 has laid bare the persistent barriers and inequalities faced by the world’s 1 billion persons with disabilities, who have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

A disability-inclusive pandemic response and recovery should be guided by persons with disabilities themselves, forge partnerships, tackle injustice and discrimination, expand access to technology and strengthen institutions to create a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

I urge all countries to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, increase accessibility, and dismantle legal, social, economic and other barriers with the active involvement of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us commit to build a sustainable, inclusive and just future for everyone, leaving no one behind.

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The United Nations stands in solidarity with the Kingdom of Lesotho, including with persons with disabilities. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt by everyone, everywhere. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, persons with disabilities were subject to marginalisation; were more likely to live in poverty and experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse. The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded this situation with millions of people losing their jobs and livelihoods. Indeed, many persons with disabilities have specific underlying conditions that make the disease more dangerous for them. For certain groups like women and girls with disabilities, their vulnerability to gender-based violence is even greater.

Whilst remote learning solutions have enabled many learners to maintain some access to education during school closures, remote learning solutions are simply not accessible to many learners with disabilities.  Those with hearing impairments do not benefit from lessons via radio, whilst those with visual impairments require expensive specialized learning resources which are out of reach for many learners with disabilities.

The closure of some healthcare centres, or restrictions on services offered, also disproportionately impact persons with disabilities.  Further, the increased level of stigmatisation during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the mental health and access to healthcare for persons with disabilities.

I am heartened to note that since 2008 when Lesotho ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Government and organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) have collaborated each year to commemorate this day.    

The strong partnership between the Government of Lesotho and organizations of persons with disabilities affirms Lesotho’s commitment to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.  This commitment directly contributes towards raising awareness of the circumstances surrounding persons with disabilities for inclusive and accessible national programmes and policies, recognizing the contributions of all people including persons with disability.

This year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities  theme is: “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”.

The theme highlights the importance of including persons with disabilities in the COVID19 response and recovery, and in resilience-building policies and practices.  Therefore, as the country recovers from the pandemic, crucially, people with disabilities must be able to take a significant role on equal basis  in national  efforts to build forward better. We must remember that  by leaving some behind we may not be able to move forward.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the United Nations we are acutely aware of this impact of COVID 19 on people’s livelihoods and are supporting the Government and the people of Lesotho to address the related challenges. The UN is driving progress on disability inclusion through all pillars of its work: Peace and security, human rights and development.

In 2020, the UN Secretary General launched the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy. The strategy is the UN’s commitment to transformative and lasting change, to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind.  In implementing the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, the UN system in Lesotho has supported organizations of persons with disabilities to develop issue papers and communication materials for national policymakers and programmers on how to include persons with disabilities in the COVID-19 response and recovery. 

The communications materials developed thus far have focused on ensuring that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the health, education and social protection responses to the pandemic.  All of the materials focus on the unique needs of persons with disabilities and recommend that persons with disabilities are consulted when designing national packages to prevent the risk of them being left behind.  It is our hope that the communications materials have supported our partners on how to better include persons with disabilities in their programming.  

I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the Government of Lesotho for the enactment of the 2021 Persons with Disabilities Equity Act. This is an important milestone since the country ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

The Persons with Disabilities Equity Act, if well implemented, will make a substantial difference to the living conditions of persons with disabilities in Lesotho.  The Act promotes the participation of persons with disabilities in development processes and equal access to national services, including access to the disability grant.

In closing, I wish to reaffirm that, the United Nations will continue to advance disability inclusion across all aspects of our programming and operations in support of the National Strategic Development Plan and development priorities of the Kingdom of Lesotho.

I thank you.

Khotso Pula Nala

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