Beijing Declaration on Disabled Persons in the New Millennium

This editorial by Richard Light, Research & Publications Director of Disability Awareness in Action first presents the content of a resolution taken at the World NGO Summit on Disability in Beijing regarding an international convention on the rights of all disabled people. He then goes on to decry the number of expert conferences, special programmes and political initiatives that have failed to yield real progress with regard to action on discrimination against people with disabilities. Internet publication URL:

On the 12 of March 2000, the World NGO Summit on Disability, in Beijing, People's Republic of China, adopted a resolution regarding an international convention on the rights of all disabled people.

The full text of the Resolution follows:

We, the leaders of Disabled Peoples' International, Inclusion International, Rehabilitation International, the World Blind Union, and the World Federation of the Deaf, as well as national non-governmental organizations (NGO's) of and for people with disabilities from all continents, have convened in Beijing from 10 - 12 March 2000 to develop a new-century strategy for the full participation and equality of people with disabilities.

We recognize, with appreciation, that the last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed and increased awareness of issues faced by over 600 million people with disabilities, assisted in part by various United Nations instruments.

We expressed deep concern, that such instruments and mandates have yet to create a significant impact on improving the lives of people with disabilities, especially women and girls with disabilities, who remain the most invisible and marginalized of all disadvantaged social groups.

We emphasize, that the continued exclusion of people with disabilities from the mainstream development process is a violation of fundamental rights and an indictment of humankind at the inception of the new century.

We share the conviction, that the full inclusion of people with disabilities in society requires our solidarity in working towards an international convention that legally binds nations, to reinforce the moral authority of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.

We believe, that the inception of the new century is an opportune time for people with diverse disabilities and their organizations, and other civic organizations, local and national governments, members of the United Nations system and other inter-governmental bodies, as well as the private sector, to collaborate closely in an inclusive and wide consultative process aimed at the development and adoption of an international convention to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities, and enhance equal opportunities for participation in mainstream society.

We therefore urge, all heads of state and government, public administrators, local authorities, members of the United Nations system, people with disabilities, civic organizations that participate in the development process, and socially responsible private sector organizations, to immediately initiate the process for an international convention, including by raising it in all forthcoming international forums, especially the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Social Development, the NGO Millennium Forum, the United Nations Millennium General Assembly and Summit and related preparatory meetings.

We further urge all participants in this process to actively facilitate the adoption of such a convention, which should address, inter alia, the following areas of priority concerns:

(a) Improvement of the overall quality of life of people with disabilities, and their elevation from deprivation, hardship and poverty.

(b) Education, training, remunerative work, and participation in decision- making process levels.

(c) Elimination of discriminatory attitudes and practices, as well as information, legal and infrastructure barriers.

(d) Increased allocations of resources to ensure the equal participation of people with disabilities.

We hereby, send out a call to action, to all concerned with equality and human dignity, to join together in widespread efforts embracing capitals, towns and cities, remote villages, and the United Nations forums, to ensure the adoption of an international convention on the rights of all people with disabilities, and

We commit our respective organizations to strive for a legally binding international convention on the rights of all people with disabilities to full participation and equality in society.

Adopted on the 12 of March 2000 at the World NGO Summit on Disability, Beijing, People's Republic of China.


The Resolution passed at the World NGO Summit on Disability, and the UN Special Rapporteur's Final Report on the second period of monitoring both spell out the need for government's to exchange rhetoric for action.

With a few notable exceptions, whilst politician's are quick to make supportive - or perhaps more accurately, sympathetic -noises about the situation of disabled people, the results usually serve to remind us of an old cliché: talk is cheap.

The demand from disabled people to become equal members of society has been voiced consistently and increasingly loudly for at least two decades. The same period has seen the world economy continue on its usual boom and bust cycle, globalisation and the apparent triumph of capitalism; despite these dramatic changes, we have still yet to find the 'right' circumstances for legal acknowledgement of our fundamental human rights.

It is sobering to consider the number of expert conferences, special programmes and political initiatives that have sought to address the 'problem of disability'. The one obvious area of success has been a dramatic increase in the number of 'experts' 'needed' to resolve the 'problems' of disability.

Disability continues to be considered in isolation - the most 'special' of 'special needs' - ensuring that any policy that isn't primarily about 'special needs' is developed as if disability didn't exist. Billions of dollars have been spent around the world 'improving' mass transportation, housing, welfare, access to employment... and disability, if considered at all, remains something tacked on to the end of mainstream projects.

Despite the time and publicity that accompanies efforts to pass anti-discrimination legislation-and the usually generous period for entities to make the necessary changes before the law comes into effect-there are always 'unavoidable' economic reasons for allowing discrimination to continue.

Quite apart from the overwhelming economic 'problems' that prevent effective protection for our civil rights, we are also warned of the demographic time-bomb that ensures that those people in work are subsidising the welfare of increasing numbers of people out of work. Rather than respond to disabled people's plea for effective civil rights and the removal of barriers, government's have reacted to the welfare 'time-bomb' by removing more and more people from welfare eligibility. Face it folks-disabled people are just an unwelcome expense!

I would love to see some of the fine words translated into action, but I am not going to hold my breath waiting for it. I realise that in some people's eyes this makes me ungrateful, cynical, negative and uppity - but I can cope with that. What I am less able to cope with is another two decades of empty rhetoric.

Richard Light
Research & Publications Director
Disability Awareness in Action
11 Belgrave Road
London SW1V 1RB
United Kingdom