By: Mark Leon Goldberg on December 02, 2009 From the UN Information Center: Singer/songwriter legend Stevie Wonder is joining the United Nations as one of its 10 Messengers of Peace to lend his talents to this work. It is the latest move in a long career of writing, producing and performing songs to highlight challenges many children and adults face – from disabilities, to HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, hunger, homelessness and domestic abuse. “Our newest Messenger of Peace is someone who is admired by millions of people and has given back to millions of people,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said ahead of Mr. Wonder’s official designation at a news conference on Thursday. Without the broader participation of people with disabilities in development initiatives, prospects are dim for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. If they can overcome the challenges that keep disproportionate numbers of people with disabilities – and their families – in poverty, the odds improve significantly, UN officials say. “Persons with disabilities encounter many disadvantages,” Secretary-General Ban added in a statement marking International Day of Persons With Disabilities. “They are often among the poorest and most excluded members of society. Yet they routinely show tremendous resilience, and achieve great heights in all spheres of human endeavor. “Experience shows that when persons with disabilities are empowered to participate and lead the process of development, the entire community opens up,” Secretary-General Ban added. “Their involvement creates opportunities for everyone – with or without a disability.” An estimated 650 million people have disabilities, or 10 percent of the world’s population. In developing countries, they number 20 percent of people living in poverty. To help integrate people with disabilities into their communities – and particularly into international development work -143 UN Member States, including the United States, have signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For a statement by US Ambassador Susan Rice and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett at the signing ceremony, please click here. The Convention aims to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy human rights on an equal basis with others. It embraces the community-based rehabilitation approach now used in 90 countries to involve all people in development, equalize the opportunities available to people with disabilities, and address poverty at its roots. A UN Expert Group on Mainstreaming Disability issues offers more information about the “development for all” approach, and its importance to achieving the MDGs. Among other UN initiatives: · UN Enable, the main portal for information about issues that affect people with disabilities, offers one-stop information about all UN agencies’ related work. · A Special Rapporteur on Disability works to ensure the high-level focus that surrounded negotiations of the Convention, which culminated in May 2008, continues. Shuaib Chalklen, of South Africa, will work to advance the status of persons with disabilities and monitor the implementation of the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, adopted by the General Assembly in 1993. · The World Program of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the General Assembly in 1982, emphasizes a human-rights approach and sets forth a global strategy to enhance disability prevention, rehabilitation and the equalization of opportunities to fully participate in social life and national development. · The UN Voluntary Fund on Disability helps fund capacity-building initiatives for non-governmental organizations working to implement the Convention. For links and more information, please visit UNIC Washington.