Jane Forward, CEO Blog

In my last blog post I talked about Clare who was winging her way to New York to attend the United Nations Conference of State Parties, showcasing the work of the Valued Lives Innovative Employment program and promoting the benefits of an inclusive workforce.

Returning from what she describes as, ‘a once in a lifetime experience’, I have invited Clare to share with us some of the many highlights of her recent trip to New York and I hope you enjoy what she has to share in her story below, as much as I do.

Conference of State Parties #15 New York 2022

“It’s not really a sentence you ever expect to say, really. “I’m travelling to New York to the United Nations”. But there I was, early one morning navigating the sea of high-vis that is Perth Airport, on my way.

In the leadup to the trip I kept waiting for a call from someone to say, “sorry, there’s been a mistake”. I don’t think I quite believed it up until I had my pass for the building in my hand to be honest. And now that I’m back I can honestly say that being able to attend the event was a pivotal moment in my life. It’s changed my thinking, challenged my perception and provided me with the opportunity to connect with like minded people all over the world.

The Conference of State Parties (CoSP) to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an annual gathering of Disabled Peoples Organisations, Civil Society Members and governments from around the world. Its purpose is to share ideas and challenges, along with the implementation of the CRPD. I was very privileged to take part as a representative of the Board of People with Disabilities Australia and there were representatives from First Peoples Disability Network, Women With Disabilities Australia, the National Ethnic Disability Alliance and the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, just to name a few.

The conference itself has an overarching theme and three sub-themes:
Building disability-inclusive and participatory societies in the COVID context and beyond

  • Sub theme 1: Innovation and technology advancing disability rights
  • Sub theme 2: Economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of persons with disabilities
  • Sub theme 3: Participation of persons with disabilities in climate action, disaster risk reduction and resilience against natural disasters.

There were many opportunities to attend events in person, as well as online and I won’t take you through them all, but I will share the thoughts and ideas that have stayed with me and probably will for life:

  • It’s no secret technology can be a great enhancer in people’s lives, but it is equally important to make sure we don’t worsen inequality for disabled people by moving to purely digital platforms. Poverty rates amongst the disabled community are extremely high and not everyone has access to devices or the internet, leaving them cut off from vital services. Additionally, the design of AI and other technology, can include the inherent bias of designers, which impacts the way the technology will view the user. Think about Facebook algorithms and the way it censors certain words or phrases.
  • Climate change is and will have, a significant impact on people with disabilities around the world, from people with albinism in African nations, to those living in island nations such as Barbados where infrastructure is repeatedly destroyed by extreme weather. All people with disabilities will face additional barriers, above and beyond what we face now, if we do not act on a global level to minimise the damage to our planet. Climate change is also destroying the culture of First Nations people, especially those where location is central to story, history and ceremony.
  • Disaster Risk and Recovery plans, along with Emergency Preparedness plans need to be designed to include people with disabilities. And we must be included in the design process. But unfortunately, many nations are short on resources and are looking for support from countries such as Australia to be able to build systems that will save the lives of their citizens.
  • In the areas of education, deinstitutionalisation and sexual and reproductive rights, we’ve come so far, yet there is still so much work to be done.
  • People with disability can and are, contributors in times of crisis. In the Ukraine, they are contributing to the resistance, driving vehicles full of vital supplies, volunteering at hospitals and taking care of animals who’ve been left behind.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, there was also opportunity to connect and share stories of positive outcomes, people that had started new microbusinesses, nations creating their first ever Disability Ministry and overcoming education barriers. Post CoSP, the connections have been ongoing. I’ve been able to speak to representatives from Tanzania interested in the supporting their citizens to create Microenterprises and soon I’ll be volunteering for the Disability Rights Fund International.

I owe a huge debt of thanks to the Department of Social Services for supporting the delegation, without this the trip would not have been possible. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have taken part and can genuinely say it has forever changed me. I hope I’ve been able to do our community proud.
#NothingAboutUsWithoutUs “

I commend you Clare for the work that you are doing in advocating for the rights of people with disability to live a life as an equal and thriving citizen.

Jane Forward,

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