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Youth With Disabilities Strive To Inspire

Youth With Disabilities Strive To Inspire And Educate Through Un Treaty Process

Youth from across the world are a driving force behind talks now taking place at United Nations Headquarters in New York aimed at finalizing a treaty protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Born in Venezuela, Vincent Pineda has muscular dystrophy and Svetlana Kotova from Russia has a sight disability. While they come from opposite ends of the earth, with very different personal circumstances, both represent the new generation of young leaders hoping to make a difference through the drafting and, ultimately, carrying out the provisions of the proposed International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.

Ms. Kotova is minimally sight-impaired, yet growing up during the Soviet era, where the disabled were segregated from the rest of society, meant that she only had blind friends until she reached the age of 17. When she went to United States to study in a traditional school and had sighted friends, she realized that she needed to change something in her home country.

She now works as legal advisor at Perspektiva, a Moscow-based organization that provides a new look at disabilities in contrast to the previous approach. “It’s about empowerment, about being independent and living independently and about not asking money from the State but asking access and asking equal rights,” she said.

Living with his disability in wheelchair, Mr. Pineda could not go to school in his homeland because his family was told that it would be too costly and educating a disabled child wasn’t worth the effort. Once his family moved to the United States new doors opened for him. And his perspective was further broadened through research on other countries with strong legislation protecting persons with disabilities, particularly in Scandinavia.

Mr. Pineda is now pursuing a doctorate degree and makes documentary films on disability issues. His newest film will be based on the process of drafting the treaty, which would provide an international legal standard for how countries treat people with disabilities and promote their human rights.

In producing the film on the UN, Mr. Pineda hopes to create a set of images that will empower, inspire and educate people worldwide on the convention. “A law is a law, but if it’s not really understood, embraced and communicated effectively, it doesn’t do anybody any good,” he observed.

The media is an important tool for both of the young leaders in their efforts to educate the public and uplift persons with disabilities. Mr. Pineda said it can serve to “empower people, inspire people and really push people to create the society in which justice and equality can prevail.”

He said the issue of disability must be viewed from a broader perspective. “If you look at the link between disability and poverty, it’s very much related to the Millennium Development Goals,” he said, referring to a set of time-bound targets adopted by leaders at a 2000 UN summit for addressing a host of global ills.

“People that live in poverty because of harsh living conditions acquire disabilities and people that acquire disabilities slip into poverty so it’s a vicious cycle and at the core of that is access and policies that can remove those barriers and can keep people in that cycle of poverty.”

The treaty, he said, would pave the way for positive change. “If we can create the political and legal mechanisms that will allow these barriers to come down we can create the possibility for people to contribute their real talents, their real capabilities, their real visions and their real skill to making our world a better place.

Delegates from all 192 Member States and representatives of more than 90 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in talks on the 33-article draft convention.

At the outset of the two-week session, which began on Monday, the Chairman, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, voiced optimism that agreement was close at hand but cautioned that negotiators “are going to have to start compromising” in order to reach a final text.

The convention would obligate countries, among other measures, to gradually include disability-friendly features into the construction of new facilities, promote and improve access to education and information and introduce measures that eliminate discriminatory practices against persons with disabilities.


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