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Sara Minkara To APEC: Unlock The Potential And Value Of Disability Inclusion

Issued by the APEC Secretariat

Singapore, 26 March 2024

“APEC needs to empower more people in its effort to achieve a truly inclusive growth, particularly with regard to unlocking the potential and value that persons with disabilities can bring to the region,” said the United States Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Sara Minkara.

During her visit to the APEC Secretariat in Singapore last week, Minkara explained that it is crucial to disrupt the current narrative relating to disability, shifting from the concept of persons with disabilities as a “burden” or “charity” to a value-based narrative, demonstrating the untapped potential, contribution and value possessed by persons with disabilities.

“There are around 1.3 billion individuals with disabilities in the world. Some have visible disabilities, and some have non-apparent disabilities,” Minkara said. “Disability is an important identity, and we must not aim to ‘fix disability’, instead we must fix the inaccessibility of systems and barriers in systems that make it hard for people to complete tasks or to do a job.”

“That is why it is very important to look at the world today and look at it from the perspective of making systems accessible,” Minkara added. “When you actually make a system accessible for persons with disability, everyone benefits.”

The World Health Organization estimates that one in six people in the world today has a disability. The spending power of persons with disabilities and their families is predicted to be at USD13 trillion a year, a significant figure that could contribute to the economy when all facets of society dismantle economic, social and political barriers for persons with disabilities.

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“APEC’s agenda has always been driven by people—how we ensure that the policies and deliverables that we discuss benefit all levels of the society,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, executive director of the APEC Secretariat.

“There is no sustainable and inclusive future without policies that truly encourage economic participation and contribution from everyone,” Dr Sta Maria added. “This year within APEC, we are moving the discussions forward, looking at policies and programs that strengthen education and economic opportunities for persons with disabilities.”

In May last year, the APEC Human Resources Development Working Group endorsed the Detroit Non-Binding Principles and Recommendations to deepen inclusion and emphasize equality of women, youth, Indigenous Peoples and people with disabilities.

A group, comprising subject matter experts established within the HRDWG, will meet in Arequipa, Peru in early May to explore how to better foster awareness of disability across APEC economies, implement inclusive policies and empower persons with disabilities, as well as facilitate their equal access to education and employment.

Minkara stressed that disability inclusion is not a technical problem but rather an adaptive one, meaning that the issue is complex and multifaceted, and the solution to it often comes from continued learning and sharing of best practices, as well as capacity building—something that APEC provides for its members.

“In APEC, continuing to have these difficult conversations will help bring the case forward,” Minkara suggested.

“Disability inclusion should not only be discussed from a social issue point of view but also integrated into working groups on economy, transportation, trade, energy, emergency preparedness, tourism, small and medium enterprises among others.”

Minkara underscored the importance of voice and representation from the disability communities to inform policy development.

“We still have more to do in terms of implementing what true inclusion means,” Minkara concluded. “Break down the barriers, create accessibility and let us contribute. We bring value and innovation, and it’s a loss to society and the economy if we’re not included.”

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