International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology

Statement by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Statement | 03 December 2014
Today, more than 1 billion people in the world have some form of disability. The stark reality is that the prevalence of disability is rising, not decreasing. But technology holds enormous promise in breaking down barriers and increasing the choices and opportunities available to persons with disabilities, particularly in the world of work. That’s why this year’s theme – Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology – is so pertinent.

Advances in information and communication technology (ICT) are moving at a dizzying speed. They are changing the way we work, live and communicate. ICT allows for faster information exchanges, automation of tasks and greater connectivity. People from all parts of the globe can now work together in real time without moving from one place to another. ICT has broadened our horizons and has made our lives easier.

But for people with disabilities, the promise of technology is more than just a convenience: it can give them unprecedented independence and the flexibility they need to have far greater access to and advance in the labour market.

There remains, however, a digital divide when it comes to accessing the benefits of these advances, both between lower and higher income countries, and between different groups within countries. People with disabilities, particularly in developing countries, are often left out, either because ICT solutions are not designed in an inclusive way or because the assistive devices that some require are not available or affordable to them.

We must ensure that active labour market measures that favour these technologies are inclusive and target persons with disabilities. Bridging the digital divide will play a key role in enabling women and men with disabilities to take part in the economy and society. This is, first and foremost, a human rights issue but also an economic issue, as exclusion of disabled people from the labour market comes at a high cost to our economies.

We know that inclusion is possible. At a recent meeting of the ILO Global Business and Disability Network, many good examples from companies were highlighted, showing how persons with disabilities were effectively included in the workforce. ICT played an important role in many of these strategies. Such inclusion has to become a usual business practice and a key component of business sustainability.

Disability issues must also be an integral element of global development. In the preparations for the post- 2015 development agenda, decent work emerged as a central concern, including for people with disabilities. This is an important reminder that promoting employment and decent work opportunities for all will be essential if nobody is to be left behind beyond 2015. We are ready to do all possible in support of these efforts.

We have renewed our own commitment to advancing disability issues and our new disability inclusion strategy and action plan will soon be launched. They are designed to ensure that disability is a key component in our cross-cutting policy and advocacy work to promote equality.

The ILO is also committed to leading by example, by promoting disability-inclusive internal practices. The findings of a staff survey on disability inclusion conducted in 2013, the first of its kind within the UN system, will enable us to work towards becoming an exemplary employer of persons with disabilities.

In partnership with our constituents, with the United Nations system and with civil society, the ILO is committed to making the promise of technology deliver on the aspirations of women and men with disabilities for decent work.