Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs of global agencies, the head of the WHO: the Global Disability Summit, hosted online in February by the governments of Norway and Ghana, had an impressive attendance list. Representatives of the International Communication Project were also present as participants, scoping the potential for future events and interventions to raise the profile of communication disability. Here are some reflections.
International events are repetitive and not that exciting. Each country and organisation needs to say certain things, often the same things that others have said and not in their native language. Considering the important people present, it is not a stimulating use of time.
Important commitments are made—but will they be followed up? However, the commitments made are valuable. Particularly noteworthy was the intervention from Samantha Power, the Administrator of USAID. The USA is not a signatory to the Disability Convention, but she indicated strong support from the US administration backed by 23 commitments.
People with disability are prominent—to an extent. People with disabilities are rightly intended to be front and centre, but as most of the ministers and other important people are not disabled, the voices were scattered. It was 100 minutes in before the first person with a disability—a blind gender advocate from Malawi—spoke. It was good to see autistic people speaking at the event.
Most of the narrative is generic. By this we mean that disability is talked about in overall terms—contributions do not talk about blindness, deafness, wheelchair use or mental health. This is important for us to reflect on as we seek to raise the profile of communication.
The communication support offered is noticeable. American and International Sign Language throughout alongside captions, showing that this can be done routinely if there is the will.
The United Nations Conference of states that have signed the UN Disability Convention takes place in June in New York—we attended in person three years ago before the pandemic. One of this year’s themes is climate change, so we took the opportunity to attend Global Disability Summit sessions on the topic. The higher rates of harm and mortality for persons with disabilities in crisis situations were noted, and evidence about the risk of sexual and gender based violence in these situations confirmed research regarding people with communication disability in refugee facilities. We will reflect on this as we prepare for the UN event in June.