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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Statement delivered by Ambassador Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, at the High-level Panel on “Accessible Cities for All: Smart and Inclusive Urban Planning” within the Special Event entitled “Empowering Persons with Disabilities and Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality” on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities —

Thank you very much, Daniela, and let me tell you that I am truly glad to attend this year’s celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, particularly glad to attend this event, to DESA and to you and also very honored to share some perspectives with these distinguished panelists.

As you know, Italy has always been at the forefront of the global commitment to promote and protect the human rights of persons with disabilities, One little fact, the first draft of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was firstly submitted by the Italian delegation more than 20 years ago in 1987 and the Convention itself, adopted in 2006, was largely based on the relevant Italian legislation. Italy has resolutely led the way, particularly when it comes to mental and intellectual disabilities. The so-called “Basaglia Law” of 1978) – of which this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary – has been the first legislative measure worldwide to abolish permanently psychiatric hospitals, in substance fully integrating persons with mental and intellectual disabilities into the society, in full compliance with the saying: “nothing about us without us”. This is precisely the embodiment of a human-rights approach to disability, which is after all the paradigm-shift brought about by the Convention.

Now, coming to today’s event, I want to commend DESA for the choice of the topic of this year’s International Day. And I am particularly glad to take the floor in this panel, which focuses the topic of urban planning and accessibility and of “smart cities”. The issue of accessibility, indeed, is crucial to the building more open, just and inclusive societies. In order to enable persons with disabilities to live independently and to participate fully in all aspects of the life of their community and of society more broadly, access to the physical environment and transportation, as well as to information and communication, including information and communication technologies, must be ensured. We just heard the example of Ecuador, brought by my friend Amb. Gallegos.

Italy is leading the way also with reference to this specific aspect. Through the coordination National Observatory on the Condition of Persons with Disabilities – constituted of representatives of public administrations and of organisations of people with disabilities and established in 2010 in order to provide guidance and innovative strategies on the implementation of the Convention – specific programmes and initiatives have been devised both at the national and local level.

Allow to mention some of those:

First of all, at the national level, and with reference to the full enjoyment of cultural heritage, to which we are strongly committed: in 2017, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities launched a vast-scale project aimed at overcoming architectural, cognitive and sensory barriers to fruition of public cultural heritage and was instrumental in renovating and equipping with innovative infrastructures and technologies several cultural sites nationwide, from Rome to Urbino to Naples to Florence.

Also, at the beginning of 2019 the project “Bandiera Lilla” will be launched, which will target the strengthening of the accessibility of reception and touristic infrastructures in Italian cities, awarding those which will make significant progress in this field with, as the title of the project goes, a lilac flag.

Finally, in 2016 Italy was celebrated by the UN in Vienna as a model in education inclusiveness and for relinquishing once and for all the separation of classes for students with disabilities.

Furthermore, at the local level: The city of Milan has by now established a system of complete accessibility of its public transportation system and information and technological facilities, which earned the city the European Union Access City Award in 2016.

Also, it is with great satisfaction that I wish announce that tomorrow, in Brussels, the city of Monteverde, a small town of less than 1000 inhabitants not far from Naples, will be awarded a special prize for the preservation of cultural heritage and accessibility in the framework of the European Union Access City Award Ceremony, as a tribute to the exemplary efforts carried out by the town to promote a urban environment suitable to everyone.

May today’s celebration be an occasion to build on the momentum, to remove physical and cultural barriers, and to promote in concrete terms the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of their life.

And I thank you again, Daniela for convening this panel.