International Day of Persons with Disabilities: A Day for All to Celebrate

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Reprinted with permission from the Association of Academic Physiatrists

Sam S. H. Wu, MD MA MPH MBA, Bryan O’Young, MD, and Mark Young, MD MBA

Professor Wu is the Editor-in-Chief of Physiatry Forward, Professor O’Young is the Chair of ISPRM’s United Nations Liaison Committee, and Professor Young is the inaugural recipient of ISPRM’s Haim Ring Award

The United Nations’ (UN) theme for the 2019 International Day of Persons with Disabilities is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. The theme focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This special day is celebrated every December 3rd since its proclamation in 1992 by the UN General Assembly’s resolution 47/3. This historic proclamation “aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”1

In 2006, the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which “further advanced the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other international development frameworks, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, the New Urban Agenda, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development.”1

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently identified that “20% of the world’s poor are disabled” and that “In many low-income and middle -income countries, only 5-15% of disabled people who require assistive devices and technology have access to them”.2 The WHO is now focused  on the empowerment of persons with disabilities in their communities.

To find solutions in achievement of the above goals, The UN and the WHO are partnering with experts in persons with disabilities.

Who are the logical partners in this important initiative?

On the individual level, physiatrists are well-positioned in this regard because of our focus on function in persons with disabilities through the use of a variety of modalities, medications, orthotics, prosthetics, assistive devices, and therapies. Although we have also advocated for the rights of this group, it is clear that the time has come for us to also empower persons with disabilities to participate and to take leadership roles.

On the national level, national societies such as the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) have advocated for persons with disabilities through improving the research and training programs as well as the health service delivery systems, which all positively impact the access to care and quality of care for persons with disabilities.

On an international level, the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (ISPRM) has earned the honor of being recognized by both the UN and the WHO as a non-governmental organization with expertise regarding persons with disabilities. ISPRM is a strong supporter of both UN and WHO goals to empower persons with disabilities. The ISPRM has actively participated in UN’s and WHO’s conventions at their headquarter in New York and Geneva, respectively, as well as at various other venues worldwide. Moreover, ISPRM’s World Congresses have served as a platform to distribute, discuss and put into practice UN’s and WHO’s focus on empowering persons with disabilities.

Therefore, as we look back at what we accomplished together and as we look forward to the important work ahead of us, we can all take pride in celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on every December 3rd.


  1. “International Day of Persons with Disabilities 3 December”,; Accessed on 29 November 2019
  2. “International Day of Persons with Disabilities”,; Accessed on 29 November 2019

Please join us at the 14th ISPRM World Congress and the 53rd AAP Annual Meeting where we will have session on Leaving No One Behind: A Meaningful UN & ISPRM Partnership to identify how we can all  assist  in  the implementation of the UN‘s goal for an inclusive and sustainable world where no persons with disabilities is left behind.