Robin Gomes/Vatican News

          Several leading international organizations have joined hands to launch a decade-long campaign, slated to be the biggest ever global human rights movement that aims to empower the world's 1.2 billion people with disabilities and advance their human rights.

Jenna Fesemyer, former resident director of Newman Hall
at St. John's Catholic Newman Center in Champaign, Ill.,
displays the medals she earned while qualifying for Team
USA at the Paralympic Trials this summer in Minneapolis.
CNS photo/Jenna Fesemyer, courtesy The Catholic Post

          Spearheaded by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and International Disability Alliance (IDA), the campaign called WeThe15 kicked off on Thursday, less than a week ahead of the opening of the Tokyo Paralympics on August 24.  The campaign derives its name from the 15 percent of the global population who live with disabilities, according to estimates by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

          WeThe15 brings together the biggest coalition ever of international organizations from the worlds of sport, human rights, policy, business, arts, and entertainment.  Aligned with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, WeThe15 aims to change attitudes and create more opportunities.

          Together they will work with governments, businesses, and the public over the next decade to bring about change for the world's largest marginalized group.

          IPC President Andrew Parsons said that “WeThe15 aspires to be the biggest ever human rights movement for persons with disabilities” and aims to put disability right at the heart of the inclusion agenda. “It’s understanding that 1.2 billion people — 15 percent of the global population — cannot be ignored. They must be included in the society he said.

          "The fact that the Paralympics are in Tokyo can be a platform for that. It's incredible," Parsons pointed out. He said, “These sports events add great value to the campaign and underline the hugely positive impact sport can have on society.” “I strongly believe WeThe15 could be a real game-changer for persons with disabilities,” he stressed.

          To mark Thursday’s launch of the 10-year campaign, the headquarters of the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, Switzerland, will be lit up in purple, the international colour for disability.  More than 125 iconic landmarks around the world will also be lit up in purple — among them New York’s Empire State Building, Tokyo’s Skytree and Rainbow Bridge, Rome’s Colosseum, the London Eye and Niagara Falls spanning Canada and the United States.

Syrian refugee Ibrahim al-Hussein, an amputee swimmer
aiming to be part of a Refugee Paralympic Team for the
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, adjusts his goggles during
his training at the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Athens,
Greece, April 26, 2021.
CNS photo/Alkis Konstantinidis, Reuters

          The launch also features a 90-second campaign film that organizers say will be shown on television channels in 60 countries. Social media companies are also on board.  Celebrities from former soccer star David Beckham to chat show queen Oprah Winfrey have thrown their weight behind the campaign.

          Each year of the decade the drive will focus on a different aspect of discrimination faced by people with disabilities, including in employment and education.

          The WHO estimates that of the 15 percent of the world’s population living with some form of disability, between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant difficulties in functioning.

          Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, “WeThe15 is bringing together a unique group of partners — disability-specific sports organizations, the disability rights movement, people from the private sector, researchers and the United Nations — to work together to change the narrative on disability, and to make human rights-based development a reality for persons with disabilities.

          Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said, “It is time to change our perception of people with disabilities, and make their voices heard everywhere.” She pledged UNESCO’s support and participation in “the WeThe15 movement and its unique coalition to build a world that puts inclusion front and centre”.

          Joining the sport organizations in the decade of WeThe15 action are International Disability Alliance, UN Human Rights, UNESCO, the UN SDG Action Campaign, the European Commission, The Valuable 500, Global Citizen, Global Disability Innovation Hub, the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), International Disability and Development Consortium, C-Talent, Global Goals Advisory, ATscale – the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology, Zero Project, and the Global Alliance of Assistive Technology Organizations (GAATO).