Skip to content

The experience of Bridging the Gap under the spotlight of a high-level panel discussion

Screenshot of the session with the moderator, Professor Cisternas, Jesús Celada on behalf of Spain and the sign language interpreter

“Taking stock of the good practices of the project Bridging the Gap paves us the way for a decade for action towards sustainable development for and with persons with disabilities, in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD)”. With these words, the Special Envoy (SE) of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility, Professor María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, closed the 2020 Annual Event of Bridging the Gap. The happening took place on December 1st as part of the official programme of side events of the 13th Conference of the State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (COSP13).

The event, sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations and co-sponsored by the European Union, Austria, Finland, Italy, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) and the European Disability and Development Forum (EDF), gathered high-level representatives from the United Nations, the countries participating in the project, and from Organisations of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) to analyze inclusive policies and practices for disability springing from the experience of Bridging the Gap.

Since 2018 and throughout its implementation, SE Cisternas Reyes recalled, Bridging the Gap has obtained important results such as the “preparation of the National Strategy for Inclusion in Burkina Faso, the signature of the first-ever Memorandum of Understanding for inclusive education in Ecuador, the training on gender-responsive disability inclusion of around 150 Ethiopian civil servants, the drafting of the indicators for the National Plan for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Paraguay, or the empowerment programme for over 150 women with disabilities in Sudan”.

Following the opening statements, the moderator addressed three blocks of questions to the five speakers, Jesús Celada Pérez (DG of Disability Policies of the Government of Spain), Facundo Chávez Penillas (Human Rights and Disability Advisor at OHCHR), Rahma Mohammed (Technical advisor of the Sudanese National Council of Persons with Disabilities), Mariela Soledad Ramírez Burgos (Ministry Secretary for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities of the Republic of Paraguay, SENADIS), and Nadia Hadad (Member of the Executive Committee of the European Disability Forum).

Director Celada broke the ice narrating the advancements of Spain in inclusion policies. The country, he highlighted, is currently working to several legal reforms, including a Second National Plan for Accessibility. Spain, claimed Jesús Celada, is considered a “referent” on many aspects concerning inclusion, although the pandemic has stressed the lack of a true “culture of inclusion”. Finally, he recalled Spain’s commitment to inclusive development, citing the participation in the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), the International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies (FIIAPP) and the National Organization of Spanish blind people (ONCE).

From his side, Facundo Chávez shared the work conducted by OHCHR in the framework of Bridging the Gap, i.e. the development of a set of human rights indicators and policy guidelines which, he explained, will help “assessing progress, displaying transparency and accountability and thus strengthen inclusive policies”. All this to ensure the achievement of the CRPD’s and the 2030 Agenda’s objectives.

OHCHR’s work constitutes the bedrock for the implementation and review of the National Plan for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Paraguay. Ms. Ramírez Burgos, recently appointed Minister of SENADIS, emphasized how this tool aims to become a “right-oriented technical document able to define the coordination of public and private national, regional and local actions linked to the rights of persons with disabilities”.

The event also tackled the importance of the empowerment of OPDs to balance the relation between right holders and duty bearers. In this context, Nadia Hadad presented the work EDF conducts to ensure the participation in international cooperation by European OPDs, bringing their experience to the service of inclusive development worldwide. Rahma Mohammed focused instead on the participation of women with disabilities, a priority for Bridging the Gap. The project, she recalled, “has been supporting local associations of women with disabilities in rural Sudan, also organizing trainings to reach out women who are left behind because of cultural and social barriers”.

The final remarks of Katarina Ivanković Knežević, Director for Social Affairs in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission, and of Leonardo Bencini, Minister Plenipotentiary and Head of Strategy, Global Processes and International Organisations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy, summarized the previous interventions presenting disability inclusion as a cross-cutting priority in international cooperation.

Finally, in her conclusions, María Soledad Cisternas Reyes remarked that “Bridging the Gap’s action is compliant with the UN Secretary General’s policy brief on non-discrimination and participation of persons with disabilities, as well as with disability mainstreaming’s principle to have persons with disabilities at the centre of the debate for the creation of inclusive public policies”. She thus noted that “the project’s implementation has been having a real impact on the lives of many people” and that “we need to promote experiences to achieve for inclusion: undoubtedly, the experience of Bridging the Gap is based on effective and efficient solutions”.

Event’s resources available: