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  • The sustain:able team

The UN SDGs and Disability Pride

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) defines persons with disabilities as including:

‘those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’ (United Nations, 2008).

One in seven people experience some form of disability, which equates to 15% of the global population or roughly 1 billion people. Of those, 93 million are children and 80% are living in developing countries (United Nations, 2018; International Disability Alliance, 2022; Lockwood, 2022).

Disability Pride

The predecessor to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Millennium Development goals, did not include references to people with disabilities which excluded them from initiatives and development funds that were created for the goals (WeCapable, 2022; International Disability Alliance, 2022; Lockwood, 2022).

Building on the previous goals, the overarching principle of the Sustainable Development Goals is the mantra of ‘leave no one behind’ highlighting that the goals are expected to include everyone and that all goals are applicable to all people. Within the policy document people with disability are specifically referenced in five of the sustainable development goals and 7 of the targets (United Nations, 2015; WeCapable, 2022; International Disability Alliance, 2022).

However, in a report released in December 2018 the UN found that people with disabilities were still facing barriers to inclusion and participation and that more needed to be done to meet the Sustainable Development Goals as far as people with disability were concerned (IISD, 2018).

They concluded that people with disability ‘are not yet sufficiently included in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the SDGs’ (IISD, 2018).


Current Situation

According to a UN report from 2018, people with disability face a ‘lack of accessibility in physical and virtual environments, negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination, lack of access to energy, access to assistive technology and rehabilitation, and lack of measures to promote independent living’ (United Nations, 2018). They are disadvantaged in relation to most of the Sustainable Development Goals facing difficulties ‘when it comes to job opportunities, wages, accessibility to the workplace, to businesses and public spaces and institutions, as well as access to sanitation facilities and new technologies.’ (United Nations, 2018).

Below are some examples of how people with disability are being left behind by the UN SDGs and need to be better included going forward.

UN SDGs Goal 1 - No Poverty

Goal 1: No Poverty - On average poverty rates are 15% higher for people with disability and in some countries twice as many people with disabilities are living under the poverty line than those without disability (United Nations, 2018; IISD, 2018).

UN SDGs Goal 3 - Good health and well-being

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being - A Eurostat survey found that in 2018 over 80% of people without disabilities felt they had very good or good self-perceived health whereas the same could only be said for 21% percent of respondents 16 or over who had some or severe activity limitation (Disability Hub Europe, 2020). People with disability were also four times more likely to report unmet needs for medical examination than people without disability according to an Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) report (Disability Hub Europe, 2020).

UN SDGS Goal 16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions – People with disability are three times more likely to experience different forms of violence than someone without disabilities (World Economic Forum, 2020). People with disability are underrepresented in political participation and decision-making and this is even worse for women and girls who have disabilities (IISD, 2018).


The United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) came into effect in 2008 and was one of the quickest supported human rights documents in history. It is an international treaty designed to preserve the rights of persons with disabilities and has been signed by 164 countries and ratified by 185 as of May 2022 (Kumar, 2018; United Nations, 2008).

The United Nations states that the UNCRPD’s purpose is ‘to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.’ (United Nations, 2008).

For states that have ratified the UNCRPD they are expected to adopt and implement new policy and legislation to support the UNCPRD, to alter or remove current legislation and policy that is discriminatory towards persons with disabilities and to promote the human rights of persons with disabilities throughout their entire governance (Kumar, 2018). They are also obligated to undergo research and development into goods, services, equipment, facilities and new technologies that are designed to be used by all and to train professionals and staff so that better assistance and services can be offered to persons with disabilities (Kumar, 2018).

The UNCRPD was used as a guidance document for the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that people with disabilities were adequately included within them (WeCapable, 2022).


The impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated already existing inequalities in society and set the world further back on its progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA) highlighted that due to the Covid-19 pandemic people with disability ‘face more discrimination, violence, and barriers to accessing information, education and services related to gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health’. This risk is heightened for women and girls with disabilities (World Economic Forum, 2020).

However Covid-19 has also raised the visibility of people with disability, a study from The Valuable 500 found that since the Covid-19 pandemic began ‘39% of companies are now more aware than ever of the needs of people with disabilities and are accelerating their actions and commitments to disability inclusion and accessibility’ and that 86% of businesses that responded believe that disability inclusion is important to include within their business strategy (World Economic Forum, 2020).

The big question is whether this focus on disability inclusion will persist or will fizzle out as the world moves its attention elsewhere.

A child's drawing of a diverse group of people

It is important that the lessons learnt, and the momentum gained, are not lost and are crafted into long lasting change that can benefit people with disability going forward.


‘Nothing about us without us’

‘Nothing about us without us’ is a central mantra of the global disability movement, highlighting that for disability needs to be adequately met, people with disability have to be central to any and all discussions around better inclusion and access (Lockwood, 2022).

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018: Realization of the Sustainable Development Goals By, For and With Persons with Disabilities showed that people with disability were still at a disadvantage in regards to most of the UN Sustainability Development Goals (IISD, 2018).

The report made recommendations in four key areas to better include people with disability in the SDGs:

1) addressing fundamental barriers causing exclusion of persons with disabilities, including discriminatory laws and policies, negative attitudes, stigma and discrimination and lack of access to assistive technology, among other barriers;

2) mainstreaming disability in SDG implementation, particularly for SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), SDG 7 (affordable clean energy), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities);

3) investing in monitoring and evaluation of progress towards the SDGs for persons with disabilities;

4) strengthening the means of implementation of the SDGs for persons with disabilities in the areas of capacity building, technology, finance, policy and institutional coherence and multi-stakeholders partnerships.’ (IISD, 2018).

It is hoped that by using the UN CRPD and SDGs in tandem more can be done to ensure that better support and advocacy for persons with disabilities becomes a reality (Lockwood, 2022).



  • Disability Hub Europe. (2020, September). The 2030 Agenda, SDGs and Disability. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from Disability Hub Europe:

  • IISD. (2018, December 06). UN Report Finds Inclusion Gaps for People with Disabilities. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from IISD:

  • International Disability Alliance. (2022, July 15). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from IDA:

  • Kumar, L. (2018, May 30). Infographic on UNCRPD. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from WeCapable:

  • Lockwood, E. (2022, July 15). "Nothing about us without us": Disability, the SDGs and the UNCRPD. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from Future Learn:

  • United Nations. (2008). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. United Nations. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from

  • United Nations. (2015, October 6). The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Disability. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from United Nations:

  • United Nations. (2018, December 03). Leaving no one behind - persons with disabilities and the SDGs. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from United Nations:

  • WeCapable. (2022, July 15). Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Disability. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from WeCapable:

  • World Economic Forum. (2020, October 09). Disability inclusion isn't a tick-box exercise. It's vital to achieving the SDGs. Retrieved July 15, 2022, from World Economic Forum:

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