The Year of the Disabled

Hopeful news tinges the sad human circumstances that led to the current International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP). It is what a leading United Nations advocate of the IYDP calls "an indispensable change in social attitudes": a new emphasis on preventionm of problems. This is increasingly displayed throughout the UN, according to Robert Muller, long-time secretary of the body's Economic and Social Council. The preventive activity in various realms -- war, crime, drugs, disease, accidents, natural disasters -- bears on reducing the number of disabled persons in the future.

At present the UN estimates 450 million physically or mentally disabled persons in the world, the majority of them in developing countries. One spur to focusing on them was a finding that disabilities were increasingly attributed not only to such "classic" causes as malnutrition and disease -- still widely found in the developing countries. They were also attributed to modern-day causes characteristic of the industrial world. The latter include automobile accidents, blamed for 50 percent of the handicapped in some countries, with almost half the auto accidents caused by alcohol.

The IYDP draws needed attention to taking account of disabled persons' care and rehabilitation in national and international development programs. The goal is to open the doors of participation in society. One objective is to educate the public on the rights of the handicapped.

The UN's own Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons states that they are "entitled to the measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible." Recently the IYDP was noted in the British press when some cuts in services to the disabled were restored. In the United States it now is reported that the new administration will not make the cuts in government programs for the disabled which some had speculated about.

All nations ought not only to ensure the rights and rehabilitation of the handicapped but to join vigorously in the preventive action now stressed in the United Nations. History confirms how the handicapped can surmount their burdens -- sometimes spectacularly as in such cases as the blind Homer and the deaf Beethoven, sometimes out of the limelight like those many carrying out their daily work with no less competence than the able-bodied. Whether in care, coping, or prevention, there is a resource beyond the abilities of governments that everyone can share: the love of God which, as jesus demonstrate d for all time, overcomes the ills of the flesh.

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