While my journey has been long and arduous growing up as a physically challenged person (I was stricken with polio at the age of two), I never let the challenges I encountered overcome me. For I always remembered these words from the former first lady of the United States, the wife of former US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a polio victim. Eleanor said: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”
I have always held my chin up and dreamed that one day it would change for me, and it did through rigorous years of perseverance and encountering people who were willing to go against the norms and look beyond my physical challenges.
“As a disabled, or as we say in UN parlance, physically challenged person, I feel that one of the greatest accomplishments of the UN was the establishment of the Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities. Being a Polio-victim of the upper-extremities since the age of two, I have always felt that the United Nations System was the only mechanism available for all the disabled peoples around the world to voice their grievances and unfair play towards them, fighting social taboos, cultural barriers, insensitivity, social isolation, and outright injustice,” says Ambassador Maradona.
“For these reasons and my own personal experiences, I remain a lifetime advocate of the Rights of the Disabled. I have actively participated at the various sessions of the United Nations Ad-Hoc Committee on Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, as a Delegate Advisor of the Delegation of Chile and Vanuatu, and of course, in my role with IIMSAM.”
With the Ambassador’s input, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been ratified by over 150 countries. The convention, widely regarded as the first international human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, is one of the fastest to be ratified. “The 150+ ratifications are evidence of the commitment by the international community through the UN-System to promote and protect the human rights of persons with disabilities, and prove once again that our UN really works,” His Excellency declares.
I have always felt that the United Nations system was the only mechanism available for all disabled peoples around the world to voice their grievances and unfair play. It has helped in fighting social taboos, cultural barriers, insensitivity, social isolation and injustice. Te Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted in 2006, has further advanced the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Other international development frameworks like the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action have also been successful.
I have been a staunch supporter of the UN system that strives for a better world and a lifetime advocate of the rights of the disabled. Persons with disabilities, ‘the world’s largest minority’, have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.
This is largely due to the lack of services available to them (like information and communications technology, justice or transportation) and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. These obstacles can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or societal attitudes or discrimination. Factors which place people with disabilities at a higher risk of violence include stigma, discrimination, and ignorance about disability.
As a physically challenged person, I can attest to the importance of our dignity, our rights, and well-being as necessary conditions for equality and justice. Governments are the catalysts who have to step up their commitments with “concrete deeds” by implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
I head the Inter-governmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition (IIMSAM). Through the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Free Spirulina Distribution Center in Kisumu, Kenya, we are engaged in distributing Spirulina to thousands of people. When possible we have lent services to the disabled community and disabled children enabling persons with disabilities to have access to our centre.
Spirulina, a high-protein whole-food supplement, is a complete dietary plan as it is an easily digestible, high energy, gluten-free, low-calorie, low-fat, natural food containing a wide range of important nutrients. The UN-World Food Conference of 1974 declared it as ‘best food for the future’.
I thank the UAE for its visionary leadership and tolerance. It is a beacon of hope to the world. This year, it is hosting of the largest sporting event ever held for sportsmen and women with intellectual and physical disabilities. I am looking forward to participating at the grand opening on March 14, in Abu Dhabi. The Special Olympics reminds the world that physical or intellectual disability are not an obstacle to succeed or to help others.