Human Rights for All

While doing some research about holidays and observances in December, I learned that December has two observances that speak to human rights. December 3 is the 30th anniversary of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which promotes the continuing integration of persons who are disabled into society. Also in December is the United Nations Human Rights Day which was established on December 10, 1948 by the U.N. to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets forth basic rights and freedoms to which all are entitled.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3 was established by the International Year for Disabled Persons in 1981. The Day is set aside to promote a better understanding of disability issues with a focus on the rights of people with disabilities and societal gains that come from the integration of people with disabilities in every aspect of the political, social, economic, and cultural life of their communities. This year’s theme is, “Together for a better world for all.”

In 1981, when the United Nations first observed the International Year of Disabled Persons, the theme was “Full Participation and Equality.” In 1982, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, The WPACDP is best described as a global strategy to enhance disability prevention, rehabilitation and equalization of opportunities, which pertains to full participation of persons with disabilities in social life and national development. The WPA stresses the need to approach disability from a human rights perspective.

Human Rights Day

Predating the declaration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the WPACPD is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration sets out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction. The UDHR was adopted on December 10, 1948. December 10 has since served to mark Human Rights Day worldwide.

The Most Universal Document in the World

The UDHR is truly a universal document. Not only was it was drafted by representatives of all regions and legal traditions but it is also the most translated document in the world. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been awarded the Guinness World Record for having collected, translated and disseminated the UDHR into more than 380 languages and dialects: from Abkhaz to Zulu. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is thus the most “universal” document in the world.

With the passage of time, the Declaration has been accepted as a contract between governments and their peoples. Virtually all states have accepted it. The Declaration has also served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as disabled persons, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.

650 Million People with Disabilities Worldwide

It is estimated that there are 50 million people with disabilities in the United States and 650 million people with disabilities worldwide (approximately 15% of the world’s population). Nearly one-fifth of the estimated global total of persons (110-190 million), living with disabilities encounter significant difficulties. Moreover, a quarter of the global population is directly affected by disability, as care-givers or family members.

Much work needs to be done to ensure basic human rights for all persons. For individuals with disabilities, despite all the progress that has been made over the last 30 years, individuals with disabilities still face many disadvantages in society and are frequently subjected to stigma and discrimination. In addition, they remain marginalized, disproportionately poorer, are frequently unemployed and have higher rates of mortality. They are also excluded from civil and political processes and are overwhelmingly voiceless in matters that affect them. When individuals with disabilities are empowered to participate in their communities, their entire community benefits, as their involvement creates opportunities for everyone – with or without a disability.


WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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