In my blog post on the SDGs and HLPF, I mentioned that they claimed to be the most inclusive and interactive UN conference and explained why this was not in fact the truth as it heavily excluded persons with disabilities through the use of the major groups framework. As discouraging as that truth is, hope, opportunity and true inclusion arose from Habitat III and the development of the New Urban Agenda.
A “smart city” is defined, as a city that is sustainable and recognizes everyone’s equal right to it, meaning that a city should allow for equal access to all to enjoy the full benefits of the city such as through accessibility. While most UN documents would stop here, defining this statement alone as inclusion, the NUA takes it further, explicitly stating that with 15% of each country’s population living with a disability, a city should be fully accessible in order to be smart and sustainable. In a huge success for persons with disabilities, the NUA includes fifteen references to persons with disabilities including an entire standalone paragraph on their inclusion in cities.
In addition, the most important step the NUA takes for persons with disabilities is in introducing them as a “major group”, allowing for full participation in the monitoring and implantation of the NUA. “Major group” is in quotes because persons with disabilities were not named as a tenth group but still, introduced under the title “other stakeholders” allowing for their direct involvement along groups like the aging and elderly, another group making up a large population of the world and in need of representation. From this exciting and important inclusion, the Persons with Disabilities Partner Constituency Group (PWD-PCG) and the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) Collaboratory were formed as a platform for a network of stakeholders to organize for representation under the NUA.
With this exciting right to participation and a dramatic increase in access to the discussion through the extension of a metaphorical seat at the table comes the responsibility to organize and participate. While this can be overwhelming and difficult to do, the DID Collaboratory provides a crucial platform for doing so and even with the challenges, this increase in access, participation, and representation is what the disability community has long advocated for.
Above all else, the main takeaway from the NUA is the power of individual stakeholders coming together to represent true inclusion. With this inclusion, we are one step closer to achieving truly inclusive and as a result, sustainable development.