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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: dignity is the ultimate aim

01-12-2011 News Release 11/248

Geneva (ICRC) – The scarcity of suitable limb-fitting and physical rehabilitation services and difficulties obtaining such services where they do exist remain the most significant challenges facing people with disabilities, especially those who live in areas made dangerous by armed conflict or other violence, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) today.

In the run-up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the ICRC and its Special Fund for the Disabled (SFD) reaffirm their determination to press ahead with efforts to address the special needs of disabled people and help them play an active role in every aspect of life.

"In the end, it's a matter of dignity to be able to study, work, play, have a family or even just look like an ordinary person," said Claude Tardif, the head of the ICRC's physical rehabilitation programme. "Achieving these aims depends first and foremost on suitable physical rehabilitation services being available. But that cannot be taken for granted, especially in countries afflicted by armed conflict or other forms of violence and where people may not be able to obtain these services for security reasons."

According to the World Health Organization, disabled people have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. Many are excluded from the ordinary activities of life. Physical rehabilitation, involving not only therapy but also the fitting of artificial limbs and the provision of walking aids and wheelchairs, is indispensable to the successful reintegration of disabled people in society.

"Because people with disabilities need physical rehabilitation services during their entire lives, long-term commitment and support are needed on the part of governments, donors and international and local organizations, especially when it comes to assisting people in poorly developed or war-torn countries," said Mr Tardif.

Through its physical rehabilitation programme and the SFD, the ICRC has been providing physical rehabilitation services for over 30 years in more than 40 countries. In 2011, over 170,000 people have benefited from these services. Among the ways the ICRC provides support for victims of mines and other explosive weapons, and for others with similar needs, is through micro-economic projects giving disabled people the opportunity to obtain vocational training or open small businesses and thus regain economic self-sufficiency.

"It's always amazing and gratifying to see a disabled person regain his mobility," said Mr Tardif. "Some even manage to participate in sports activities again. One of our patients, a 30-year-old woman from northern Iraq who was injured at the age of 10, told us recently how proud she was not to be limping any more – in other words, how proud she was just to look like everybody else."

For further information, please contact:
Vassily Fadeev, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 34 53 or +41 79 536 92 48