WFDB Represents Persons with Deafblindness at the United Nations Headquarters

UN General Assembly hall

A WFDB delegation, with the support of the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and Sightsavers, attended the 17th Session of The Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CoSP) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from June 11th to 13th, 2024. The WFDB delegation included Ms. Sanja Tarczay (Croatia), WFDB President, and her two interpreters, Ms. Dijana Adžić and Ms. Manuela Komorski; Mr. Ezekiel Kumwenda (Malawi), WFDB Executive Council member, and his two interpreters, Mr. David Mzura and Mr. William Thera; and Program Advisor Ms. Lucía D’Arino (Spain).

Four women smile at the camera by UN symbols
Part of the WFDB delegation: from left to right Ms. Dijana Adžić, Ms. Manuela Komorski, Ms. Lucia D’Arino and Ms. Sanja Tarczay

One of WFDB’s objectives during CoSP was to launch its campaign for the recognition of International Day of Persons with Deafblindness at the UN on 27 of June.

Below you will find a summary of each day.

Day 1: Preparations (Sunday, June 9th)

Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino met with Dr. Joseph Murray, President of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD). During this productive meeting, Dr. Murray provided valuable insights and advice on strategies for officially establishing an International Day of Deafblindness, following the successful recognition of International Day of Sign Languages in 2018.

Two women and a man smile at the camera
WFDB representatives meet with WFB President

Later, the WFDB delegation participated in an IDA briefing organized for its members.

A group of people sit around a long table
IDA preparation meeting for members in at their office in New York

Day 2: Civil Society Forum (Monday, June 10th)

The Civil Society Forum, co-organized by IDA, was a full-day event in Conference Room 4 at the United Nations Headquarters. Ms. Tarczay had the chance to make an intervention in the session focusing on “international cooperation to promote technology innovations and transfer for an inclusive future,” presenting the perspective of the deafblind community.

Three women at a conference
Ms Tarczay, assisted by her two interpreters, takes the floor

Mr. Kumwenda also made an intervention in the session “Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Decent Work and Sustainable Livelihood,” sharing perspectives from the deafblind community in the Global South.

Later, Ms. Tarczay and other IDA delegates met with Helena Dalli, Equality Commissioner at the European Commission, to discuss the Disability Card and independent living, among other topics.

8 people pose for the camera
IDA delegation meets Helena Dalli, EU Commissioner for Equality

Finally, Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino met with WBU representatives, including Marc Workman (CEO) and Diane Bergeron (Treasurer), to seek advice on their campaign for the recognition of International Day of Deafblindness.

Day 3: First Day of CoSP (Tuesday, June 11th)

Ms. Tarczay was selected to deliver opening remarks at the General Assembly Hall as a Representative of Civil Society. Her powerful message emphasized the need for an inclusive, accessible, and participatory world for over 1.3 billion people with disabilities, addressing ongoing challenges like systemic discrimination and inadequate services. She called for increased funding, improved data collection, and meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making processes. Looking ahead, Ms. Tarczay urged concrete actions and collaboration to ensure true disability inclusion and the translation of the CRPD into national laws.

A woman behind at a stage, with the UN symbol behing
Ms. Tarczay during her opening speech

Moreover, a meeting was held with Finland’s Under-Secretary of State H.E. Pekka Puustinen, who reiterated a commitment to persons with disabilities despite austerity measures.

A group of people sitting down
Ms Tarczay participating in a meeting with Finland government representatives

WFDB’s delegation participated in the Global Disability Summit (GDS) side event “From Political Will to Tangible Change: Launching the Commitments Platform for the GDS 2025,” which will take place on April 2nd and 3rd in Berlin.

Furthermore, an IDA delegation including representatives from WFDB met with the government representatives of Malta to discuss matters such as data and forced sterilization of persons with disabilities. Malta is looking to create a national register disaggregated by disability, age, and gender, and collect good practices and initiatives in data collection.

A group of 7 people standing and smiling at the camera
IDA delegation with Malta government representatives

Meanwhile, Mr. Kumwenda took the floor at the General Debate to intervene on behalf of the deafblind community, emphasing the unique challenges faced by persons with deafblindness, calling for their inclusion in all aspects of society through accessible education, employment, and participation in decision-making processes. He urged states to recognize deafblindness as a distinct disability and commit to providing necessary support and services to ensure equality and accessibility.

A man sitting behind a microphone
Mr. Kumwenda taking the floor during General Debate

Lastly, Ms. D’Arino attended an evening reception at Microsoft UN Office where digital accessibility and its importance for persons with disabilities was discussed.

Day 4: Second Day of CoSP (Wednesday, June 12th)

Ms. Tarczay participated in a breakfast briefing at Microsoft UN offices. Mohammed Ali Loutfy, Director for Capacity Building and Advocacy at G3ICT, emphasized that digital accessibility should be viewed as a human right and shared updates on the Global Digital Compact (GDC) drafts.

A woman and a man smile at the camera
Ms. Tarczay with Mr. Axel Leblois, President and Executive Director at G3ict

Later that day, Ms. Tarczay, as part of the IDA delegation, engaged in a discussion with Zero Project Director, Michael Fembek, exploring possibilities for regional support and development conferences on employment.

Four men and a woman standing and smiling at the camera
IDA delegation with Zero Project Director, Michael Fembek

Ms. D’Arino participated in an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Informal Consultation on the care and support agenda, providing the perspective of the deafblind community. She highlighted issues such as lack of legal recognition of deafblindness and disaggregated data for persons with deafblindness.

Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino met with Perkins School for the Blind representatives, Masha Devoe (International Lead, External Relations) and Daniela Gissara (Assistant Director, International Partnerships). They discussed joint support on social media campaigns and the inclusion of WFDB representatives in regional working groups. They also sought support for the International Day of Persons with Deafblindness initiative.

They also met with Women Enabled International (WEI) representatives Amanda McRae (UN Advocacy Director) and Anastasia Holobogg (Capacity and Movement Strengthening Director) to explore how both organizations could strengthen collaboration and exchange resources. WEI offered support in capacity building, advocacy training, and resources on sexual and reproductive rights and gender-based violence.

Finally, Ms. Tarczay was invited to an evening reception at the Germany Permanent Mission, where discussions were held with various government representatives, including Germany and Jordan. Both countries showed eagerness in supporting WFDB’s initiative on the recognition of International Day of Deafblindness.

Day 5: Third and Final Day of CoSP (Thursday, June 13th)

Mr. Kumwenda co-chaired Roundtable 3: Promoting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Decent Work and Sustainable Livelihood.

People sitting behind microphones
Mr Kumwenda as co-chair

Ms. Tarczay was invited as a speaker to the side event “Advancing Health Equity”, organised by WHO where she presented the perspective of persons with deafblindness and the lack or inadequate access to health services. The SHAPES project was mentioned as an example of a good practice.

Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino met with AT Scale Global Partnership for Assistive Technology representatives, including Pascal Bijleveld (CEO) and Cerdiwen Johnson (Advocacy and Communications Specialist). They discussed the organization’s focus on providing assistive technology in low- and middle-income countries and the possibility of including WFDB representatives in their initiatives.

Finally, Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino, together with other IDA representatives, met with Łukasz Krasoń, Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy of Poland, and his team. Poland shared their efforts in creating a communication center for persons with disabilities and their use of AI to create accessible formats. Ms. Tarczay emphasized the need for consulting persons with deafblindness in these initiatives.

5 people smile at the camera
IDA Delegation with Łukasz Krasoń, Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy of Poland and Advisor

Day 6: Final Meeting (Friday, June 14th)

Before their departure, Ms. Tarczay and Ms. D’Arino met with H.E. Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Ambassador at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Croatia to the UN, and Ms. Katarina Andric to seek their support as a leading country in the proposal for the recognition of International Day of Deafblindness. Croatia agreed to raise the matter with different ministries and support WFDB as far as possible.

Three women and one man standing in front of three flags and smiling at the camera
WFDB President and Program Advisor with Mr. Ivan Šimonović and Ms. Katarina Andric at the Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN

The WFDB delegation is extremely pleased with the results of their participation and the steps forward in recognizing the International Day of Deafblindness. We thank IDA and Sightsavers for their support and look forward to future editions as well as new collaborations.

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