The History Of The International Day Of Persons With Disabilities (IDPD) by Ogheneruemu Avweruosuoghene Alexander

Every year across the globe, precisely on the 3rd of December, a special event is observed. It is The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). On this day, several activities intended to promote a correct understanding of disability issues are organized. Support is mobilized for the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of Persons with Disabilities. The event is also intended to create awareness of the benefits to be derived from integrating Persons with Disabilities into every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.

This unique, annual celebration was proclaimed in 1992 by a United Nations General Assembly resolution. This special resolution by the United Nations has behind it an interesting history. This history is the focus of this article. Before then, it is germane to put get some understanding of the background of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It is said that “a knowledge of the history of a person, a movement, an event, a place, etc is crucial to having a better grasp of its present”. What is more, not only does such knowledge throw a light on the past to aid a better understanding of the present. It also enhances chances of creating a better future. And so an understanding of the successes and failures of the past is important to growing and making progress.


Back then in 1981, the event now known as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities started out as the “Year of Disabled Persons”. Five years earlier, 1976 precisely, the United Nations General Assembly had ratified a global decision in which it called for an “Action Plan” at national, regional and international levels. The focus was on providing equal opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), offer rehabilitation and prevent disabilities.

The theme for that year, 1981, was “Full Participation and Equality”. The impetus was on the right of PWDs to have a full part in the life and development of their societies, the right to enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and the right to have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development. With this first move of the UN General Assembly, a time frame was given to governments and organizations of signatory nations to implement activities recommended in the World “Programme of Action”. Thereafter, the UN declared the years from 1983-1992 as the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons.

Some pertinent questions rise at this juncture.

Why was it necessary for this apex world Organization, the UN, to expend so much focus and energies on a minority group?

What were the situations leading to the intervention of the UN?

A cursory look at the people in the eye of the storm will be helpful.

Persons With Disabilities.

From a general standpoint, a Person with Disability is one who suffers from a physical, mental, or emotional condition(s) that keeps her from living a functional life that is considered normal. A PWD may also be denoted by a term which specifically points to her disabling condition.

The Statistics

Statistics reveal that some one billion people (15%) of the world’s population suffer from one form of disability or the other.

PWDs, owing to their conditions, are more likely to experience marginalization in education, employment, poverty, unfavorable working conditions and a long list of other social injustices.

Such was the situation across the globe prior to the intervention of the United Nations. The situation still persists. Notwithstanding, there have been giant stride improvements since that first United Nations intervention of 1981.


The United Nations, guided by the principle of fundamental human rights, took up the gauntlet when its attention was drawn to recurrent barriers faced by PWDs in societies across the world. These obstacles constituted subtle infringements on the fundamental human rights of this minority. They came in various forms and magnitude. From restricted socio-political and economic participation to accessibility issues. From deficit in assistive devices availability to gaps in technology and service delivery. The overwhelming argument remained one of PWDs being at the receiving end of society’s attitude of discrimination, prejudice, and stigma. As it was then, so it is today – a tale of injustice to human dignity that calls for concerted actions by a recognized authority.


We now have a concise picture of the background to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.


Overtime, steady progress has been made and this yearly commemoration has become an important part of the United Nations calendar of activities. There is an increasing global awareness of the disability rights/inclusion social theory. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has been an active vehicle for achieving the aims of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This very important document in the Disability Rights crusade specifically underscores the imperative of transnational collaborations in addressing the rights of PWDs.


As a legally binding instrument, this document ensures that PWDs across the globe get the same rights irrespective of nationality, gender, religion, language, etc. Signatory nations are expected to formulate laws that grant rights to PWDs in line with UN stipulations.


For instance, the Nigerian State, under President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018. The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of Disability and imposes sanctions on offenders. Already, some gains have been made. While this gives hope to PWDs in the State, it remains to be seen how efficient and consistent its implementation will be.


Each annual celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities come with a distinct global theme which sets the tone for activities and lectures. However, individual countries, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the private sector are free to mark the occasion as they deem fit. The UN headquarters though, has a set routine for the IDPD. This consists of an opening ceremony, discussion panels and cultural events. Very importantly, all celebration activities are geared toward raising awareness on, as well as advancing the rights and perspectives of PWDs all over the world.


As individuals, governments and organizations look forward to marking this year’s edition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in the next seven months, they will do well to have an eye to the historical background of the occasion. That way, the inclusion spirit will be efficiently nurtured and continue flourishing.