Since International Day of Persons with Disabilities was first celebrated in 1992, there has been a seismic shift in the role played by persons with disabilities in society, as they now look to take the lead in shaping a more disability-inclusive world. This movement is best seen through the creation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, which was driven by persons with disabilities, with a clear message: Nothing about us without us.
And this message is no different in Lao PDR.
Organizations of Persons with Disabilities, or OPDs, represent many diverse groups among the estimated one million persons with disabilities in the country and help give a voice to those who otherwise may never be heard.
The OPDs in Lao PDR play a crucial role in collecting data, monitoring the situation of persons with disabilities on the ground, advocating for greater inclusion in society, and even stepping in to deliver essential services, such as healthcare and education. This creates a virtuous loop whereby OPDs capture the real lived experiences of persons with disabilities, then advocate for changes in law and policy, and finally monitor these changes to see if they make a real difference in the lives of persons with disabilities.
Crucial for this loop to work is ensuring that OPDs have the space to fulfill their role at each important step. In practice, this means helping OPDs develop their capacity, creating more awareness for their work, and, most importantly, making sure they fully participate in decisions that affect persons with disabilities.