Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator at the International White Cane Awareness Day
Statement of the UN Resident Coordinator, Ms Nathalie Ndongo-Seh, at the International White Cane Awareness Day, held at the UN House on Thursday, 15th October.
Chairperson of Eswatini Association of the Visually Impaired Person (ESAVIP),
Secretary of ESAVIP,
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good morning to you all.
On behalf of the United Nations Development System in Eswatini, it is a pleasure to welcome you in UN premises and an honour to address you on the International White Cane Awareness Day: a day on which we celebrate the everyday courage and the achievements of persons living with visual impairment and blindness.
This year’s celebration takes place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; a virus that knows no boundaries and which affects all people, regardless of gender, age and ethnicity. The pandemic is exposing the many inequalities within societies. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected vulnerable populations in a disproportionate manner.
At particular risk are the 2.2 billion persons living with visual impairment worldwide. Under normal circumstances, persons living with disabilities are less likely to access education, healthcare and livelihoods, or be included in communities and leadership responsibilities. COVID-19 has exacerbated these inequalities.
The United Nations is dedicated to ensuring that no one is left behind: both in the recovery from COVID-19 and the achievement of Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Transformative change can only happen when every voice is heard, including those of the persons living with visual impairment and blindness.
Today, we celebrate the courage and the resilience of persons living with blindness and visual impairment, who live and work independently, transform lives in their communities and achieve success in a sighted world. We honour and admire deeply your contributions to this nation and to the world.
In the Kingdom of Eswatini, an approximate 12,000 people live with visual impairment, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 6,000 of such cases are resultant from cataract; a preventable or a repairable condition. It is time to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who do not have the privilege to see; something which many of us take for granted.
It is significant that a white cane is used as a symbol of today’s celebration. The white cane has historically become a symbol of freedom, independence and confidence for those living with blindness. It is a magnificent achievement that men, women, girls and boys living with blindness are able to live independent lives using a cane. We honour all those today who rely on the white cane for their independent travel: you bring pride and hope to so many people living with and without sight.
The United Nations in Eswatini continues to stand in solidarity with all persons who live with blindness and visual impairment. Through the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office’s Disability Unit, the UN is working to enable persons living with disabilities to thrive and live independent lives. However, more attention and resources are needed to empower persons living with visual impairment and blindness.
Commitment, creativity and inclusion are required to address many of their challenges, as well as an undeniable recognition of their significant contribution to the Kingdom of Eswatini and the world. When we secure the rights of persons with disabilities, we invest in our common future. We look forward to building a strong partnership with you and, with humility and in a modest way, assist in enhancing the quality of your lives in this last Decade of Action.
As I close, I am reminded of the inspirational story of legally blind American Olympic runner, Marla Lee Runyan, who won four gold medals at the 1992 Summer Paralympics and later competed in able-bodied running races, winning three 5,000 metre National Championships. I could mention Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and closer to home, the singer Salif Keita and many others, who like each of you, remind us that, with the adequate support, you can achieve your dreams as a blind or a visually impaired person.
Today, let us all commit to support persons living with blindness and visual impairment achieve their dreams.
I thank you.