U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched a dialogue among global leaders to spur action to ensure the one billion disabled people around the world can contribute to the global economy.
Ban spoke Monday at the first high-level General Assembly meeting about persons with disabilities. He urged the leaders to "break barriers and open doors" for the disabled.
Ban said "far too many people with disabilities live in poverty" and many suffer social exclusion while being denied access to education, health care, and social and legal support,
In opening the meeting in New York, General Assembly President John W. Ashe stressed the importance of a new global commitment to eliminate discrimination and stigma against persons with disabilities.
He called for the disabled to be included in the development of new U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to fight poverty and promote equality for 2015 to 2030.
Ashe said many disabled people are hidden from view by others, and robbed of contact, dignity or joy because of poverty, lack of support services, an unwarranted sense of shame or terrible ignorance.
His view was echoed by blind singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, a U.N. Messenger of Peace. He told the leaders, "We need to make sure that real participation and voices of persons with disabilities are included in everything we do for peace and development around the world."
Wonder said he wishes for a day when technology is available for every blind person or person with disabilities around the world.
The executive director of the World Health Organization office at the U.N., Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, said people with disabilities are twice as likely to find health services inadequate, and three times as likely to be denied adequate health care.
According to the World Health Organization, 360 million people worldwide have moderate to profound hearing loss, but only 10 percent have access to hearing aids. More than 200 million people need glasses or low-vision devices, but have no access to them, and only five to 15 percent of the 70 million people who need wheelchairs have access to one.
Monday's meeting is a prelude to the annual U.N. gathering of presidents, prime ministers and heads of state that begins Tuesday.