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What Participating in the UN Disabilities Conference Taught me

Significant Barriers Persist in Full Integration

Mariana Lozano, Human Rights Watch Marca Bristo Fellow 2023/2024, delivers her speech in a roundtable on promoting the rights of persons with disabilities to decent work and sustainable livelihood on June 13, 2024, as part of the annual UN conference on disability rights (COSP).  © 2024 Luis Rodríguez

As a young woman from Colombia with an intellectual disability, I am honored to represent the voice of those often marginalized. As part of the Marca Bristo Fellowship of Human Rights Watch, I had the opportunity to be a panelist during the seventeenth session of the UN Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2024 where I advocated for the rights of individuals with disabilities to dignified work and sustainable livelihoods. This experience allowed me to tell my story, learn more about how to advocate for change and accomplish my personal dream of visiting New York City.

These past two weeks have been a constant road towards exponential learning and unique experiences. First, having regular meetings and training with Human Rights Watch helped me understand the purpose of this organization. Additionally, I enjoyed the personalized sessions with the team regarding how to improve communication skills and the use of social media, which are key for advocacy.

Second, being in the multicultural stage of United Nations helped me understand the issues faced by people with disabilities across the world. I learned about the link between the impact of climate change and people with disabilities as there are few emergency plans with an inclusive perspective. Hence, people with disabilities are disproportionately affected by extreme weather and climate events.

Third, I would like to note that despite the progress towards inclusion, there are still significant barriers that persist that impede our full participation in society. Therefore, we still need to work on equal access to education, meaningful employment opportunities with equal working conditions and wages, and real policies that promote living independently and with dignity.

Finally, this experience showed me the power of communication and agency. Being able to attend and participate in this type of fora is incredibly powerful. Witnessing firsthand how people with disabilities advocate for themselves was truly inspiring. “Nothing about us without us" echoed loudly within me. People with disabilities must lead the change for inclusion and equality. I encourage anyone who is reading this to be an ally and join this journey towards change, inclusion and equality. 

Mariana Lozano is the 2023/2024 Human Rights Watch Marca Bristo Fellow.

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