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Opening remarks by Mr. Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the “Community Access – Good Neighbour Gala” at the United Nations, 8 May 2014, New York

Excellences, ladies and Gentleman,

 It is a pleasure to be here today to support the work of Community Access during its 40th anniversary celebration. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, I am very impressed with the valuable work that is being undertaken by Community Access, right here in New York City and secondly, at the United Nations, we rarely have the chance to get involved in the work of local organisations. This is a very welcome opportunity to join the values and goals of the United Nations and the New York community.

The work of Community Access is very much in the spirit of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This human rights treaty was drafted with the direct participation of persons with disabilities, including persons with psychosocial disabilities, reflecting their specific interests and needs.  This Convention is the vivid example of how far persons with disabilities can reach and how much they can contribute to society, if they are able to participate and to be part of our communities.

 This Convention, for example, specifically recognises the right of disabled persons to live independently and to be included in the community. In addition, it recognises that persons with disabilities have:

a) The right to choose where and with whom they live, and not be forced to live under an specific arrangement like a psychiatric institution, a home or an institution that segregates them from the world;
b) The right to have the necessary support to live in the community, and;
c) The right to have access to all services in equal terms with others, being those services responsive to their needs.

The right to live independently is particularly important, as in many ways it can shield persons with mental disabilities from suffering further abuse, which often occurs during institutionalisation.  Community Access recognises this important aspect, by precisely integrating persons with psychosocial disabilities in the community, instead of institutionalising them. 

 
The lack of adequate or appropriate housing is often the cause or reason why institutionalization is considered the only option for persons with psychosocial disabilities . But much more needs to be done, across the globe, in facilitating access to appropriate housing for persons with psychosocial disability so that they are able to be part of our communities.
 
Work and employment are also essential in this context, as   Community Access has clearly recognised and acknowledged. Whether through self-employment or working for someone else, persons with psychosocial disabilities need flexible and supporting environments to work productively. 
 
Community Access provides this, by employing the very clients, it supports. This is an innovative and empowering approach that is commendable. The UN should build on this valuable experience.

To be part of the community is very important to persons with disabilities but it is important to all of us. All of us are enriching our lives by fully including people with disabilities, both socially and economically.

Thank you.