December 3, 2023


By 2023 Diana Award recipient, Ethelyn Huang, from Singapore.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is celebrated annually on 3rd December. This day shines a light on the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development and raises awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of political, social, economic, and cultural life. To mark the day, we asked 2023 Diana Award recipient Ethelyn Huang to speak about her work and the importance of this day.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

It can be said that the most significant form of disability is the inability to recognise or perceive the abilities and potential of oneself or others. This International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), we come together to emphasise the importance of recognising and valuing the inherent abilities that people possess, regardless of any external factors that might be perceived as limitations. Taking place on 3 December each year, the IDPD is coordinated by the United Nations, aims to shine a spotlight on disability issues, promote awareness and rally support for the dignity, rights, and wellbeing of people with disabilities. The 2023 IDPD theme of “United in action to rescue and achieve the UN Sustainability Development Goals for, with and by persons with disabilities” calls for collective public support for this cause.

Personally, my work in founding Embracing ThisAbility, a social enterprise empowering people with disabilities, has opened my eyes to their specific needs as well as skills. We specialise in the production of weighted lap pads, which are low-cost tools designed to effectively improve emotional regulation in those with developmental disabilities such as ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder. At the same time, people with disabilities benefit from not just the consumer end, but the producer side as well. Our lap pads are created by 25 hearing-impaired workers employed by Precious One, an Indonesian organisation, who form a fluid work process uniquely centred around sign language. Each of them possesses distinctive talents, such as the ability to create beautiful handicrafts and paintings, which provide them with both great pride in their own work and a stable income to support themselves. However, it is the harsh reality that many others with disabilities do not share the same opportunities for empowerment because others equate their disability to inability; according to a 2023 survey, only 21.3% of working-age people with disabilities in the United States are employed.

Besides lacking opportunities for meaningful workplace participation, those with disabilities face challenges in every facet of their lives. Insufficient access to affordable, appropriate, and long-term healthcare poses a major obstacle, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has exposed the deep cracks in national healthcare systems. Additionally, people with disabilities also lack access to education and fundamental rights including voting access, with consistently lower rates of voting turnout than nondisabled people. From a sociocultural aspect, they also lack meaningful representation in the media, holding only 3% representation in all American media. This not only limits job opportunities in the industry but is also a significant barrier to a more inclusive society. The scarcity of individuals with disabilities in popular media means fewer role models to encourage children with disabilities to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, and much more.

Workers at Precious One producing our lap pads

Needless to say, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities plays a pivotal role in garnering support to tackle these issues. At the same time, there are many actions we can take in our own lives to contribute to this cause.


1. Support disability charities

Donate or volunteer to organisations which empower people with disabilities. Some of these organisations are included in the following list:

Leonard Chesire working with people with disabilities

2. Support advocates for disability justice

Many advocates today are actively involved in challenging systemic barriers and amplifying the voices of those with disabilities, and they need your support. Encourage these initiatives, such as this campaign by Hannah Diviney, a writer and disability advocate, who petitioned for Disney to create a disabled Disney princess in order to increase disability awareness from a childhood level.

3. Educate yourself and others

Take the time to learn about the experiences and difficulties faced by those with disabilities and share this knowledge with others. Only by understanding and empathising with their challenges can we build a more compassionate, informed, and inclusive society. You can do this by joining local events celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, learning more about the event from the United Nations page or even following influencers and content creators who share their daily experiences as people with disabilities. Some suggestions are given below:

4. Choose change

Be mindful of your everyday language and attitude. In 2008, the UN voted to change the title of the IDPD from the International Day of Disabled Persons to its title today. The deliberate reordering of the word “person” before “disability” is proof that small nuances in language go a long way towards demonstrating that we see people with disabilities as people first and foremost.

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