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Disability and HIV Leadership Forum

AIDS-Free World hosted the first ever Disability and HIV Leadership Forum, a full-day advocacy training immediately preceding “AIDS 2012,” the XIXth International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. The Forum brought together disability rights advocacy leaders from around the world, including the countries of Zambia, Thailand, Barbados, Jamaica, Uganda, Serbia, Malaysia, and Nepal, among others. The Forum, presented in collaboration with Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) and Gallaudet University, united young disability rights leaders with seasoned advocacy experts in the fields for HIV, disability rights and human rights.

The one-day training focused on passing experiences and expertise to the “new leaders” of the disability rights movement. Pioneers, people with extensive experience and expertise, included Steve Estey of DPI and Judith Heumann of the US State Department. The day included interactive exercises, advocacy skill-building, and the creation of a declaration to demand that the “missing billion,” the 15% of the world’s population that has a disability, be included in the mainstream HIV rights movement and that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities be ratified in every country. At the Forum, young leaders shared their experiences, their successes, and their goals as they work to shift the way that people in their home countries think about people with disabilities and to effect policy change for the better.

Throughout the week following the Forum at the International AIDS Conference, these young leaders networked among HIV advocates, policy makers, and session panelists. They asked specific questions at symposiums about the lack of inclusion of disability rights and in almost every situation were given uninformed or incorrect responses. When asked if people with disabilities should be considered a high-risk group, one UNAIDS representative stated “that it is more an issue of risk situations,” displaying an all-too-common ignorance of the risk situations that people with disabilities are exposed to, such as an increased risk of being subjected to sexual violence and a lack of access to information about HIV. As stated in a WHO, UNAIDS and UNHCR policy brief, “The relationship between HIV and disability has not received due attention, although persons with disabilities are found among all key populations at higher risk of exposure to HIV.”1

At a press statement on July 26, the leaders presented the 10 demands from their declaration to inform journalists about the need for inclusion of people with disabilities in the HIV/AIDS response. Armed with this declaration, the skills they gained at the Forum, and the experiences they gathered at the Conference, these up-and-coming young activists will return to their home countries ready to lead the fight for the recognition and protection of the human rights of people with disabilities and to ensure that they are included in the response to HIV and AIDS.

Download of a copy of "The Washington D.C. Declaration Plus: Including the Invisible 15 Percent" here (PDF, 41KB)

1 UNAIDS, WHO and OHCHR. 2009. "Policy Brief: Disability and HIV."