Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a real pleasure to be here with you.
I'm very pleased that we welcome over 1000 delegates from 60 countries.
Your presence here is a testament to the importance of this Congress. And it also demonstrates that we share a very strong commitment to creating a more inclusive world.
I am grateful to Rehabilitation International and The Shaw Trust for the excellent work they have done in organising this event. Their efforts have already secured a lasting legacy in this city – not least by ensuring the increased accessibility of this conference centre.
I am delighted that Scotland was selected as the host country for this World Congress. The last time this World Congress was held in the UK was in 1957.
It was officially opened by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. So it is particularly fitting that Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal has started proceedings today.
In the nearly 60 years since that first UK-based Congress, the way that we think about disabled people and disability has changed a great deal. And changed very much for the better.
On an international level, the issue of disability rights has become a major focus of the human rights agenda – through milestones like the UN Declaration, and later the UN Convention, on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The creation and continuing success of the Paralympics and the Special Olympics has inspired generations of disabled people, and redefined expectations around their abilities and ambitions.
And major grassroots movements – on issues like independent living and self-advocacy – have changed attitudes and empowered disabled people to take control of their own lives.
These advances came about because of the outstanding work of disabled people and organisations, like those here today.
But, as you all know, there is much more work to do.
The economic upheaval of the last decade has exacerbated inequalities across the globe. And we have seen all too clearly what this rise in inequality can lead to. Greater alienation, exclusion and social instability.
And disabled people have very often been those who have suffered the most.
That's why we need to redouble our efforts to tackle inequality head-on, and ensure everyone has the chance to realise his or her full potential.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted in 2015 represent a clear call to action on this front, as they specifically focus on reducing inequalities.
I'm very proud that Scotland was one of the first countries to sign up to these Global Goals, as it indicates our strong commitment to a more equal and inclusive world.
And the key themes that you will focus on over the next three days – Employment, Education and Skills; Independent Living; and International Development and Partnerships – identify very clearly where we all need to focus our efforts.
In Scotland, we are already taking action in these key areas as we deliver the requirements of the UNCRPD.
For example, we have pledged to use the Scottish Parliament's new powers to create a dedicated employability service for disabled people.
We have safeguarded the rights of our most severely disabled people by establishing the Scottish Independent Living Fund.
And, as part of the Scottish Government's International Framework, we are promoting collaboration with other countries to tackle inequalities across the world.
Indeed, one of our colleges – Glasgow Kelvin College – has partnered with an industry body in India, to develop employability schemes for disabled people in that country.
This is an example of Scotland sharing our experience and expertise, to improve the lives of disabled people across the world. But we are also determined to learn from the best practice and the best ideas of other countries.
That's why we're exploring the Buurtzorg model of care that has been so successful in the Netherlands.
The Buurtzorg principles of self-help, independence and integration of support are exactly those we embrace here in Scotland.
So in the coming months, we will begin testing this model in a range of localities across the country.
Through initiatives like this, we continually seek to improve the support disabled people receive, and ensure it is tailored to their individual circumstances.
This is hugely important, because disabled people are not a homogeneous group. They are individuals, and as such, have individual circumstances, needs and aspirations – which can change over time.
That fundamental truth is one we have recognised here in Scotland. It's why we decided to integrate health and social care – one the most significant reforms since the establishment of the National Health Service.
In doing so, we have made our Health Service and our local government services jointly responsible for delivering the coordinated care and support that people need.
And this is ensuring that people consistently get the right help, whatever their needs, at any point in their lives.
We have also redefined the principles of social care in our country by implementing self-directed support.
We know that far too often, disabled people have simply been seen as 'service users', with little contribution to make in deciding the direction of their own lives.
This kind of attitude can not only have a demoralising effect on the individual, but it can also mean they will not receive the right support – because they've not had their say.
Self-directed support empowers disabled people, their carers, and their families, so they have control and choice when it comes to their lives. It helps ensure that they get the specific support they need – whether that involves employing personal assistants to allow them to work, or using new technologies to improve their access to support.
Partnership with Government
Our work is ongoing. As all of you know, trying to improve attitudes and bring about positive, lasting change is not easy.
To succeed, our efforts require expertise, creativity and determination.
And it is exactly these qualities that disabled people's organisations bring to the cause.
Your real-life experience helps us identify the policy and service changes that need to be made. And your tenacity and focus inspire and energise those of us who work with you.
The partnership between disabled people's organisations and government has been a key feature of the progress that we have made here in Scotland.
It has underpinned the development of our plan to deliver the requirements of the UN Convention. And it is a feature of all the improvements we seek to make.
For example, last month we published our Accessible Travel Framework. It is designed to improve the accessibility of Scotland's transport system for disabled people. And it is the product of two years of collaborative work between disabled people, disability organisations, transport operators and government.
Crucially, the Framework sets out the need to make the views of disabled people a central focus of policy-making – not an afterthought.
This is something that we need to embed across policy-making at all levels. There is no way we can reduce disability-based inequalities without fully involving those who are most affected.
When it comes to their own lives, disabled people are the experts, and we should treat them as such.
Access to elected office
However, this form of collaboration between government and disabled people cannot be the limit of our ambitions. There is another very obvious way in which we can strengthen the voice of disabled people in the political process.
And that is by making sure that disabled people have every opportunity to run for elected office.
Currently, disabled people are significantly underrepresented in electoral politics.
Clearly, political parties themselves have a big role to play in addressing this – and more needs to be done.
My own party, the Scottish National Party, held a Disabled Members' conference earlier this year – and I was delighted to attend.
This was a first for any political party in Scotland – a conference organised by disabled people, for disabled people.
Over 170 disabled members came together for a day of workshops, keynote speakers and vibrant discussion.
A key part of the agenda was, very simply, how to ensure disabled people are properly represented in the political process.
As I told delegates that day, this starts at a grassroots level.
Being a political activist isn't just about knocking doors. All political parties need people who are active on social media, and able to offer whatever help they can in their local branches.
By taking those first steps, we hope that more disabled people will consider putting themselves forward for election.
And at the conference, delegates also heard encouraging stories from disabled elected representatives about their experiences.
It was an immensely worthwhile experience – not just for those who attended, but also for me as First Minister and SNP Leader.
And the main message that I heard was that the main barrier to participation for disabled people is cost.
The additional expenses incurred by a disabled candidate – for example, on additional transport needs, on sign language interpreters, or on travel for a carer – can have a prohibitive effect.
That's why in Scotland we have created an Access to Elected Office Fund for the 2017 local government elections.
The Fund is being administered by Inclusion Scotland – one of our country's disabled people's organisations, and a great advocate for inclusion and participation.
It will ensure that disabled candidates can access the funding they need so that they are competing on a level playing field.
And we hope it will create a lasting legacy by familiarising prospective disabled candidates with the electoral process, and by demonstrating that there should be no barriers to elected office.
Ultimately, that is what this Congress is all about – trying to create fairer, more equal society where disabled people can fulfil their full potential.
I'm very proud of the progress we have made in Scotland. But I know that there is still much that we have to learn.
That is why this event is so important. In the next three days you will share your range of different experiences, opinions and ideas. In doing so, you will increase our collective understanding of the challenges disabled people face across the globe.
And you will help guide the future actions that we all need to take in order to deliver a more equal and inclusive world.
That's why I am delighted to welcome you all to Scotland. And I wish you all the very best for a constructive and successful Congress.
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