The first ever World report on disability, jointly produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, notes that more than a billion people in the world today experience disability. The report provides the best available evidence about what works to overcome barriers to health care, rehabilitation, education, employment, and support services, to obtain appropriate data, and to create the environments which will enable people with disabilities to flourish.

A two-day symposium held at the University of Sydney in partnership with the World Health Organization and involving 220 people from 21 countries offered a forum for free, open and vigorous discussion of the report and its implications for the Asia Pacific region. A particular benefit of the meeting was the opportunity to increase understanding of Aboriginal disability issues thanks to the strong voices of the Indigenous community.

The strongest message from this symposium is that we know what to do next. The World report on disability tells us what the gaps are and, where there is already good evidence upon which to base policy and practice, how to proceed. In areas where knowledge is less well developed, the report and its recommendations provide a sound basis from which to begin. Our commitment here is to advance the implementation of recommendations of the World Report on disability. To achieve this we need to build the evidence base about what works, for whom, and in what contexts. This two-day symposium has been a positive step forward in sharing evidence from the Asia Pacific region and growing networks of researchers, people with disabilities, advocates and policy makers.

We commit to:

1.    Operationalising nothing about us without us as a key principle underpinning the research process – involving people with disabilities to understand their lived experiences but also to ensure research that is relevant to the barriers they encounter, to their aspirations, and to the purpose of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

2.    Taking a functioning approach to disability and using the ICF as a standard international classification so that we will have useful and comparable data to inform the policy goals of participation, inclusion, and health.

3.    Bringing a multi-dimensional approach to research, understanding people in their environments and interactions, using multiple methods in all domains of life and society, and over time.

4.    Linking researchers, universities, Disabled Peoples’ Organisations, people with disabilities, and service providers in low, middle and high- income countries across the Asia Pacific region.

5.    Helping research make a difference by disseminating our findings to the widest possible audience and in accessible formats and by working with policy makers and practitioners to ensure that evidence translates into positive changes for people with disabilities and their families.

Sydney, 6 December 2011.