Obesity can constitute a disability in certain circumstances, the EU’s highest court has ruled.
The European Court of Justice was asked to consider the case of a male childminder in Denmark who says he was sacked for being too fat.
The court said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability.
The ruling is binding across the EU.
Judges said that obesity in itself was not a disability – but if a person had a long-term impairment because of their obesity, then they would be protected by disability legislation.
The case centres around childminder Karsten Kaltoft who weighs about 160kg (25 stone).
He brought a discrimination case against his employers of 15 years, Billund local authority, after he was sacked four years ago.
The authority said a fall in the number of children meant Mr Kaltoft was no longer required.
But Mr Kaltoft said he was dismissed because he was overweight.
Earlier this year, he told the BBC that reports that he was so fat he was unable to bend down to tie children’s shoelaces were untrue.
Describing his work with children, he said: “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that.
“I don’t see myself as disabled. It’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”
The Danish courts asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether obesity was a disability.
The ECJ ruled that if the obesity of the worker “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”, then obesity can fall within the concept of “disability”.
Rulings from the European Court of Justice are binding for all EU member nations.
The courts in Denmark will now have to assess Mr Kaltoft’s weight to see if his case can be classed as a disability.
Analysisby Clive Coleman, BBC’s legal correspondent
Today’s ruling was of great interest to employers across Europe. The judgement makes no direct link between Body Mass Index and obesity, but is a powerful statement that an obese worker whose weight hinders their performance at work is entitled to disability protection.
That will mean employers must, on a case by case basis, make reasonable adjustments such as providing larger chairs or special car parking, and protect such employees from verbal harassment.
But there are wider implications. Providers of goods and services such as shops, cinemas and restaurants will also have to make reasonable adjustments for their customers, which might include things like special seating arrangements.
The key concept here is that adjustments must be “reasonable” – so it may be deemed reasonable for a Premier League football club to make two seats available for someone disabled through obesity, but not for a small, non-league club.
Obesity, particularly what is sometimes known as morbid or severe and complex obesity, can be a particularly sensitive subject.
Employers and service providers will have to take care not to make assumptions about the needs of an obese worker or customer.
Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman of the British Obesity Society, said obesity should not be classed as a disability.
She told the BBC: “I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situation worse.
“[It is] implying that people have no control over the condition, rather than something that can be greatly improved by changing behaviour.”
Paul Callaghan, head of employment law at international law firm Taylor Wessing, said the ruling does not change UK law.
“The European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity itself is not a disability, but that the effects of it can be.
“As such, workers who suffer from, for example, joint problems, depression, or diabetes – specifically because of their size – will be protected by the European Equal Treatment Framework Directive and cannot be dismissed because of their weight.”
Audrey Williams, employment law partner at Eversheds, said the mere fact someone is obese is not enough to make them disabled.
“What the court are saying is that obesity is not protected unless it hinders professional life.”
She said the ruling would increase awareness among employers of their responsibility towards obese employees in the workplace.
This could include making reasonable adjustments to working arrangements, seating arrangements or making access to the office easier.
However, Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said the ruling had opened a can of worms for UK employers.
“They will be required to make adjustments to their furniture and doors and whatever is needed for very large people.
“I believe it will also cause friction in the workplace between obese people and other workers.”
One in four people in the UK is classified as obese.
Jane Hatton, who manages Evenbreak, a not-for-profit job board run by disabled people for disabled people, publishes her monthly article on the subject of employment and diversity.
This month she looks at the additional and very beneficial skills that disabled people acquire, and how you can use them to your advantage.
Last month we explored why disabled people should be attractive to employers. This month I would like to explore just one area of that a bit further. Like everyone else, as disabled people we all have our own unique range of skills and talents. But nearly always, we have developed additional skills to navigate our way around a world which isn’t designed for us. Often our impairment itself will mean we can do things other people can’t. Here are some examples of what I mean.
Innovation and creativity
Most disabled people face barriers which get in the way of doing things. So we have to be creative in finding other ways round, through or over those barriers. My own impairment (a degenerative spinal condition which prevents me from sitting) means I can’t sit at a desk to use a computer. So I lie down with a laptop suspended above me. A colleague has poor fine motor skills and can’t use a keyboard, so he uses software called Dragon Dictation which means he can dictate to the computer, and it will type what he says. People who can think of innovative solutions to problems are an asset in the workplace.
Persistence and determination
Linked to the above, disabled people tend to work at problems until we find a solution. We don’t give up at the first hurdle, or we would never achieve anything. For example, one of our candidates took four years instead of two years to complete his Business Studies qualification due to a learning disability. Many people would have given up at the first sign of a problem, but he was determined to succeed, and he did. Most employers would value an employee who sticks at things rather than walking away as soon as they face difficulties.
Again, due the barriers we face, disabled people develop problem-solving skills. Things that most people take for granted can be problematic for us – everyday things such as transport, communication, even getting dressed. So we find solutions. This might be an alternative way of doing things (I can’t drive very far or use public transport, so I lie down and am driven to places), or it might be involving others in supporting us. We often see solutions where others see problems.
Sometimes the reasonable adjustments that we use mean we can be more productive than our non-disabled colleagues. A candidate who uses dictation software (mentioned earlier) is much quicker and much more accurate than his non-disabled colleagues. The software works at the speed he talks, and unlike humans, doesn’t make spelling mistakes or typos!
The impairment itself
Often the impairment itself can be an advantage to the employer. We have employers advertising some jobs on our job board specifically targeted to people on the Autistic Spectrum, because often such people are great at attention to detail, spotting patterns and noticing mistakes. Deaf employees can be productive because they don’t get distracted by the office gossip about what happened in Eastenders last night! People with bi-polar or schizophrenia can be very creative. People working with other disabled people can often be more helpful if they share that condition. So for example, someone giving career advice to a blind person would be more credible and understand the issues better if they were blind themselves.
In a later article we will be exploring how to identify strengths and skills that will be attractive to employers, but it’s easy to forget those extra advantages we bring with us, such as those mentioned here. How does your impairment make you more attractive to employers?
North Korean defector says disabled disappear and mentally ill left to die under Kim Jong-un’s regime, amid claims dwarfs are castrated and chemical weapons tested on children
North Korea is systematically “cleansing” its population by making those with mental or physical disabilities disappear, a defector has claimed.
Ji Seong-ho, 32, who escaped from North Korea after losing his left leg above the knee and his left hand at the wrist, said the disabled are considered a stain on North Korea’s image and a “humiliation” to the ruling regime.
Mr Ji, who is researching a book on the plight of North Korea’s disabled, said babies with disabilities are taken away by hospital staff, never to be seen again. He added that children with developmental difficulties are neglected until they die.
“The regime proclaims: ‘There are no people with disabilities under the Kims’ rule’ and ‘everyone is equal and living well’,” he said. “And while that propaganda is going on disabled children are being taken away, suffering indescribable things and dying.”
He said two other defectors had told him of a village in the remote and inhospitable mountains of Ryanggang Province where anyone with dwarfism was sent.
“They were forbidden to leave and left entirely to their own devices, without any outside help,” he said. “The men were castrated so they would become extinct. There’s no-one left there by now.”
A United Nations commission said in February that it had heard allegations that medical experiments are performed in “closed hospitals” on “persons with disabilities”. But it added that it had not managed to confirm the claims.
In a separate study, conducted in 2013 by the Citizens’ Alliance on North Korean Human Rights, some 40 per cent of defectors said they believed that infants with disabilities are killed or abandoned and 43 per cent claimed to know of “an island” on which the disabled are forced to live.
One of the defectors told of a hospital where disabled people are sent “for medical tests, such as dissection of body parts, as well as tests of biological and chemical weapons.”
A former officer in North Korea’s special forces, who defected in the 1990s after watching chemical and biological weapons tests on disabled children and adults, told The Telegraph about the programme.
“The regime wants to do this ‘legally’ so they offer to buy disabled children from their parents and they say they will take care of them,” said Im Cheon-yong.
“If that doesn’t work, they threaten them. They use them for chemical weapons experiments,” he said. “But not only children, they also use disabled adults.” Mr Im said he first saw such tests, involving anthrax and other chemical weapons, in 1984.
Ji Seong-ho lost his limbs at the age of 14 after he passed out from hunger while scavenging for coal on the railway tracks and was run over by a train. When he fell, the train ran over his left arm and leg and staff of a nearby station bundled him into a wheelbarrow and took him to a nearby hospital.
“I needed surgery, but they didn’t have anaestheic,” he said. “I remember the doctor carrying me into the operating room and they had to hold me down while they operated. I could hear the saw going through my bones.”
After the operation, hospital staff gave him cigarettes as painkillers, although his leg became infected and required a second amputation, this time above the knee. Again, there was no anaesthetic. Fifteen days later, Mr Ji was sent home from the hospital as they were no longer able to care for him.
While he was allowed to cross into China in 2000 to beg for food, he was arrested on his return and interrogated for more than two weeks.
“I asked them why,” he said. “They told me that because I was disabled, I had hurt the dignity of North Korea by going to China to beg and that I had humiliated Kim Jong-il. They told me the people in North Korea are happy so how dare I go there and be a beggar.
“They said people like me should just die,” he added. “That really hurt.”
Today he is scheduled to address Parliament, after protesting earlier in the week outside of the North Korean embassy in London about the rights of the disabled.
“The regime claims the rights of disabled in North Korea are respected and they sent athletes to the Asian Paralympic Games in Incheon earlier this year, but it’s all just window-dressing,” he said.
“The reality is horrible,” he added. “In the famine years in the 1990s, the disabled received no food rations because they were not able to work and were not productive members of society. As much as 80 percent of the disabled just starved to death.”
“The regime assumes that we are useless and that is the message that they pass on to society,” he said.
“A baby was born near my house with deformed legs. It died when it was 1.
“People in North Korea have such a hard time surviving anyway that they cannot take care of the disabled,” he adds with a shrug.
Mr Ji eventually decided to defect in 2006 and was able to reach South Korea and, shortly afterwards, help his mother and younger brother and sister reach Seoul. His father, a coal miner, also tried to defect that year, but was caught, sent to prison and died during torture.
Theme: Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology
- Message of the Secretary-General (English) (Arab) (Chinese) (French) (Russian) (Spanish)
- Press release (forthcoming)
- Events at UN Headquarters (Programme)
- How you can commemorate IDPD 2014
- Previous commemorations of IDPD
Throughout human history, technology has always impacted the way people live. The Industrial Revolution ushered in a new age of technology that raised the standards of living of people around the world and their access to goods and services. Today, technology is built in to every facet of daily living. The emergence of information and communications technologies have dramatically increased connectivity between people and their access to information, and further raised living standards.
ICTs have indeed changed the way people live, work and play. However, not all people benefit from the advances of technology and the higher standards of living. This is mainly because not all people have access to new technologies and not all people can afford them.
Today, there are over 1 billion people living in the world with some form of disability. Around the world, persons with disabilities not only face physical barriers but also social, economic and attitudinal barriers. Furthermore, disability is associated with twenty per cent of global poverty, of which the majority live in developing countries. In spite of being the world’s largest minority group, persons with disabilities and the issue of disability has remained largely invisible in the mainstream development frameworks and its processes.
Since 1992, the annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The observance of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) provides an opportunity to further raise awareness of disability as a cross-cutting development issue. The theme of this year’s commemoration, “Sustainable Development: The promise of technology” is timely, as it marks the conclusion of the period of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) in 2015 and the launching of the new development framework of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The 2014 commemoration of IDPD will work to harness the power of technology to promote inclusion and accessibility to help realize the full and equal participation of persons with disabilities in society and shape the future of sustainable development for all!
Three sub-themes chosen will focus on the promise of technology in:
- Disability-Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals
- Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Responses
- Creating Enabling Work Environments
Disability-Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that have been recently proposed to succeed the MDGs, will work to address all three dimensions of sustainable development — environmental, economic and social. Disability is referenced in various parts of the draft proposal on the SDGs; more specifically in goals related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as in data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs. (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1618). All SDG goals concern persons with disabilities. Technology can greatly impact the achievement and outcome of the goals for persons with disabilities, and in reality for people everywhere. The Day can be used to promote the impact and benefits of assistive technology, accessible information and communications technology, technological adaptations and other policy and programmatic measures to improve the well-being and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development.
- The Sustainable Development Goals and Disability
- Introduction to the proposal of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals
- Outcome document – Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
- High-level meeting of the General Assembly on disability and development, 23 September 2013
- The ICT Opportunity for a Disability-Inclusive Development Framework
Disaster risk reduction and emergency responses
Statistics and evidence show that the mortality rate of persons with disabilities in a populations going through disaster situations is as high as 2 to 4 times, compared to the non-disabled population. Persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster, emergency, and conflict situations due to inaccessible evacuation, response (including shelters, camps, and food distribution), and recovery efforts. The Day will be used to highlight available technologies to support inclusive disaster risk reduction and emergency response, as well as emphasize the importance of making such technology accessible for all. Additionally, the potential of innovative and assistive emerging ICT technologies will be explored, such as early-warning, location and navigation applications that could save the lives of persons with disabilities in disaster and emergency situations.
- Disability, natural disasters and emergency situations
- WCDRR World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, 14-18 March 2015, Sendai, Japan
- DESA Forum Roundtable Discussion on Disability–Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience
- UN International Day for Disaster Reduction
Creating Enabling Work Environments
The right to work is a fundamental human right. However, persons with disabilities are often not considered in employment due to negative perceptions regarding their ability to contribute or the high cost of accommodating their disability or inaccessible workplaces. Often, employers are unaware of the valuable contribution persons with disabilities can make in a diverse workplace, through the use of adaptive and assistive technologies, and other reasonable accommodation measures. With the use of the right technologies, persons with disabilities are able to fully perform in their jobs. When employers undertake measures to identify and eliminate barriers to the employment, advancement and retention of persons with disabilities, they promote a workplace culture based on fair practices that safeguard allow persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect and to enjoy equal terms and conditions of employment. The International Day of Persons with Disabilities can be used to draw attention to the available technologies and measures that can be adopted to create work environments that are open, inclusive and accessible to allow persons with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to the workforce.
- A Place for All: A Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace — Canadian Human Rights Commission
- Simple Strategies for Providing an Accessible Workplace for Blind Employees
- Work Without Limits – An accessible workplace
- Managing disability in the workplace : ILO code of practice
- G3ict: The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs
Events at UN Headquarters
TUESDAY, 2 DECEMBER
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Conference Room 8
Panel Discussion: “Accessible Technologies for Persons with Disabilities: Crossing the Digital Divide”
Organized by DESA, co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Singapore and Morocco to the United Nations
This panel discussion will identify, exchange, and examine good practices and lessons learned in the planning and implementation of policies and strategies to promote accessible technologies for sustainable development in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.
1:15 to 2:30 p.m., Conference Room 8
Panel Discussion: “Mental well-being and disability: toward accessible and inclusive sustainable development goals”
Co-organized by United Nations University International Institute for Global Health, The World Bank Tokyo Development Learning Center, DESA, and co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Argentina, and the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh
Globally, an estimated one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Persons with mental and intellectual disabilities experience stigma and discrimination. This panel will look at mental disability in connection with the SDGs and accessibility. The panel will be organized by the World Bank, the United Nations University and several academic institutions and NGOs.
3:00 to 6:00 p.m., Conference Room 8
Panel discussion on “Creating enabling work environments”
Organized by DESA, co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Germany
Persons with disabilities are often not considered in employment due to negative perceptions regarding their ability to contribute or the cost of accommodating their disability. This panel will discuss how adaptive and assistive technologies can be used to create work environments that are open, inclusive and accessible to allow persons with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to the workforce.
6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Conference Room 4
Film screening: “We stand alone” (53 min)
Co-organized by DESA and DPI
This documentary features young amputee soccer players from Liberia who compete with other teams in Africa. The screening will be followed by an interactive discussion with the producer and the Liberian Nobel laureate Ms. Leymah Gbowee.
WEDNESDAY, 3 DECEMBER
International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Republic of Korea, the Permanent Mission of the Philippines, the Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania, the Permanent Mission of Brazil, the Permanent Mission of Spain, the Permanent Mission of Haiti and UNESCO
10:00 to 11:30 a.m., Conference Room 4
Opening of IDPD 2014: “Disability-inclusive Sustainable Development: The promise of technology”
First segment: Opening session
Organized by DESA
The Opening of the International Day will include the message of the Secretary-General and participation from the UN Secretariat, Governments and civil society. The New York School for Special Education’s choir will perform.
11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Conference Room 4
Second segment: Panel discussion on ”Disability-Inclusive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”
Organized by DESA, co-sponsored by Permanent Mission of Australia
Disability is referenced in various parts of the proposed SDGs, particularly in goals related to education, growth and employment, inequality, accessibility of human settlements, as well as in data collection and the monitoring of the SDGs. The panel will discuss how technology can impact the achievement and outcome of the goals for persons with disabilities and how it can be used to promote the benefits of assistive technology, accessible information and communications technology.
11:30 – 12:00 p.m., Secretariat Building Room S-237
Press Conference: Announcement of the global Campaign on Disability Inclusive Disaster Reduction and Resilience: Inclusion Saves Lives
Organised by DESA |
1:15 to 2:30 p.m., Conference Room 4
Panel discussion on “The Promise of Technology: Disability-Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Humanitarian Action”
Co-organized by DESA & the Nippon Foundation, co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Japan
Persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected in disaster, emergency, and conflict situations due to inaccessible evacuation, response and recovery efforts. The panel will highlight available technologies to support inclusive disaster risk reduction and emergency response. Additionally, the potential of innovative and assistive emerging ICT technologies will be explored, such as early-warning, location and navigation applications that could save the lives of persons with disabilities in disaster and emergency situations.
3:00 to 4:00 p.m., Conference Room E
Book Launch “Disability, Education and Employment in Developing Countries: From Charity to Investment”
Organized by JICA, UNDP, UNU and DESA
This event will provide an overview of this book by Dr. Kamal Lamichhane and discussants will engage in a conversation with the author.
3:00 to 6:00 p.m., Conference Room 4
UN Enable Film Festival
Organized by DESA
Musical performance by a group of Korean musicians with intellectual disabilities and autism.
Films will be chosen from submissions by the public as part of the UN Enable Film Festival. Winning submissions will be shown to the audience.
For more details, please direct your Internet browser to: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1562
6:30 p.m., Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations
Reception on the occasion of the International Day at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea
Musical performance by a group of Korean musicians with intellectual disabilities and autism
How you can commemorate IDPD 2014
Include: Observance of the Day provides opportunities for participation by all stakeholders – Governments, the UN system, civil society and organizations of persons with disabilities – to focus on issues related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society and development, both as beneficiaries and agents of change.
Organize: Hold forums, public discussions and information campaigns in support of the themes of IDPD 2014 to find innovative and promising ways in which technology can lead to a greater inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities in the lives of their societies.
Celebrate: Plan and organize performances everywhere to showcase – and celebrate – the contributions made by persons with disabilities as agents of change in the communities in which they live.
Take Action: A major focus of the Day is practical action to highlight how technology can impact the inclusion and contribution of persons with disabilities in social life and development on the basis of equality. Highlight best practices, innovative technological solutions for the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in their societies.
United Nations Enable Film Festival 2014
Send us your films: If you think that your short film can help achieve the objectives of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and is suitable to be presented to a diverse international audience, please send us information and a link to the online version of the film (or a hard copy of the film) for consideration. Further details and submission guidelines are available at:http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1562.
Themes for previous years:
- 2013: Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all
- 2012: Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all
- 2011: Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development
- 2010: Keeping the promise: Mainstreaming disability in the Millennium Development Goals towards 2015 and beyond
- 2009: Making the MDGs Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world
- 2008: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Dignity and justice for all of us
- 2007: Decent work for persons with disabilities
- 2006: E-Accessibility
- 2005: Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Action in Development
- 2004: Nothing about Us without Us
- 2003: A voice of our own
- 2002: Independent Living and Sustainable Livelihoods
- 2001: Full participation and equality: The call for new approaches to assess progress and evaluate outcome
- 2000: Making information technologies work for all
- 1999: Accessibility for all for the new Millennium
- 1998: Arts, Culture and Independent Living
Themes and observances of related International Days
- World Autism Awareness Day
- World Down Syndrome Day
- International Day for Risk Reduction 2013 “Living with Disability and Disasters” (13 October)
- World Telecommunication and Information Society Day: 2008 “Connecting Persons with Disabilities: ICT Opportunities for All” (17 May)
- International Day of Families: 2007: “Families and Persons with Disabilities” (15 May)