Thursday was the International Day of Persons With Disabilities and the United Nations commemorated it by naming Stevie Wonder its Messenger of Peace with a special focus on the world's estimated 650 million people living with a disability.
The popular singer and Grammy Award-winning songwriter was introduced in his new role by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a ceremony in New York.
"It is beyond my ability to fathom that 10 percent of the people of this world don't matter to the other 90 percent of the people in the world," Wonder said during the ceremony. "I'm not able to believe that. And the only way that we can show our caring about that 10 percent is by doing something to make the world more accessible and for people to be accepted with disabilities by committing ourselves to opening all the doors and all the possibilities for those who are physically challenged in any way."
Wonder likened the challenge to songwriting. "At the end of the day, if I am challenged to write a song that's a hit, it's going to be Number One. So we are going to win this one, too."
During the ceremony, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice pointed out that one of 10 people in the world is disabled, that unemployment and poverty are higher among those with disabilities and, in developing nations, 90 percent of disabled children do not attend school.
Rice also noted that in July the United States signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This landmark agreement asserts the equal rights of the world's disabled to education, health, employment, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law.
"Through songs of romance, of heartache, of injustice and heroism, through songs of soul, songs with funk and songs of hope, Stevie Wonder has encouraged all of us to never lose sight of our dreams for a better world," Rice said. "I think Stevie Wonder captures the significance of this day best with his words when he said: 'Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision.' "
An opportunity to examine specific global challenges of those with disabilities will come in 2010 during a September summit on the Millennium Development Goals. As Wonder said Thursday: "We can't just talk about it -- we got to do about it."