Feedback from the World Blindness Summit

The World Blindness Summit Madrid 2021 has gathered over 4,000 people from 152 countries around the world who have set the future of over 285 million blind people who demand an inclusive future in terms of access to education, employment, culture and all areas of life. 

At the closing ceremony, the Government Vice President Carmen Calvo pledged to continue working "for the rights" of people with disabilities “to build their personal life projects with equal opportunities and in freedom".

This was her statement at the closing of the largest global event for blind people ever held, with over 4,000 participants from 152 countries around the world, co-organised by the ONCE Social Group, the World Blind Union and the World Blind Union World Blind Union (WBU) and the International Council for Education of the Blind (ICEVI).

In her speech, Calvo stressed that "it is not about integrating, but about including", and appealed to the efforts of society as a whole, including private and public authorities, and recognised that this path "requires a change in regulations". “We must continue to ascertain the quality of the rights enjoyed by democracies in terms of the quality of life of people with disabilities", she said.

Hence, she highlighted the amendment of Article 49 of the Spanish Constitution, which will not only stop referring to 4 million people with disabilities in Spain "in an almost denigrating way", "but will also mean a firm commitment to an inclusive, free and strong society, when their rights and opportunities become the strength of democracy".

Uniting to leave no one behind

Miguel Carballeda, President of the ONCE Social Group, highlighted the importance of being able to hold this summit despite the difficulties. “We have fulfilled our commitment to the World Blind Union (WBU) and ICEVI to discuss the future of the 285 million blind people around the world who want to be an equal part of society”.

In this sense, he stressed the importance of people and teams, because "united we will go further and achieve more things, without leaving anyone in civil society behind". As a result of this joint work, Carballeda stressed that all the political groups in Congress and the Senate have supported the holding of this World Blindness Summit, "which has made Spain, and Madrid, a benchmark for the inclusion of blind people throughout the world".

Cristina Gallach, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, described the summit as "an avant-garde, disruptive and innovative event" that has served to address challenges and objectives that raise awareness in civil society and continue to make progress "in improving the rights of millions of blind people".

In this regard, she highlighted the ONCE Social Group's commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and "its model of inclusion with an impact in our country and beyond our borders". “You have managed to pinpoint Spain at the centre of global inclusion", she added, before indicating that "you can count on me as an ally in the defence of the rights of people with disabilities".

At the closing of the Summit, Martine Abel Williamson, recently elected President of the World Blind Union, intervened from New Zealand to highlight the importance of organisations representing people with disabilities and to recall that blind people "have to be brave and move forward together, united, for a better future".

ICEVI President Frances Gentle highlighted the importance of Braille in promoting the education of blind children around the world. “The magic made by the six dots used in Braille have opened wide the doors of knowledge for blind people. We never feel so free as when we hold a Braille book on our knees", she said.  

Institutional support

A large number of national and international authorities have been there to give their support, in person or online, to the World Blind Summit. It is worth mentioning the participation of HM Queen Letizia, who was at the inauguration, or the Presidents of the Congress and the Senate, Meritxell Batet and Pilar Llop; the Minister of Inclusion, José Luis Escrivá; the President of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso; the Mayor of the Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida; the Secretary of State for Social Rights, Nacho Álvarez; and several ambassadors and representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited in our country.

From outside our borders we have had the participation of the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell; the European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli; and the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres, who wanted to show his support to World Blindness Summit Madrid 2021 by signing a letter in which he committed himself to the blind people of the world to work for their inclusion.

In addition, several public and private entities have wanted to support the holding in Madrid of this historic summit for blind people from all over the world.

Accessible technology

The Summit, under the slogan "Everyone's vision", has developed over 50 debates on diverse topics that affect blind people in the fields of education, training, employment, autonomy, technology, reading, culture and sports, among others.

To make meetings possible and participation easy from anywhere in the world, the World Blindness Summit Madrid 2021 has had the largest technological platform available, which provides security, usability and privacy to the event, and also access from remote countries. The platform has supported at least three audio channels for the sessions that have been developed in the three official languages of the event (English, French and Spanish).

It has allowed the participation of at least 10 speakers through video and audio, and at least 1,000 attendees with an instant messaging communication channel. The platform has been able be accessed from various types of devices: desktop or laptop personal computers, digital tablets and desktop or mobile phones.

World Blind Union General Assembly: Election Results

For its 10th General Assembly, the World Blind Union (WBU) has organized the first global accessible online participatory process to elect its new Table Officers.

280 WBU delegates have elected Martine Abel-Williamson (New Zealand) as the new President of the World Blind Union. Martine Abel-Williamson is on the board of WBU national member Blind Citizens New Zealand. 

The new leadership of the WBU for the term 2021 to 2025 has been elected as follows:

  • 1st Vice President: Fernando Riaño (Spain)
  • 2nd Vice President: Yaw Ofori Debra (Ghana)
  • Secretary General: Diana Stentoft (Denmark)
  • Treasurer: Diane Bergeron (Canada)

In the coming days, the biography of the President and of the newly elected Table Officers will be published on the WBU website.