Thank you. As Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the Department of State, I welcome the opportunity to address the Fourth Conference of States Parties. The Obama Administration has appointed several senior officials to elevate the importance of disability issues, and Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Coordinator for Disability Inclusive Development at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is on the U.S. delegation this year. In his July 2011 Proclamation on the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the President reiterated his commitment to upholding the rights of persons with disabilities; ending all forms of discrimination against us; providing us with opportunities on an equal basis with others; and having the U.S. ratify the Disabilities Convention, which the United States signed in July 2009. To support the President’s commitment, key U.S. Government agencies continue to work diligently towards ratification.
As we move towards ratification, the theme of this year’s session, “Enabling Development and Realizing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” takes on particular importance. On inclusive development, the Department of State and USAID are collaborating to ensure that U.S. Government agencies advance the participation of persons with disabilities in the broader society. At the State Department, Secretary Clinton has asked each of our embassies to designate a point of contact on disability issues. This will facilitate communication between Washington and the field, and encourage engagement on a range of concerns directly affecting persons with disabilities, including discrimination, accessibility, health services, and independent living.
The State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” give detailed information on the human rights situations of 194 countries. They aim to advance worldwide efforts to end human rights abuses, calling attention to countries that fail to uphold internationally recognized rights. The Country Reports include sections dealing with groups that are at particular risk for human rights abuses, and specifically address persons with disabilities.
The State Department and USAID have continued to introduce disability-related criteria in awarding international grants, and continue to provide technical assistance on improving accessibility to countries that have ratified the Convention. As a result, we have seen an increased number of grant applicants addressing the inclusion of disability in their proposals and reaching out to partner with disabled people’s organizations.
In the United States, federal agencies are using recruitment, retention, and reasonable accommodation to implement the President’s July 2010 Executive Order on increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the federal government. The Department of Labor has established October as National Disability Employment Awareness month. This year, for the first time, the State Department is partnering to involve U.S. embassies in raising awareness of these issues at the country level.
We continue to seek the valuable input of civil society groups. As part of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, the State Department has elevated the issue of disability rights. Disabilities groups have taken part in various conversations with senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, and staff members at various federal agencies. Similarly, USAID and the State Department held a joint listening session with key disabilities stakeholders. The State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs continues to increase the numbers of disabled people participating in the International Visitors Leadership Program and other cultural exchanges.
The U.S. looks forward to joining the upcoming discussions on the sessions’ sub-themes of international cooperation, political and civil participation, and work and employment. In closing, let me mention a side event that the U.S. and Australia will be hosting this Thursday, September 8 on “Implementing Article 24: Inclusive Education through International Cooperation.” We hope to see many of you during this lunchtime panel discussion. The U.S. delegation welcomes conversation with you, our partners, over the coming days.