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Celebrating the International Day of Persons With Disabilities



Judith Heumann serves as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the Department of State.

On the eve of December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, it is worth noting that 2011 also marks the 30th anniversary of the International Year of Persons with Disabilities. Much has happened to advance the rights, equality, and inclusion of persons with disabilities since the International Year was adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1981. International Decades of Persons with Disabilities have been adopted by the UN, the Asia Pacific region, the Americas, and the African region, advancing activities to combat discrimination on the basis of disability. In 1990, with its adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation unequivocally banning discrimination against persons with disabilities. A global pioneer, the ADA has inspired adoption of disability rights legislation around the world, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first international treaty to comprehensively address the rights of persons with disabilities, and has unified the global community with a common language of disability rights.

In celebrating this year’s International Day, and in a spirit of reflection, the State Department is hosting a screening of the Independent Lens film,”Lives Worth Living.” This documentary charts the history and rise of the disability rights movement in the United States. It shows how far we have come in striving for a society where persons with disabilities can live their lives on their own terms, through access to education, employment, transportation, political participation, and other fundamental spheres of life. It also demonstrates the power of unity, and how historically marginalized members of civil society can claim their place as agents of change in championing rights and freedoms, not only for themselves but for all people.

Such themes have been repeated over the past year, as we have witnessed civil society standing up for freedom and democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. Secretary Clinton has referred to civil society as one of the “essential elements of a free nation,” and noted that “societies move forward when the citizens that make up these groups are empowered to transform common interests into common actions that serve the common good.” As we contemplate the next 30 years, it is worth considering how we in the U.S. disability community can continue to unite our common interests into common actions to serve the common good of persons with disabilities both here and abroad. We still have progress to make at home, but for many persons with disabilities abroad the barriers they face have much in common with the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in the United States thirty or more years ago. We have much to share with and learn from our colleagues around the world, as we work together to make the rights articulated in the CRPD a reality in the daily lives of children, youth and adults with disabilities. It is work that we at the State Department are dedicated to, and on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities we hope that you will commit to joining us in this endeavor.

Judith Heumann serves as the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, the first such advisor to be appointed at the Department of State. The position of Special Advisor was created following U.S. signature of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and resides in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). As the senior-level disability human rights position at the State Department, the Special Advisor leads on disability human rights issues across the Department. The Special Advisor also coordinates the interagency process for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ; ensures that foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities; leads on disability human rights issues; ensures that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations; and conducts public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues.

Cross-posted from Disability.Gov Blog and DipNote.

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