JOHN WODATCH: Thank you all for staying with us, and now we’re on to the concluding session of the conference and, as they say, we’ve saved the best for last. I’m pleased to introduce to you, Harold Koh, who is the legal advisor of the Department of State. He’s the 22nd person to hold that position. Interesting. He’s one of, I think, he is well known to all of us. He’s one of the country’s leading experts on public and private international law, national security law, and human rights. He’s on leave from Yale Law School, where he is the Martin R. Flug ‘55 Professor of International Law. I think you all realize at one point in the recent past he was Dean of the Yale Law School. He was also an appointee during the Clinton Administration. He served as Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy and Labor. He graduated from Harvard, Oxford and Harvard Law School, if you’re not intimidated enough already.
And he has received 11 honorary degrees and more than 30 awards for his human rights work, including awards from Columbia Law School and the American Bar Association for his lifetime achievements in International Law. We are pleased, we are lucky to have him in the government of the United States to bring his expertise and wisdom to the Department of State. We’re honored to have him here today to address us.
HAROLD KOH: Thank you, John and thank you for all you do, and for your role in this conference. I’m very delighted to be the closing speaker for what I think has been a historic conference. It is happening because of the extraordinary work of many people, but two who deserve to be singled out are Charlotte and Judy, or as we call her, “Super Heumann”, who is our department leader on these issues. It has been a novel conference in as much as it brings together disabled persons, organizations, other human rights groups who often do not engage on these issues – funders, government officials, non-profit groups, legal advocacy groups – to talk about the same set of issues, which is how to assert leadership on international disability rights.
For me, these are issues that I pursued both because of personal concerns, academic concerns, and governmental concerns. As a boy, I spent an unusual amount of time in a wheelchair from my own days of having polio, and it taught me a great deal about what it means to think about the concept of human rights. If you’re in a wheelchair, the ability to go up the stairs or get upstairs is about as much freedom sometimes that you can aspire to. The capacity to get out of the chair and go to the bathroom and then come back without being humiliated is so core to your sense of self. To talk to another person and have them look you in the face and treat you like a human being, who is defined by who you are and the quality of your character, rather than by the nature of your disability or your accoutrements, becomes so central to the way in which you view the world that it has very much shaped my own views about human rights in this setting.
As a professor, I was the director of the Human Rights Center at Yale. And I had the good fortune to meet and work with the late Stan Herr who was a specialist on the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities. In 1995, we agreed that because the Special Olympics World Games were being held in New Haven, Connecticut, we could try to combine it with an international conference, which lead to something called the Yale Declaration, which has been part of the conversation on this in something about which we’re very grateful. And it led to a book that I did with Stan and Larry Gostin of Georgetown Law School, called, “Different, But Equal”, which is the way that we talk about the rights of persons with disabilities.
Those experiences have led me to three basic realities. First, disabilities rights are human rights and human rights are disability rights. And if you are committed to human rights, you must do disability rights. And if you are committed to disability rights, you are part of the global human rights movement. I think there are some human rights groups whose say, we don’t “do disabilities”. I think those days are over. I think that these are a set of challenges that face us in the 21st century, and are uniquely ones that we must address. A second reality is that, the human rights of persons with disabilities are mainstream human rights concerns, and they are a core component of the international framework for the protection of human beings that began with the universal declaration and the subsequent documents. And that the notion of mainstreaming, internationalizing and mainstreaming these rights, is at the core of the convention to which all of us here are committed. And then the third is the concept of different but equal. Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “all human beings are born free, equal in dignity and rights”. In the context of disabilities that carries a special meaning. It means that persons with disabilities are entitled to equality of respect and treatment, even though equality does not entail identical treatment in all circumstances.
There is a central creative challenge for people who work in this area. What does equality of treatment mean for people with many different kinds of disabilities? Everyone deserves equal treatment and respect. The groups of individuals with disabilities are quite different from one another in the challenges they face. How do you operationalize equality? It seems to me that the challenges in this setting are first, internationalizing disability rights, second, mainstreaming disability rights, and third, operationalizing what equality means in concrete terms in these settings.
Now to get to this place, we’ve traveled on a long road. For more than half a century, the Human Rights Movement focused almost entirely on the activities and rights of the able-bodied, the able-minded, but over the last two decades, increasingly human rights networks have turned from addressing these most prominent, traditional visible minorities to what could be called the “forgotten minorities” – those who are less visible, and who are under-protected.
And increasingly, it is the way in which the human rights movement has dealt with this second order challenge that proves the strength and creativity and resilience of the movement. And I speak today against the face of a statement by our President yesterday supporting the right of same sex marriage. This is something that would have been hard to consider or imagine that both the Vice President and President of the United States would take such a position in this same week. But it’s entirely understandable that when the first order issues have been tackled, in fact, that a person who’s a member of a visible minority is the President of the United States, that these issues now come more prominently to the floor. What I think this conference showed is that today persons with disabilities across the globe continue the live in horrifying conditions.
The Indonesian speaker yesterday who spoke in Panel One spoke about how persons with disabilities are quite literally chained to and nailed to trees, treated as subhuman individuals, face horrifying conditions, and face physical and social barriers that prevent their integration and full participation into the life of their community and equality. It leads them in some cases to be quite literally chained. In other circumstances, to be segregated, but in many cases, to be deprived of the gifts of being human beings.
Now, what precisely do we mean by different but equal and operationalizing that principle in the future? First, and obviously, non-discrimination. Because you are different does not mean you should not be treated as equal. And the goal is to protect every aspect of life of a person with a disability from cradle to grave. This includes preschool education through university education, medical care, adult education, work, recreation, leisure, as well as those things that are critical to personhood. You should not be prevented from voting because you cannot see. You should not be prevented from sitting on a jury because you cannot hear. You should not be prevented from engaging in advocacy because you are sitting in a wheelchair. Mike Posner and I were in China last week and he reminded me of a time when he traveled with a group of human rights activists with Chuck Rough, who was the White House Counsel at the time in a wheelchair. He was the President’s personal lawyer, yet everywhere he went, there was no way for them to get him up the stairs to the meeting, so the other members of the delegation spent much of their time carrying the White House Counsel up and down stairs with the wheelchair. He would then sort of straighten out his clothing and they would start the meeting. A number of times it was gently suggested to them, “Why don’t you leave that individual on the ground floor while ‘we have our meeting?’” They said, “Are you kidding? We’re operating in a very different environment here. He’s the leader of our delegation, and we’re not going to do it without him, and neither are you!” So, non-discrimination includes principle.
Number two: access. Access, physical access, as well as access to tools for exercising your agency as a human being, with an environment we hope of increasing accessibility. If you do not have access to the critical decisions of life as well as the critical decisions of political life, you will not be able to influence your own future and have the kind of control over your life that we expect as a critical element of personhood.
Third, is inclusion and participation in decisions about your life and future. We think inclusion has emerged as a norm that all understand, and then the question is, how to operationalize it. And finally, the capacity to exercise your liberty proactively, personally, and through agents. In other words, it is not enough to say, I should be free of depravations, of the most egregious kinds, like being chained to a wall. The real question is how you can exercise the kind of leadership that ought to be possible. And this is a country where we had a President of the United States who had polio and was, in fact, by many considered to be our greatest President, while in a wheelchair. And to this day, there’s a question as to whether to celebrate that fact, or to hide that fact, in statues and others. And it seems to me that increasingly, a recognition of the full accomplishments of persons with disabilities will be an important fact in the way that the United States represents itself to the world.
So these are four faces of different but equal: non-discrimination, access, inclusion, and proactive exercise of rights. Today, let me stress that this administration is committed to the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as part of our broader effort to operationalize this vision internationally.
The treaty, as you know, internationallizes core domestic principles on disabilities that have been embodied in our law since at least 1973, when the Rehabilitation Act was passed, which includes principles of non-discrimination, reasonable accommodations, and equality of opportunity. And it has been carried forward, of course, in the American with Disabilities Act, which continue to dress these points: non-discrimination, access, inclusion, and proactive exercise. At its core, the treaty expresses that these are universal values and applies existing human rights law to this context with specific detailed guidance on such rights as political participation, access to employment, and liberty of movement and how these should be applied and interpreted to protect persons with disabilities. Your presence here at the State Department should convince you of the importance and urgency of this issue to all of our State Department leaders and officials as well as the Secretary of State’s own personal commitment on this issue.
That is exemplified not just in the many words and speeches that she has spoke on the question, but also on her appointment of Judy Heumann, and the members of her office. And I think you’ve seen how talented and committed they are as officials who are capable of addressing and convening groups on international disability rights. The commitment of other officials in the U.S. government, such as Samantha Power from the White House, Mike Posner, and the many who have spoken on the panels. All of the colleagues here at the Department own this issue, and we seek to encourage internationalism, or internationalization, mainstreaming and operationalization of these rights in what we do, and we encourage human rights groups and development organizations to do the same.
Obviously, a challenge lies ahead. Ratification of the Disabilities Convention, as you know from the human rights world, ratification of treaties can take a long time in the United States. We have a super majority rule in the Senate. Some Senates are more capable of dealing with treaty ratification than others. This one is not necessarily on the high side.
Nevertheless, let’s separate politics from principle and start to crystallize and agree upon the reasons why ratifying the disabilities convention is strongly in our national interest. And let me give you seven reasons which are the ones that I will be using in the days ahead. Not just on behalf of the U.S. government, but as an American committed to these issues. First, to ratify the Disabilities Convention would be a paradigm shift as with existing landmark domestic legislation. It would we be a paradigm shift in the treatment of persons abroad, anchored in principles of inclusion, equality, and non-discrimination that Americans enjoy at home. It would underscore our commitment to these rights and enhance our ability to promote these rights overseas.
Second, and this is something that obviously matters to legislators, it would be good for Americans. The Disabilities Convention is intended to improve protections around the world for all persons with disabilities, but it would extend abroad rights that Americans with disabilities already enjoy at home. Partly because of the successful domestic legislation, there have been tremendous changes in our time here the United States.
Those of you who are my age remember when it was very unusual to have good access, when it was very rare to have signing at public events. We take these things now as things that we expect at ordinary occasions. But, when you travel abroad, when you conduct business, when you study, reside or retire overseas, if you’re a U.S. citizen with disabilities, you will not be assured of these accommodations. And ratification would help to lead to greater protections, opportunities and benefits for millions of Americans with disabilities.
And let me underscore, those Americans include our veterans, and our wounded warriors for whom Congress has always shown in various ways unusual concern. And I think this issue ought to be emphasized if you really care about our veteran, you should care about whether those who live abroad are going to enjoy benefits because of disabilities rights being extended through the disabilities convention. Third, ratification would be good for U.S. leadership. It would better position for us to guide and encourage other countries to ratify and implement the Convention. And it would also help to level the playing field for the benefit of U.S. companies.
This is a fourth point: ratification would be good for U.S. business. And it would be a pretty straight forward point to make. American companies abide by disability principles in the United States. And the question is, how can their competitive edge be enhanced, given that they have already gone through the exercise of meeting accessibility requirements? Think about this as comparable to environmental rules. Once our companies made the change and internalized the cost of complying with environmental rules, it was very much in their interest to take those rules overseas and imbed them elsewhere. It also is critically important because our businesses excel at innovative exported products and technologies, electronic wheelchairs, mobility devices, accessibility computers, other electronic issues, create jobs, and this stimulates jobs here in the United States. So disability rights is good for business. And as you know, what’s good for GM is good for the country. (Laughter)
Fifth, this will drive a race to the top. Ratification would drive a race to the top. Compare the Disabilities Convention with anti-corruption. When the United States Congress and the President signed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S. companies had to clean up their act with regard to good governance. Then it became very much in their interest to drive the conduct of other countries and other companies up to their level rather than to recreate a race to the bottom. The fact of the matter is that as you all know, the Disabilities Convention does not require new legislation. If ratified with appropriation reservations, understanding, and declarations, it would be very much in the interest of U.S. companies, businesses and private entities to support ratification of this convention to take the obligations with which they already obey worldwide.
Sixth, ratification of the Disabilities Convention would be an advance in our own Disabilities Rights Movement. In the 40 plus years of domestic disability rights protection, we have accomplished a great deal. This is the next step. There is no “other” clear next step which is a clear advance forward. The Disability Rights Movement has so much momentum, it can move forward only if it is done at international level.
And seventh, ratification will allow the United States to cooperate with other countries on a web of future bilateral and multilateral arrangements to build, promote, and deepen an international regime on disability rights. There was discussion at this conference about why we need better coordination among multilateral and bilateral entities. The treaty contains an article – Article 32 – which discusses international cooperation, and recognizes the importance of state cooperation and national effort to implement accessible development programs, cooperation in research and science, and providing technical and economic assistance. These are just words now. But if we ratify the treaty and join others who do, in the web of international cooperation on this issue, under the guiding principles of this treaty, we will go a great deal to greatly deepen and strengthen the international regime. Those of us who work in the human rights and rule of law field here at the State Department, everyday engage with the regime of human rights that has developed since the Universal Declaration. This is an obvious and necessary piece of it.
So, in conclusion, let me say this, you have accomplished a great deal in these few days. The State Department is with you, committed to these issues that we believe that disability rights are human rights, and that the human right of persons with disabilities are mainstream. That the concept of different but equal means non-discrimination, it means access, it means inclusion, and it means proactivity that we are determined to push this forward in the next step, which is through the ratification of the Disabilities Convention. That our challenge now is to define for others the seven reasons why ratification is very strongly in our interest. And that our goal should be to build a regime in our lifetime that will really make a difference here.
I say in our lifetime because, the Human Rights Movement has largely happened in my own lifetime. It is really hard to believe that human rights can transpire and unfold in the blink of a lifetime. And I think that those of us who have experienced at a very human level what these challenges mean. If we can leave behind us the legacy of an international regime that leaves us better for the next generation of everyone in the world, including the very, very, many people who are not privileged to live in the United States or similar countries, then we can say that we took a challenge, a personal challenge and made it into a global opportunity. Thank you very much, and it’s my great pleasure to have been here.
JOHN WODATCH: Thank you very much for those eloquent and mesmerizing remarks. I’m enamored by the four points of how we can operationalize equality and concrete terms. I think that’s a wonderful way to look at the next steps of how the organizations that are here can operationalize what making disability rights human rights are, and the group of non-discrimination, access inclusion and the capacity to exercise liberty personally and through agents is a wonderful framework to proceed in that regard.
JUDY HEUMANN: So, this conference couldn’t have come together without the staff. So, I hope everybody is in the room right now. But, let me first start off by thanking Bob Ransom who’s in the back.
So, Bob has been with us for the last year as a Franklin Fellow. He’s done a fantastic job. And few months ago, I guess it was in January, said, he thought that we needed to put a meeting like this together. I, of course, knowing everything that we have on our plate, thought it was a brilliant idea, but was very concerned about whether we would be able to pull it off. But, we have had a great team of people who have worked incredibly hard to make this happen. So I’d like to thank Kathy Guernsey, if she could stand up. Anyway, Kathy is a phenomenal person. For those of you who know her, you know exactly what I mean. She’s an amazing brilliant scribe, and synthesizer of information, and a driver of an agenda. So thank you very much. Then we have our entire team: Vicktery Sanchez, if you could get up, Sarah Crosskey, Sam Milam, and Sofija Korac, who have worked amazing hours on putting this meeting together, and all of the volunteers from DRL and other parts of the State Department. And of course, Charlotte and her tireless work with us with the wonderful people at USAID. So I think we should give everybody a great round of applause.
JOHN WODATCH: This morning we had a synopsis of yesterday’s work by Professor Groce. And she has been very active today and has been able to pull together some of the strands of what the conference has been about. So I’ll turn this back over to Professor Groce.
NORA GROCE: I’m going to be brief, especially because I know that Bob Ransom, among his other chores, is writing a summary from many of the components and the break-out sessions. So rather than reiterate what I spoke about this morning, or go in-depth over things discussed today, let me just pull out a few strands as closing remarks. I think that it’s very clear that the inclusion of disability both as a human rights issue and as a development issue is past the point of argument. There’s a clear justification for why disability must be included. And we’ve covered that repeatedly over the past few days. We could look at ourselves as being at the dawn of a new era. There is a tremendous potential as evidenced by the work in the State Department and USAID. More broadly, the passage and ratification of the Convention in many countries, the work that’s going on with the World Health Organization around disability, UNICEF’s, as somebody mentioned is, the State of the World’s Children this coming year is going to be on disabled children.
I would look at it as not only tremendous potential, but a window of opportunity. We could potentially also lose momentum. This issue could be replaced by other issues coming down the road, certainly. Kathy Guernsey and I were talking outside a little while ago; she was very involved with landmine efforts a few years ago. While those haven’t faded entirely, things have periods or times where there’s a crossing of interests, possibility, and opportunity. And I think that it’s disabilities at this time now, but it’s not assured. We must act, and act quickly. If we don’t institutionalize many of the issues discussed here, we could lose both the momentum and that window of opportunity.
So, in terms of what we’ve discussed over the past two days, it falls roughly into three categories: what is being done, what is not being done, and what should be done. I won’t go into all of these, but I think that we can safely say that, there’s a lot more being done than was being done even two or three years ago. Among the key themes that seem to be emerging in both the discussions and in the presentations over the past two days, certainly the theme about knowledge about disability and around disability issues is one that comes up in a number of different guises; knowledge in terms of data. We lack basic information. But there is a growing body of information, something like the WHO World Report on Disability shows there’s a growing body of information out there that we can draw on. If we don’t have every last piece of information we need, well, we have enough to justify getting started.
And I would also argue that lack of information or lack of data is also justification. If we don’t know something major, such as around 15% of the world’s population is disabled, that in itself should drive us forward. The translation of what we do know into action is another arena that came up time and again. Knowing something and converting it into policy and programming in a way that’s meaningful today for people with disabilities and planning for tomorrow for people with disabilities is essential. Just having information and sitting on it is, I think, unethical. Knowledge, also in terms of awareness, among a number of different groups that know little or have paid little attention to disability in levels. We’ve talked about the lack of knowledge among healthcare professionals, people in public health, the need for lawyers, for development experts, for people who are working, rebuilding schools, and institutions in war ravaged countries that are getting U.S. aid to do so. All these groups need to have information on disability that is viable, functional, and pertinent to what they’re doing.
And a lot of that information should come through dialogues with DPOs, with NGOs working on disability issues, and it should be a two-way exchange. And much of this knowledge, by the way, in addition to everything else, a lot of this knowledge can be conveyed online. And using the latest technologies, we have no excuse anymore for waiting to have someone show up in six months, hence, and give a lecture to a bunch of building contractors in Haiti about why they should put ramps in instead of steps. We can do a lot to be creative and effective in spreading this knowledge. The way for knowledge is a two-way street. I think DPOs and NGOs that work on disability that have worked within the disability realm for a long time also need to learn about other fields. They need to learn about human rights and international development. Many are very knowledgeable, some less so. But there’s a need to speak a common language. And unless we have that common language, then I think that we are losing again opportunities in this brief window of opportunity to do something meaningful.
Another key theme was linkages between DPOs within DPOs, between DPOs and parent organization, between DPOs and NGOs, between governments and civil society, the need to work through networks, associations, and affiliations to disseminate ideas and knowledge quickly and to bring consortiums of groups on board. Again, we have a window of opportunity, and we simply can’t go one organization and then another, and keep having the same discussion with each. We need to think more broadly and more systematically about how we get together a consensus that will move the agenda forward.
The final key theme I think is the issue of tools. Certainly, the UNCRPD has been cited repeatedly as a very effective tool. There are a number of other tools out there that we should use. The millennium development goals, whatever comes after the millennium development goals, all of the other conventions. In the United States, we have a number of laws that should be called upon, the ADA leads the list, but 504; there’s a number of different laws that we can use right now to make anybody who’s getting funding from the federal government compliant with our national laws. And that will have a tremendous international effect.
And these laws have been on the books for a long time. Actually, we were talking earlier, years ago I interviewed Gunner Bubois and Dorothy Warms, two of the founders of the Parent Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, they were actually approached before Brown vs. the Board of Education, before they started on it, to see if the disability community, at least a parent organization, might want to join with the civil rights organizations to effectively increase human rights in the United States. For various historical reasons, they decided not to link the two movements then. I am pleased that we’re coming back to that long forgotten potential affiliation. Now, we should use it to our advantage nationally and both internationally. Finally, how to engage additional people and groups in terms of broadening the appeal and the issues on disability to the global development community is one that we need to continually think and strategize for. And, maybe as a way to, as a capstone to all of this, I’ll repeat, we should think and imagine what a truly inclusive society should look like. We should work towards it. It should be part of our dialogue. It should be part of our funding stream, and it should be part of our hopes for the future.
Again, we need to think where we’re going. And we may not get there, but at least we should have long-term goals on the horizon, and work backwards from there. I’ll leave it at this, and I’ll turn the floor back over to John.
JOHN WODATCH: Thank you very much. Thanks for that summary. I’m still mulling over some of the words of Harold Koh, and one the things he said, I don’t know – itwas such a rich statement, a lot of this went by very quickly, but he talked about we at the State Department owning this issue, meaning disability rights as human rights, which is an amazing statement. As well as the statement in speaking about human rights organizations saying that we don’t do disability rights, and his quote was “that day is over”. I think you’re hearing from the State Department and from the USAID, a statement of their support for these concepts, because it’s the law, because it’s a good idea, because it’s the right thing to do.
I think it’s fitting at this point that we come to the conclusion of this conference by hearing from two people who are essential in taking this vision and operationalizing it for these agencies. First we’re going to hear from Charlotte. Charlotte, as you all know from working with her over the years, either in Africa, South Africa, at the World Bank, now at USAID, is a leader in Disability Rights internationally. And is bringing her expertise and energy to USAID and I’m very thankful that she is there, taking on the responsibility that she is in her new position. And I think it’s time to hear her thoughts on the conference.
CHARLOTTE MCCLAIN—NHLAPO: Thank you, John, and I just have to say that, I mean, I feel almost overwhelmed in the sense that there’s been just so much wonderful and important information and sharing that has come out over the last two days.
But there are a couple of things that I think I take away with me. One is that, we don’t have all the answers. The second one is that we don’t have all the data. But you know what? That doesn’t really matter. Because we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the ideal situation. I think it’s really important and, this was mentioned yesterday and today, that we really begin to see disability rights and inclusive development as “the” key issue. And I think we need the make it our own key issues. I think we also need to see disability and again, this comes from either being in the small groups or discussions, is that we need to see disability as a multidimensional issue, an issue that intersects with women, with children, with refugees, and I could go on.
I think we also need to understand that inclusion and inclusive development is ultimately essential for a sustainable development. And I mean, I think that there’s a very basic message there. And the message is: inclusion is good for all. One of the things I will certainly take back to USAID is the importance of better donor coordination. I will also take back the importance of insuring that we continue to support the demand side – working with DPOs, empowering DPOs and facilitating processes with DPOs. I think including DPOs in all aspects of both social and political participation is really a part of citizen power. And so for me, this conference has allowed me to engage in a lot of cross-learning. And I imagine that for you, you feel the same. And I think, finally, I would like us to think about this conference as the beginning of operationalizing disability rights as human rights, and human rights as disability rights. And before I end, I would really just like to say that, you know, a lot of people have been thanked. But without Judy Heumann, with a vision, an incredible drive, leadership, passion, a cell phone –
This conference would not have been possible. So thank you, Judy, so, so much.
JUDY HEUMANN: So the one reason you should never start thanking people is because you may forget thanking some people. So, I’m very sorry about that. Saira Hussein, who’s been our magnificent intern for the last ten weeks, if you could stand up. So, Saira came in as she sat in the group she was in knowing very little about disability. But she has certainly been incredibly immersed over the last number of weeks. And we fully expect her to take what she’s learned here and to pass it on, both in her professional life, but also in the work that she does in the future.
And I want to really thank Nora Groce, who we picked up the phone a number of weeks ago and said Nora, could you come and could you please play this critical role. And she, without hesitation agreed to come and do this. And for those of who have been at other meetings with Nora, she’s excellent at being able to listen and synthesize, and more importantly, I think when she fulfills that role, continues to take it into the work that she does on a regular basis in the fantastic work that she does internationally. I want to thank John Kemp who was here yesterday for also taking time out of his schedule to come down, and John Wodatch for the great job he’s done today. He too, we said, John, could you both be here for these two days and could you play the role of moderator today. And Matt Miller. When he was at undergraduate school, he and a colleague made this film about the lack of accessibility at the university he was going to. When he started working here as an intern, this was such an energy he had that would be great. So he works in DRL in communication, and he has really been one of the rabid people within the organization, who amongst other things, has really not only helped to ensure that any of the video materials that we have that go up on humanrights.gov is accessible, meaning, that we have captioning, but he’s also been working across the building, trying to help ensure that the issue of captioning is one that is more effectively implementing into all of our work. So, Matt, thank you very much.
So, let me conclude by saying, the last two days, I hope, have been a good experience for all of you. We really would appreciate it if you would, fill out the evaluation form that you have. This is the third activity that the State Department and USAID have done since 2010. And I believe that what we have been able to do as a result of the increasing commitment to the inclusion of disability, both within the government agencies, but the disabled people’s organizations doing more international work, and the NGO international human rights and development community is that we have seen greater opportunities for sincere sharing of information and learning.
Sam Worthington, I really want to thank personally for his very strong commitment with InterAction, and the fact that he’s been here for two days. So I think that really that speaks a lot about his commitment. And obviously his organization’s commitment or he wouldn’t have felt like he could take two days to be here.
So, there are many other people, the advisory committee that I mentioned this morning. Emily Martinez is here, Emily is with OSF, and OSF has played an incredible role, many of us understand. But one the things they also did, in addition to being a part of our what we called our “informal working group”, was to help bring a number of people to the meeting. Likewise, with Diana Samarasan from the Rights Fund who also helped bring people in her time, and Susan Sygall, who is also a very active member of the planning committee. And Anne Hayes from the Perkins School and Human Rights Watch, and I’m sure I was forgetting some other people. It was a great effort on the part of many. I think we all did come together, because we do see a change is happening.
And in order for this change to continue to gain the momentum that I believe it can, in part, I felt it was important that we assemble a range of people within the State Department who would be able to come and speak about the commitment of the State Department for the inclusion of disability in the work that we’re doing. And all of you understand that we are now working at taking words and putting them into deeds. And so, that clearly is something I said yesterday, I believe, is a partnership effort. The partnership effort really means that for those organizations that are receiving money from the State Department and USAID, we need and we are working towards helping to ensure that you really will be able to fulfill the commitment of inclusion. We understand that we are all at different levels.
But I believe the issue right now should no longer be whether we can or whether we should be inclusive in the area of disability. But, knowing that we must, and being able to share information about what we are doing, what we are learning, and in some way, allowing a little bit of the competitive edge that goes on between organizations that are competing for money from whatever the entity, to really see it as a opportunity to share information So that we in fact can learn from each other. Another issue that I mentioned a couple of times over the last couple of days is really the importance to look at sharing the information that we have from our domestic governmental agencies, NGOs, disabled people’s organizations, and other Civil Society Organizations; how to do things like inclusive information, on how to ensure that we are building an accessible environment. I believe it is critically important that we share information in a very aggressive way with governments and civil society on issues like the built environment. Why should countries be going out and creating new standards that they are making up as they go along? When there are standards that are out there now? People may want to change those standards to make some modifications that may be appropriate for an individual country, or an individual issue. But the failure to share information on what we know, and allow people to make new mistakes, I believe is critically important.
Countries that have been passing legislation, since 1970s: Finland, the Scandinavian countries, countries in Latin America, South Africa and others, we have experience. That experience should not be held back. That experience needs to be shared. Technical assistance is something that we believe is critically important. And I’m hoping that one effort that the State Department is going to be embarking on is provision of funding to support technical assistance efforts, which will enable the sharing of information and the building of capacity of Civil Society Organizations and government. This has got to be a collaborative effort. We need a strong civil society. We need governments the take on responsibility for the development of good laws, development of good rules, and effective implementation. Effective implementation also means that we have to have good governance. Corruption is something which is a major problem in getting laws effectively implemented. And so, for me, one the reasons why countries that have a good relationship between civil society and the governments, not that we agree on everything all the time, not that we don’t have all kinds of fights about what civil society may be saying about government, and government about civil society, but that we see in a democracy, that this is a healthy relationship.
And in many of the countries that we work in, that relationship doesn’t exist. It’s not that it doesn’t just exist in the area of disability; it doesn’t exist in the country. Therefore as organizations and as governments are working to strengthen new governments, emerging governments, helping governments the really move in the right direction, it is also our responsibility to strongly help civil society grow and develop and we need to be saying that as this is happening, the disability community must be a part of those efforts. We cannot work on starting efforts that are excluding disabled people. Because we know in our countries, the failure integrate disability from the beginning, which most countries have done, has resulted in our not only having to catch up, but having to spend money that just doesn’t exist.
When we travel in countries and see that roads are being built without curb cuts that, is a crime, because we know how to do it. And when we see it not being done, we know what that means for people. When healthcare clinics are being built that aren’t accessible, when schools are being built that are not accessible, when transport systems are not being constructed accessibly, that is a crime.
Now, there are different things that have to be done in different communities, depending on the environment. But then we pull people together and look at what some of these issues are and we problem solve to make sure they fit appropriately within the country. But I think that’s why people have stayed for two days. We really appreciate the efforts that you’ve put into this. And now we have to go forth and State and USAID is committed to continuing this effort. Invite us to your organizations so that we can speak with management. Make sure that your leadership is putting forward strong messages from the top of the organization, that the inclusion of disability is not something which you are playing around with, but something which the State Department and USAID is committed to.
Many of you get a lot of money from us. That in it of itself should help you pass that message down. But besides that, I think we understand that this is the right thing to do. For those of us who have been working on this for years now, we really need to struggle with how, not what or why.
So I’d like the thank you very much, we look forward to working with you over the next couple of years. And, it’s been great. Please fill out your evaluation forms. Thank you.
(End of the Conference)