MS. BENTON: Hello. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Public Affairs, and I’d like to welcome you to Conversations with America. Today we are talking about promoting disability rights. We’ll touch on some pressing issues such as how the Department of State uses sport and a variety of other approaches to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, how inclusion can be accomplished during hard economic times – the inclusion of women and girls in this agenda, and of course, the London Paralympic Games.
Now let’s meet our guests. We are privileged to have with us Judy Heumann, Special Advisor, International Disability Rights; Ann Cody, Director of Policy and Global Outreach, BlazeSports; and Kirk Bauer, Executive Director of Disabled Sports USA.
Thank you all so much for participating in this program.
MR. BAUER: Thank you.
MS. BENTON: Judy, could you please start us off by talking about your role as Special Advisor on this very, very important issue?
MS. HEUMANN: Thank you very much, Cheryl. So the position of Special Advisor started with the Obama Administration, and I’ve been in this position now since June of 2010. It’s really enabled us in the Department of State to focus more clearly on what are some of the human rights violations that disabled people are experiencing around the world, and allowing the State Department to elevate disability as one of the categories that we are working to help ensure equality for disabled people around the world.
So I travel very frequently in this position. I work with civil society organizations within the country that we’re visiting and with our embassies, work with governments. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified – has been ratified now by about 124 countries, was adopted by the UN in 2006, is really a landmark piece of legislation that countries are now working to implement, and we’re working with them to help them implement it to grant rights to disabled people around the world who in many cases are really the poorest of the poor, least-educated. And a recent report that came out from the World Health Organization and the World Bank said that there are one billion disabled people in the world, 15 percent of the world’s population.
MS. BENTON: Oh, that’s stunning. I had no idea.
So I’m going to first go to Ann and then to Kirk and ask you to talk a little bit about your roles at BlazeSports and Disabled Sports USA.
MS. CODY: Great, thank you, Cheryl.
MS. BENTON: Yes.
MS. CODY: It’s great to be here. I serve as the Director of Policy and Global Outreach for BlazeSports, and I work in the Washington office. So my responsibilities are both – are policy on the domestic front, as well international, particularly policy in the area of worldwide sport. And the outreach work that I do is building relationships with likeminded organizations internationally and partnering with them to do sport development in which – in the context of which we do a lot of work around disability rights.
MS. BENTON: And so now, how long have you been in that position?
MS. CODY: I’ve been the Director for six years with BlazeSports.
MS. BENTON: Okay, very good. Kirk, can you tell us a little bit about your role and what your organization does?
MR. BAUER: Sure, Cheryl. Disabled Sports USA is a sports organization that provides sports opportunities for people with a wide variety of disabilities. We were begun by disabled Vietnam veterans in 1967 and now serve civilians as well as military. And I got hit in Vietnam, so I go back 42 years being involved with the organization. And I’ve been an Executive Director – that basically means chief cook and bottle-washer, I think – (laughter) – for the last thirty years.
MS. BENTON: Oh, wow.
MR. BAUER: It mainly involves – the programs involve teaching, get people active through sports both during their rehabilitation as a tool of rehabilitation, a very effective tool, as well as keeping them involved as an active lifestyle so they stay healthy into their later years.
MS. BENTON: That’s great. You’re also a mountain climber, aren’t you?
MR. BAUER: Well, I try to do a little bit of hiking. Yeah, yeah.
MS. BENTON: Yeah. You do a lot of good stuff.
MR. BAUER: Yeah, we do. Yeah.
MS. BENTON: So Judy, I wanted to ask you: How can the Department of State use sport to promote the rights of disabilities – rights of persons with disabilities internationally?
MS. HEUMANN: So let me give you an example. The Department has an Education and Cultural Affairs program.
MS. BENTON: That’s right.
MS. HEUMANN: And we have a Visitor’s Program where we bring people from other countries to the U.S. And recently we brought a group of disabled sports persons from Europe to come to the United States, and they traveled to a couple of states demonstrating the activities that they do and also meeting with people who are doing – disabled people who are doing sports here.
We use sports in a number of different ways. When I was in Algeria, I met with the wheelchair basketball team. And there was an imam there who also had a disability, and so I talked with him about the work that they were doing within their religious community also to advance the rights of disabled individuals.
So we really try to use sports as one of the vehicles, because for many people who are very into sports, disabled people participating in sports really allows people to begin to see more clearly the linkage between disabled and non-disabled people. We’re the same as other people, we may do things differently – wheelchair basketball, we don’t stand up when we’re playing basketball, but then put somebody without a disability into a wheelchair to play wheelchair basketball, and you can completely understand the difficult nature of these games.
I think the games that were just held in London, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, were fantastic. And the U.S. participated both having a team there, but then there was a delegation, an official delegation that went to participate, and I also went to participate.
MS. BENTON: Did you play a sport?
MS. HEUMANN: Nobody wants me on their team. (Laughter.)
MS. BENTON: Okay, so I’m just curious – is sport the only mechanism you use for promoting the rights of persons with disabilities? I assume that answer is no, but what are some other approaches that you might take? So if I could go to you, Ann, and then just kind of do a little round-the-table?
MR. BAUER: Sure.
MS. CODY: Sure, sure. Well, the work that BlazeSports does internationally – as I mentioned, we use sport as the context to bring people together. It’s a more appealing and interesting and attractive activity to convene groups of people, young people, women and girls with disabilities, male athletes who are interested in developing their sports skills. But we do training. We do classroom training and hands-on training on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
For example, we talk about what are the barriers and challenges for them to participate in their community, whether it’s in sport, education, employment, any of those things, and help understand what those barriers are so that we can help create solutions, develop plans and blueprints for change in the country. We look at policy change that may need to happen, what is it going to take to do advocacy training, and where do you get those resources to really use that mobilization of sport to affect the whole person and the whole community in terms of access and rights.
MS. BENTON: That’s great. What about – Kirk, can I get your –
MR. BAUER: Well, I’m going to buttress a little bit of what Judy said and what Ann said, but on the bigger picture, sport for decades has been used as a very effective tool to promote self-respect and respect between nations, peace, unity, and that’s all true with disability sport.
But there’s another element of disability sport which I think is very important, and that is it really conveys the picture of ability. When you see someone like the South African double-amputee, Oscar Pistorius, who is competing in the Olympics and beating non-disabled, it tells the world that we as people with disabilities are capable and able. And it’s a nonverbal way of showing that, because we’re dealing with different languages, and you don’t have to talk; you just have to show. And I think that that’s really one of the key tools that disability sport brings to this whole notion of raising the level of awareness and respect for people with disabilities worldwide. And we definitely believe that these interchanges are extremely important.
We host – Disabled Sports USA hosts people all the time that come for training. They send their instructors to train in the latest adaptations of different sports, and again, they can take that knowledge back. And Ann mentioned the adaptive equipment, you mentioned the wheelchair, but there’s a lot of different adaptive equipment, and again, that shows how adaptations – both technologically as well as equipment-wise as well as attitude-wise – that we need to employ to level the playing field so we can all participate on an equal basis.
MS. BENTON: Very good. Judy, did you want to jump in there, or do you want me to move on?
MS. HEUMANN: No. I mean, I think sport is a very important element to dignity. In communities where disabled individuals are looked down upon as not being equals, the ability for disabled people to participate in an activity in a rigorous way, because the reality is people who like sports very frequently are playing it very rigorously; they’re playing to win. And so not only does it help establish credibility within the community, but then that credibility, I think, also helps to address issues of stigma.
And in many communities where people who have disabilities are considered to be pariahs, where you’ll frequently hear stories about disabled people being kept in their homes, not allowed out of their homes, because it not only has an impact on the individual person with a disability, but in some countries, also the entire family. So people may have difficulty getting jobs, girls not being able to get married, things of that nature. So sports allows people to see what we say all the time: A disability doesn’t mean that you’re not able to do things.
It’s – if you think about gender as an example, for many, many years, girls and women were not given the right to be able to go to school. We’ve just seen this recent incident, unfortunate, in Pakistan, where this young girl now has acquired a disability. We want to ensure that disabled people have rights to education. When they get that right, then they can move appropriately through their communities. And equality is what it’s all about, and sport is such a big activity around the world. It’s really a way of demonstrating that we’re like everyone else with the same goals and objectives.
MS. CODY: And it’s highly visible, and invisibility is one of the most significant issues around disability and why the community isn’t fighting harder to include us as members of society. So sport brings us out into the open, into the arena. And so people become aware that there are people with disabilities living among them in their communities and in their families, and that’s another powerful aspect of sport.
MS. HEUMANN: And it moves away from the medical model to the social and human rights model, because too frequently people look at people like ourselves and think, “Oh, how could I move forward with my life? How could I have lost my leg in Vietnam?” Or each one of us have had different disabilities. And I think what we’ve said to people is we learn to accept who we are as human beings. Things change in everybody’s life on a daily basis and what we want to be able to do is to equally participate.
MS. BENTON: That’s pretty remarkable, and my next question is: Isn’t it extremely costly to include persons with disabilities in every sports activity, especially when you consider the cost of building ramps, et cetera? How can inclusion be accomplished, especially during hard economic times and also in developing country context?
So I know that was kind of a long, convoluted question, but can you get us started again?
MR. BAUER: Well, I think that the Paralympics is a perfect example of how that really is not the case, Cheryl. When you have facilities that are built for regular Olympic athletes, and when they’re being built, consideration is given to making them accessible for those who have some type of mobility disability, you actually – the cost is, they say, less than 1 percent as an addition. So if you do it – if you approach it that way, then when these athletes get to sites like London, they are competing in the same venues as everyone else and enjoying the best facilities possible to compete in. And the cost is not that great.
There’s also the aspect of integration. There’s many, many activities that go on – sports activities that go on here in the United States that are integrated. You have a race, okay? Fine, you have a marathon. That’s great. And they create a category for those who have mobility impairments, and that does not increase – in fact, it increases their registration, because we have to register for it and pay our – then pay our fee anyway. It does not increase the cost that much, because they are just basically opening up the race to another category as they open it up to men and women. Now there’s a disabled category.
So if you plan it and implement it properly, the cost is not that daunting, and once the equipment – one of the – I think the benefits that these nonprofit groups like Disabled Sports and BlazeSports bring to the table is that they can raise funds to buy adaptive equipment so that people can use it time and time again to do the sports, and that helps to mitigate the cost as well.
MS. BENTON: Very good.
MS. HEUMANN: And I think we need to look, as you’re saying, at this as an economic issue, and I think in looking at this as an economic issue, there’s a number of ways to address it. We know in the United States, as we have built accessibility into our environments – buses that are now accessible, trains that are now accessible, curb cuts, ramps on streets – if you look at the people who use them, who are they? They’re not just people who have obvious disabilities. They’re women who have baby carriages, who have shopping carts, older individuals. It really – the transformation of the United States and our physical environment has really allowed many more people to come out of their homes and to participate more.
When people participate more, they’re spending more money, which is why you’re seeing the business community slowly moving forward to really want to market to disabled people and families, because we bring money into the community. In the United States, there are 52 to 54 million disabled people. So for every one disabled person, just assume there’s one non-disabled person that plays a role in that person’s life. So the costs are really de minimis, and in developing countries I think that’s a very important point.
But the reality is, in developing countries, if they build in good accessibility standards like we have in the U.S. and are being developed internationally into the construction that’s happening in many cases for the first time, it means that they will not have to go back in and renovate, which is a problem that many Western countries had when we didn’t have standards and we had to go back in and renovate. This is an issue they shouldn’t have if, in fact, they can do it right from the beginning.
And I think we need to debunk the issue that it’s expensive to make things accessible, because I think of all countries, the United States clearly knows that this is not true.
MR. BAUER: I’d like to point to the tour boat industry as a perfect example of what Judy is talking about. The cruises that you go on, the ships are some of the most accessible facilities on the planet. And why? Because their biggest clientele are senior citizens who pay their money to go and enjoy a weekend on the Caribbean. And they’re being proactive. They’re making it accessible because it’s good business.
MS. BENTON: That’s right. It’s good business.
MR. BAUER: We did a study with our Northern California chapter, a ski program up in the Tahoe region, and we showed that for every dollar that was spent on the individual with disabilities – allowing them to get a reduced price lift ticket or what have you – three dollars was spent by the family members that they brought up to ski with them. And so there’s an economic benefit to getting more people involved in sports, particularly people with disabilities, because it does show to be economically viable.
And so I think we’re – and the other thing about it is this whole concept of productivity. When I was going through the military army hospital back in 1969, the Veterans Administration counselor told me, “We’re going to spend some money on you to rehab you. We’re going to send you back to school so you’ll have the tools to become a productive member of society. We’re doing it for very practical reasons, because you’re going to pay back in tax dollars many times over what we’re going to spend on you in 1970.” And that proved to be, in my case, the truth. I’ve been an executive director for 30 years. I worked on Capitol Hill before that. I became a productive member of society because I had the tools to get back into it.
And sports is one of the best ways and best tools to get back into (inaudible). We did at Disabled Sports USA a study a couple years ago with Harris Interactive, one of these survey agencies, because we wanted to find out what our disabled participants – what kind of job opportunities they have been pursuing, what have you. We found that they were twice as likely to be employed. They had – their socialization skills were much greater. They had a better life satisfaction and they were healthier than those who – people with disabilities who were inactive. And they attributed – it was a 34-question survey. They attributed all of this to their participation in sports. So it really does lead directly to employment.
MS. BENTON: And I think that whenever countries practice inclusion, it is so much more beneficial across the continuum. And so that’s why this is a good conversation for us to have today. So I wonder – did you find that there are inequities related to gender in sport for people with disabilities, and if so, how you addressed these issues.
MS. HEUMANN: Ann, it’s you.
MS. CODY: Thank you –
MS. BENTON: Yeah, you’re our sport (inaudible).
MS. CODY: Sport and gender.
MS. BENTON: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.
MS. CODY: I would be happy to.
MS. BENTON: Would you?
MS. CODY: Yeah. We first started looking at the Paralympic Games, the Atlanta Paralympic Games, and the rate of women who are participating in the games. And we were actually seeing the rate of women participate decrease with every edition of the games. The more the games became competitive and visible, celebrated international events, the more the focus was on developing those athletes who were keen to develop and excel and reach the Paralympics. And girls and women with disabilities were not being encouraged to pursue that track in our country, in North America and other developed countries and the rest of the world.
So we had about 24 percent of the athletes in the Paralympic Games competing were women athletes, and in London last month we had actually double the number of women athletes competing in the London games compared to Atlanta, over 1,500 women athletes. And that is not by accident. That’s by design. We started implementing policies – we adopted the Brighton Declaration on the Rights of Women and Girls in Sport — the International Paralympic Committee did – and we went about setting policies on the sports program side and with the sport federations and with the national paralympic committees to say if you’re going to bring a male athlete to the games under the solidarity program, you have to bring a female athlete as well, as an example.
MS. BENTON: Right. That would be a no-brainer there, right? It should be.
MS. CODY: Yeah, yeah. And we also looked at the sport program and said, well, instead of adding another team sport that’s primarily played by men at this point because it hasn’t been fully developed, we’re going to add another sport or discipline where women and girls have those opportunities, so that we bring in a sport or we add a sport like judo, which was already on the program, for women with disabilities.
MS. BENTON: Okay.
MS. CODY: And we also have been focusing on leadership development. And the exciting thing about this is we went into Africa, we went to Asia, we went to South America and we went to the Middle East, and we brought together women who were selected by their national paralympic committee, with or without disabilities, to go through leadership training and develop a plan for how to increase the rate of participation and really decrease barriers to girls and women with disabilities participating and being active.
And that has really been a key factor in this. And these young leaders are women who are going out and getting a higher education, working in their communities. There are a lot of – there’s a lot of crossover activity in the disability rights community worldwide between the national paralympic committees, the national organizations on sport for people with disabilities, and the broader disability rights community. So we have been training the next generation of leaders. And like I said, they’re going to be touching all areas and they’re bringing the perspective of girls and women with disabilities to ensure that future rights and policies that get implemented are going to include us –
MS. BENTON: Very good.
MS. CODY: — in a much more friendly way.
MS. BENTON: But shouldn’t we focus on a person’s right to education, employment, housing, and health care first before we worry about whether people can play and enjoy sport?
MS. HEUMANN: I mean, I’ll start on it. I’m the least of the sports people here. (Laughter.) But getting back to the point that we’ve been making, sports is an activity that enables the broader society to understand that disabled people can equally participate. We may be participating, as I said earlier, differently in the sports, but I think that also allows people to see the importance of education and employment and physical accessibility and the need to treat people equally. So I don’t think it’s an either/or situation, but I do very much believe that in many countries where they don’t necessarily value the fact that disabled individuals can learn like nondisabled individuals – and I always go back and say that’s what people have thought about nondisabled girls, that really they couldn’t benefit, they couldn’t learn.
So what we are able to show is, when this is a priority within a country, when disabled children are being allowed and encouraged and required to go to school like everybody else, their educational outcomes are improving.
MS. BENTON: That has to improve everything for a country –
MS. HEUMANN: Exactly. It’s the economics of the country.
MS. BENTON: Economics, culturally, everything.
MS. HEUMANN: Exactly.
MR. BAUER: And Cheryl, again, just supporting what Judy just said, sports is both an end in itself – it creates a healthier individual, a healthier nation – but it’s also a tool. It’s a tool for rehabilitation – successful rehabilitation. It’s a tool for an entré into realizing the ability of people with disabilities. It’s an easy way to do that in a very pictorial way so that other opportunities become available and people are more receptive to the fact that people with disabilities can be educated, can hold a full-time job, can socialize, but that sports is the tool to get them there. So it’s an important tool, and obviously we need these other things, because employment and socialization are the end products of what we’re trying to all accomplish. But sports is a tool.
MS. HEUMANN: I mean, both of you have been athletes –
MS. CODY: Right. Yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: So I think it’d interesting to hear a little about yourselves and –
MS. BENTON: Totally. Yeah.
MS. CODY: I acquired my disability when I was in high school. I was already athletic and competing on varsity women’s teams. When I was going through rehabilitation, the biggest concern was can we make my house – my parent’s house accessible, and can we make the school accessible so I can return and complete my education. And so those were the two things that we focused on.
Once I got inside the school, one of the classes that I was required to take was physical education. And I had a lot of support because my P.E. teacher was also my high school coach. And so she worked with me to do weight training so I could get strong enough to dress myself, to transfer in and out of the car, in and out of the shower, those sorts of things, and to show me that sport was still possible, because that was such a huge part of my identity. And it really gave me the confidence to say, okay, if I can do all this, then I can still go to college, because that was always a goal of mine, and there may be opportunities at that level for me as well.
So it was – it really kind of led me to those other opportunities. But without the legislation, the mandate that required my school to make itself accessible for me to return to school, I wouldn’t have gone back and finished my degree.
MS. BENTON: It would have not been the same.
MS. CODY: Yeah. It would have been a very different outcome, I believe, because I would have been in segregated school. I would have – I just would have lost a lot of important social and educational time.
MS. BENTON: Absolutely. And I know that you did – and then I want to go right to our – some viewer questions. But I’d like your comments.
MR. BAUER: Sure, sure. Well, as I mentioned, I was in combat in Vietnam in a infantry unit and got hit by a grenade and lost my leg. And I knew nothing about disability before that. I’d been a sports person, I’d played football a little bit in college and a lot in high school, as well as swimming, and it was just a total shock.
MS. BENTON: I’m sure.
MR. BAUER: And so coming back from that, sports was an incredible support in getting me back into life again.
MS. BENTON: Into life.
MR. BAUER: And after laying in the hospital and seven operations while they put me back together again. But Disabled Sports USA has a motto, “If I can do this, I can do anything.” And it’s really – it tries to describe what sports does for your confidence, as Ann said, and for your self-esteem, as well as for your fitness. And that’s what skiing was what got me – the sport that got me back into it, and now I’m able to enjoy a lot of different sports. And again, once you learn the tools, once you learn and have the adaptations, you can go anywhere. But that’s partly the result of accessibility legislation and making recreation areas opened up for people with disabilities so that we can enjoy the great outdoors as well.
MS. BENTON: Very good. I want to now go to some of our viewer questions, which we have received from around the world today on today’s topic. Kathia in Haiti writes: What pressure is being placed on the current government in Haiti to put policies in place that will ensure people with disabilities access to schools and other public places that are being rebuilt around the country?
Are you the Haiti expert?
MS. CODY: Well, I would be happy to help start answering that question.
MS. BENTON: Okay.
MS. CODY: We are very fortunate to – BlazeSports is very fortunate to be working in Haiti. In fact, we have a group of trainers down there right now. But we have an in-country director who’s the former director general of the ministry of sports, so we do have really good connections with the government down there. We’re also funded by the U.S. Government to be there, and accessibility is a really important piece of the rebuilding process. And so in everything we do, we’re making sure that that is a consideration; when new sport fields are being designed and new building are being designed and new buildings are built that are sport related and new programs and policies that are in place, that there are no barriers to persons with disabilities participating in it.
And at the same time, we’re equipping the disability community and family members and those who are coaching and beginning to provide recreation and play opportunities in communities and in the camps where people live to be able to get them active and help them develop the tools and skills that they need to be able to really survive and thrive in that kind of environment.
And we’re also using character and leadership training with the young people, because that’s an important aspect of their future. They really believe that they need to have a sea change in terms of perception and attitude and leadership in the country. So it’s exciting to be a part of that. The U.S. is doing a lot of really good and important work as it relates to disability in Haiti, and we’re just one component of that.
MS. BENTON: Okay, that’s nice to know that you’re active in country.
Daniel in Canada writes: The U.S., though a leader in disability rights, has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Why not? And what are the best reasons the Senate should ratify?
MS. HEUMANN: So, thank you very much for the question. We’ve been working very hard – both civil society in the United States, led by an umbrella organization called the United States International Council on Disability, and of course the Obama Administration. The document was submitted to the Senate in May. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its hearings in July and voted a piece of legislation forward. So we are hoping that in the lame duck session that the Senate actually may call a vote to recommend that the President ratify the CRPD. There are some senators who have still been requesting additional information about why they should be ratifying, recommending that this be ratified, and information is being provided to them on the importance.
We believe that it’s very important to ratify the CRPD in large part because it will enable the United States to really sit at the leadership table with now, as I said earlier, more than 124 countries that have ratified the CRPD. We also believe that the CRPD is very important because, as we’ve been discussing today, disabled individuals in the U.S. want to be living our lives like everyone else, which means that we need to be able to have the right to fly on airplanes without being discriminated against, to be able to go to universities overseas, to be able to travel, and to be able to work. And so we have model legislation in the United States. We want to be able to more freely discuss the work that we’ve been doing with civil societies and governments around the world, and to say that we are an equal player with everyone.
And that’s why we believe it’s very important to be able to give veterans and civilians with disabilities in the U.S., over time, the ability to be able to participate actively in a globalized world.
MS. BENTON: So you’re hopeful that –
MS. HEUMANN: I’m always hopeful.
MS. BENTON: — the Senate will ratify?
MS. HEUMANN: They recommend ratification.
MS. BENTON: Okay. Well, very good. Another question. Peggy in Ohio writes: What role have disability rights played in the U.S. presidential campaign? What steps are being taken to ensure Americans with disabilities are able to cast their vote?
MS. HEUMANN: So there’s a lot of work actually going on –
MS. BENTON: Okay.
MS. HEUMANN: — in that regard. I’ve been speaking to a number of people after we got this question.
Yeah, so let me say that it’s been very exciting to see the development of the disability community in participation in elections over the last number of decades. Recently, there was a National Forum on Disability Issues which was held in Ohio. The Obama Administration had Ted Kennedy, Jr. as its spokesperson. The Republicans had Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is a Republican from Washington State who has a child with a disability. They had a very active discussion about the different policies and different directions that the different political parties are looking at and engaging in. But it was a bipartisan effort.
There’s other activities that are going on with groups like the National Council on Independent Living, which has a very active committee that deals with voter rights. The Department of Justice is very involved in the whole issue of voting rights for disabled individuals. The Help America Vote Act is something that the Department of Justice has been working very closely with governments and civil society. There is a number that disabled individuals can call in on Election Day if, in fact, there are problems where people are supposed to be voting. There’s work that’s going on in relationship to continuing to advance the technology that disabled people are using, like others for elections. And I think with some of the recent legislation that’s been passed in a number of states requiring people to produce verification, I know that some of the disability groups have been working on this a lot because it adversely impacts disabled individuals because people may not drive, the ability to run out and get different kind of registrations.
So I would say – I’m 64 years old. I first voted when I was 18 years old many years ago. Things have really been improving.
MS. BENTON: They’ve been improving.
MS. HEUMANN: Yes.
MS. BENTON: So these tactics or whatever that are going on in various states, you’re rising to the occasion and you’re trying to deal with them and trying to get things smoothed out?
MS. HEUMANN: Disabled people are getting disabled registered to vote, both of the political parties are including disability in the get-out-the-vote, and then the whole effort to ensure that when people actually go to vote, that they will have the right to vote.
MS. BENTON: Good. It looks like we’re at the end of our program, and I wanted to ask our guests, beginning with Judy, if you will share your final thoughts with us, and then I’d like to thank Judy Heumann, Ann Cody, and Kirk Bauer for sharing their work and knowledge with us.
So if we could go Judy, Kirk, and then Ann, that would be terrific.
MS. HEUMANN: I’m very proud to be an employee at the Department of State. I believe the State Department really has been embracing the need to be able to learn more about how disabled individuals appropriately fit into our foreign policy and diplomatic work. And so for me, the U.S. plays a vital role overseas, and the more our staff really understand the role that we need to be playing around the world, I believe the more we’ll be able to help the millions and millions of disabled people be able to become equal members of their societies. Whether they’re living in countries that are wealthy or poor, we believe all people have a right to equality.
MS. BENTON: Absolutely.
MR. BAUER: Well, I want to again reiterate that sport is a tremendous tool for creating a healthier individual and a healthier nation, but it is also a great tool for sending out the message of abilities of people with disabilities. And the more we can use that as a tool to foster independence and ability, we should do that, and so I applaud the State Department for its proactive approach to this, and to Ann for her work, and just going to have to keep up and –
MS. BENTON: Keep it going.
MR. BAUER: — keep it going.
MS. BENTON: That’s right. Ann, will you share your thoughts with us?
MS. CODY: Sure. Well, BlazeSports is just delighted to be a partner with the State Department and USAID on these issues, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with our colleagues and counterparts in developing countries to help them figure out the combination of policies and barrier removal that they need to see in their countries to ensure that their rights are openly available to all members of their community and society.
And for me, sport has been a really important part of that. And it’s something that you see in the Paralympic Games and in paralympic athletes. We’re there because we’re competing as elite athletes, but we do have a secondary mission, and that is to break down the barriers, to demonstrate our abilities. And so it’s really a celebration of our human rights and all of our brothers and sisters around the world. So thank you so much for having us here to talk about this topic. It’s been great.
MS. BENTON: Of course, yeah. This is great for me too. And I’d also like to thank each of you for joining us today. We hope that Conversations With America will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to keeping you engaged and to engage with you going forward. Again, thank you so much.