Twenty-three years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, which has helped millions of people across the country. As someone who grew up as a wheelchair user in the United States, I’ve reaped the benefits that leaders in the past fought for. Because of the ADA, getting into a public building or my workspace in the Office of the Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues isn’t an issue for me. It’s because of activists’ fight for equal access that I’ve been able to get an education at UC Berkeley without significant roadblocks — and been able to write this blog today. That’s not to say we can’t continue to do better, but we’re moving in the right direction.
Next up on our list: we need to become more inclusive of people with all types of disabilities, especially invisible disabilities, and remove the painful stigma associated with disability. It is getting better, and mindsets are changing, but there is still much more work to be done.
I have personal experience working with young people with disabilities overseas — creating a project to aid persons with disabilities in Pakistan and creating the “Silver Scorpion” comic book project in Syria. These experiences led me to want to learn more about our governments’ approach from the inside. But for every young leader with a disability like me who gets an opportunity like working at the State Department, there are many more across the world who do not. So it’s up to us to keep the conversation going and push for access worldwide.
I’m proud to work for a Department that understands the importance of this issue, from Secretary Kerry to his Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith Heumann, and Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues Zeenat Rahman, who all work to improve the lives of millions of people with disabilities around the world. While development programs matter, creating change also takes government-to-government dialogue and sitting down with activists around the world to share the lessons we’ve learned and the best practices we’ve identified.
I’d therefore like to thank Secretary Kerry for his leadership for, and support of, U.S. Senate ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which will help ensure the protections that the ADA provides for Americans are provided to millions of people with disabilities abroad. To close, I’ll leave you with the words of Justin Dart, lead architect of the ADA: “Lead On!”
Cross posted at DipNote the official blog of the U.S. Department of State