Ensuring Effective and Full Participation in Political and Public Life for Persons with Disabilities
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The United States is pleased to address Article 29’s critical focus on ensuring effective and full participation in political and public life. We are committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in political and public affairs. We are working with members of civil society at home and internationally to empower individuals with disabilities to exercise their rights.
Multiple U.S. laws protect the rights to political participation for persons with disabilities. From the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, through the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (known as the “Motor Voter Act”), the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”) of 2002, and the foundational antidiscrimination protections offered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the U.S. has adopted a comprehensive approach to making political participation accessible. The U.S. government provides technical assistance to and monitors local governments to ensure the full realization of political rights of persons with disabilities and takes strong enforcement actions when individuals are denied their rights. The federal government also works collaboratively with civil society to provide training and tools so that consumers and advocates can monitor local governmental actions and ensure that local governmental entities fully recognize the rights of persons with disabilities.
U.S. laws require the physical accessibility of all venues for civic participation, including polling places. The process of casting ballots also must be accessible. Our laws require that public entities afford all persons effective communication, so that persons with disabilities can fully participate in public affairs without barriers. U.S. laws further mandate that election officials and other governmental workers should be trained in the electoral process and the rights of persons with disabilities so that they can assist individuals with all types of disabilities, including psycho-social, sensory, developmental, and physical, to participate in the electoral process. Since 1999, the Justice Department’s Project Civic Access has signed agreements with 193 local governments throughout the country to ensure full access to civic life for over 4 million persons with disabilities. These agreements, which were pursued after problems with compliance were raised, recognize that non-discriminatory access to public programs and facilities is a civil right, and that individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors.
To assist state and local entities in meeting accessibility requirements, the Justice Department has created a number of guides, such as an ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments and a checklist for accessibility of voting places. All of these materials are available at the federal government’s key disability rights website, http://www.ADA.gov.
The effectiveness of the U.S. approach is highlighted by the number of persons with disabilities throughout the country who hold local, state, and federal public offices. Also, candidates in national elections routinely develop platforms on key disability issues, a practice that demonstrates the effectiveness of disability rights advocates in communicating their messages in the public sphere. In recognition of the political significance of voters with disabilities, many campaigns appoint staff that specifically focus on outreach to this voting community.
In sum, the United States is deeply committed to ensuring that all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity for effective and full participation in all aspects of political and public life. This commitment also is reflected in our cooperation with other countries. The Department of State and USAID are working as implementing partners in providing technical assistance to countries seeking to make their elections inclusive of disabled voters. We are happy to engage in informal discussions with States Parties throughout this Conference to provide additional information about our laws and programs to promote full participation in political and public life. We also look forward to hearing about the efforts that other States Parties and Signatories are making to ensure access to political and civic life.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Securing equal employment opportunities for persons with disabilities continues to be a top priority in the United States. In addition to the federal government’s long-standing and wide-reaching enforcement efforts that prohibit disability discrimination in the workplace by private and governmental employers, we also are supporting equal employment opportunities through a variety of initiatives.
In 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order to increase the federal employment of individuals with disabilities with the intention of making the federal government a model employer. Under the Order, senior-level officials at each federal agency must be accountable for enhancing employment opportunities and retention of persons with disabilities. Each official is charged with creating recruitment, training, and counseling programs for the employment of persons with disabilities.
The federal government also supports several grant-making initiatives that provide employment support to persons with disabilities. The Department of Education oversees grant programs which serve approximately one million individuals with disabilities annually, to help them obtain employment and live more independently through the provision of supports such as counseling, medical and psychological services, job training and other individualized services. The Department of Education also provides funds to state vocational rehabilitation agencies, to provide employment-related services for individuals with disabilities, giving priority to individuals who are significantly disabled. It also supports Project SEARCH, a program that provides education and training to young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities through an innovative workforce and career development model that benefits both the individual and the workplace.
The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) is another initiative undertaken by the federal government in the past ten years. ODEP is charged with creating a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities have increased employment opportunities. ODEP provides national leadership by developing new employment-related policies and practices, and sponsors several important disability research and technical support services.
The private sector has also taken up the challenge of increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. For example, the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) is a national disability organization that has over 60 affiliates across North America, representing over 5,000 employers. Such private sector initiatives help create workplaces, marketplaces, and supply chains where people with disabilities are included and respected for their talents and abilities.
The key U.S. enforcement of disability rights protections in the workplace is carried out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor. These three agencies enforce federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against qualified job applicants or employees because of those individuals’ disabilities, history of disability, appearance of disability, or association with someone with a disability. Under federal law, there are strict limits on when employers may ask job applicants or workers questions about disability. However, employers may ask applicants whether they can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause undue hardship for the employer. Reasonable accommodations might include providing sign language interpretation for a job applicant, making the workplace accessible for wheelchair users, or providing an electronic screen reader for an employee who is blind. U.S. laws also prohibit employers from creating a hostile work environment for workers with disabilities.
The EEOC, Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor have the authority to investigate charges of discrimination. If they determine that an employer has discriminated, they attempt to settle the matter out of court, and if that effort is unsuccessful, the agencies may file lawsuits to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Since the effective date of the ADA’s employment discrimination provisions in July 1992, the EEOC alone has obtained more than 939 million dollars in benefits for persons with disabilities who experienced employment discrimination.
The United States recognizes the challenges of achieving equality of employment opportunity and will continue its vigorous efforts to end workplace discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Generations of Americans with disabilities have improved our country in countless ways. Refusing to accept the world as it was, they have torn down the barriers that prohibited them from fully realizing the American dream. Their tireless efforts led to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation in our Nation’s history. On this day, we celebrate the 21st anniversary of the ADA and the progress we have made, and we reaffirm our commitment to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans.
Each day, people living with disabilities make immeasurable contributions to the diversity and vitality of our communities. Nearly one in five Americans lives with a disability. They are our family members and friends, neighbors and colleagues, and business and civic leaders. Since the passing of the ADA, persons with disabilities are leading fuller lives in neighborhoods that are more accessible and have greater access to new technologies. In our classrooms, young people with disabilities now enjoy the same educational opportunities as their peers and are gaining the tools necessary to reach their greatest potential.
Despite these advancements, there is more work to be done, and my Administration remains committed to ending all forms of discrimination and upholding the rights of Americans with disabilities. The Department of Justice continues to strengthen enforcement of the ADA by ensuring that persons with disabilities have access to community-based services that allow them to lead independent lives in the communities of their choosing. Under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, insurers will no longer be able to engage in the discriminatory practice of denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and Americans with disabilities will have greater control over their health care choices. And last year, I signed an Executive Order establishing the Federal Government as a model employer forindividuals with disabilities, placing a special focus onrecruitment and retention of public servants with disabilities across Federal agencies.
Through the ADA, America was the first country in the world to comprehensively declare equality for citizens with disabilities. To continue promoting these principles, we have joined in signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At its core, this Convention promotes equality. It seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights and opportunities as all people, and are able to lead their lives as do other individuals.
Eventual ratification of this Convention would represent another important step in our forty-plus years of protecting disability rights. It would offer us a platform to encourage other countries to join and implement the Convention. Broad implementation would mean greater protections and benefits abroad for millions of Americans with disabilities, including our veterans, who travel, conduct business, study, reside, or retire overseas. In encouraging other countries to join and implement the Convention, we also could help level the playing field to the benefit of American companies, who already meet high standards under United States domestic law. Improved disabilities standards abroad would also afford American businesses increased opportunities to export innovative products and technologies, stimulating job creation at home.
Equal access, equal opportunity, and the freedom to make of our lives what we will are principles upon which our Nation was founded, and they continue to guide our efforts to perfect our Union. Together, we can ensure our country is not deprived of the full talents and contributions of the approximately 54 million Americans living with disabilities, and we will move forward with the work of providing pathways to opportunity to all of our people.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, July 26, 2011, the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I encourage Americans across our Nation to celebrate the 21st anniversary of this civil rights law and the many contributions of individuals with disabilities.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fifth day of July, in the year of our Lord two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
As prepared for delivery
Thank you, Bob.
Let me begin by saying it is a personal pleasure to be back in Central Asia, one of the world’s most historic and beautiful regions, which I first visited over ten years ago, while traveling with then-First Lady of the United States Hillary Clinton. It is fitting that we come together in the region of the ancient Silk Road to spark greater economic opportunity and commerce through women’s leadership and participation on a modern day Silk Road.
I want to offer a very special welcome to each and every one of you, particularly the extraordinary women entrepreneurs, educators, policy-makers, and civil society leaders from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. We are thrilled that you’ve come together. You represent a truly vital force for driving economic growth and progress in your region.
It is also a pleasure to be here with President Otunbayeva, whom I first met in Beijing in 1995 at the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women, where she gave an impassioned speech about the importance of women’s economic empowerment and highlighted the power of microfinance. Several years later, I had the opportunity to spend several days with her discussing women’s political participation at the Salzburg Seminar. Little known then, today she is President of her country and a model for democratic leadership and women’s progress. I want to thank her for her outstanding work and for being such a willing partner in addressing these issues.
I also thank the members of the U.S. embassies and consulates who are here, who worked so hard to bring us to this day, and particularly Ambassador Pamela Spratlen and her staff in Bishkek. Our embassies were not only instrumental in selecting you, but they will continue to work with you when you leave here, through online conversations and meetings in your country and the region, as well as new investments in training programs, access to finance, internships, and more. This conference is not an end, but a beginning.
We also have a wealth of partners represented here today, from leading international organizations, including UN Women, OSCE, EBRD, and IFC, to universities and foundations, including the American University of Central Asia, the University of Central Asia, and the Aga Khan Foundation, to private companies, including Mary Kay, ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, and Chevron. All of you are men and women who possess a reservoir of talent and experience in finance, technology, management and so many other areas. We are pleased that you, as representatives of your institutions and companies, have come together to share best practices and to make this, as Secretary Clinton said, not just a one-time event, but rather the beginning of a meaningful collaboration and a true investment for the future.
Today, there are many converging studies–from the World Bank to the World Economic Forum (WEF), from think tanks, universities, and corporations–that show that investing in women is a high yield investment. Gender equality in access to education, healthcare, political participation, and economic participation is key to a country’s competitiveness and prosperity. No wonder the World Bank calls gender equality “smart economics.” Women’s economic participation also provides a multiplier effect because women invest upwards of 90 percent of their income in their families and communities on health, education, and other investments for the betterment of society.
Women entrepreneurs offer people everywhere so much promise. It is a fact that women-run small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) drive economic growth and create jobs. This is true in my country and it is true around the world. And, women-owned enterprises often have a better growth rate and a better loan payback rate. That’s why one CEO remarked, “If you want to drive GDP, the best investment that can be made are women-run SME’s.”
And many of you here today are perfect examples.
Women are growing their ranks as entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Last week, I saw Taj Serat, who owns a soccer ball business that employs several hundred women who create high quality balls, which the company has just begun to export.
This past Saturday in Uzbekistan, I met a remarkable woman, Zora Rakhmatullaeva, who was disabled. She said that day after day she used to sit at home feeling useless. She got up her strength one day and set out to organize others like her to create a viable business. She now heads up the Association of Business Disabled Women and showed me pictures of the beautiful curtains, bedspreads, and other home fabrics that women with disabilities are making through their viable business.
I also remember meeting Rauschan Sarsembayeva from Kazakhstan several years ago. She is an outstanding business leader, who as head of the Women’s Business Association of Kazakhstan, has trained women through vocational technology programs and placed them in jobs. She pays her experience forward, so others may also succeed.
And when I was with First Lady Hillary Clinton here in Bishkek in 1997, I saw firsthand how women, thanks to micro-credit, were able to establish small businesses to support themselves and their families, despite challenging economic times.
But as many of you know, and as these women would also readily acknowledge, women’s success is often hindered by barriers that often undermine their ability to start or to expand their business. Barriers like lack of access to markets, to training, mentors, and technology. Today, for example, 300 million fewer women than men have mobile phones. This gender gap is depriving women of a vital technology that is critical to economic success. In addition, women often confront corruption, discriminatory regulations or practices like lack of inheritance and property rights. Sometimes women are subject to blatant or subtle harassment, disparagement, or dismissive treatment. In some places, women cannot conduct transactions without the permission or participation of male family members. And, of course, it’s also difficult to balance the responsibilities of family and work.
Access to finance is perhaps the major challenge to women for business growth everywhere. Micro-credit has lifted up millions and millions of poor women around the world and enabled them to earn an income, support their families, and pay back their loans at close to 100% repayment rates. I remember a woman who told me how she had longed for a high-powered sewing machine, but did not have the means to purchase one. She told me that she felt like “a bird released from its cage” when she got the loan that enabled her to finally get the machine, grow her business, and pay back her loan.
Yet the significant gender gap to finance remains painfully acute as it affects what we might call “the missing middle” of the small and medium enterprise sector, which is mostly women-run and has the best growth and jobs creation potential. That’s why my government is working to help women overcome obstacles to greater economic participation. We are hoping that through this conference and the follow-on activities, we will better help you to overcome such barriers.
Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca Cola, put it another way. Several months ago he announced a significant new commitment by Coca Cola to empower five million women entrepreneurs by 2020. He said that the “21st century goes to the women.” He went on to explain why: “The only way a projected billion people will rise to middle class in the next ten years, the only way nations will rise out of poverty and become politically stable will be by women achieving gender parity on a global scale.”
To reach their full national economic potential, countries must also prepare and train their girls and women to participate equally, and to compete effectively, in the local, regional and global marketplaces. Educating a girl is the simplest, most effective development investment that can be made with high yield dividends for her and her future family. Young women also need market-relevant education, leadership skills, and encouragement to apply their talents in the more lucrative, although perhaps less traditional, sectors.
In addition, women need to be represented at the policy-making table if the needs of their families, communities and societies are to be fully addressed. As your businesses grow, we are confident you will speak out against corruption when you see it. As your businesses grow, we know you will be voices for a climate that fosters innovation and prosperity. As your businesses grow, you will advocate with your leaders for a system that promotes greater communication and trade. As leaders in business, we know you will also work to strengthen democratic institutions and civil society. And working together, you will not only benefit your businesses and grow your economies, but also strengthen cross-border relationships.
Each of you is helping to chart a path to a better tomorrow for yourselves and your families, your communities, and your countries. And in so doing, you are also role models for young women who want to start their own business or move ahead in their careers. If you build a network of women leaders that spans this region, there will be no stopping you and no stopping progress for this region. We know that empowering women is one of the most effective and positive forces for reshaping the globe. It is a simple fact that no country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.
We know too that you will share this investment in you with others as women always do, that you will pay this experience forward to benefit so many more. When women progress, everyone benefits: men and women, boys and girls. The Silk Road will thrive again as you travel on your journey, not on camels, but through women’s greater economic participation. As you move toward your destination of economic, social, and political progress, you, like the traders of old, will create new opportunities for all.
I hope you have a productive and rewarding experience over the next day and a half, and in the months and years to come. We will work together with you as partners, in order to create a better future for people throughout this region.
Judith Heumann, the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights promoted the inclusion of disability issues and persons with disabilities in a range of international initiatives during her visit to New York City from June 6 to June 10. As is usually the case with the Special Advisor, there was not a dull moment in the week. Ms. Heumann had four full days of meetings with representatives from UN agencies, governments, and civil society organizations, and attended the launch of the World Report on Disability, which was opened with a video message by Professor Stephan Hawking.
The launch of the World Report on Disability, produced jointly by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, is exciting news in the realm of international disability rights. It establishes a significantly increased estimate of the population of disabled people worldwide, from 650 million to 1 billion people. This estimate makes disabled people the world’s largest minority, at 15% of the world’s population. These new statistics demonstrate the necessity for urgent action on disability rights worldwide. The World Report on Disability an important step towards promoting a wider understanding of disability and disabled people around the world, as well as being a useful tool for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – a UN convention intended to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities.
In conjunction with the launch of the World Report, at a side event to the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS, the Special Advisor spoke on a panel that focused on the value of the World Report on Disability in supporting the implementation of the CRPD.
Ms. Heumann also engaged with representatives from a variety of organizations from around the world, such as AusAID, Japan International Cooperation Agency, UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Rehabilitation International and the International Disability Alliance, and emphasized the inclusion of disability rights in a broad spectrum of global initiatives. Together, the Special Advisor and the groups identified areas where international organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations, and members of civil society can collaborate to promote international disability rights.
To learn more about Special Advisor Judith Heumann and International Disability Rights visit her on:
Judith Heumann is an internationally recognized leader in the disability community and a lifelong civil rights advocate for disadvantaged people. She has been appointed Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State. She previously served as the Director for the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
From June 2002- 2006, Judith E. Heumann served as the World Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development. In this position, Heumann led the World Bank’s disability work to expand the Bank’s knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the Bank discussions with client countries; its country-based analytical work; and support for improving policies, programs, and projects that allow disabled people around the world to live and work in the economic and social mainstream of their communities. She was Lead Consultant to the Global Partnership for Disability and Development.
From 1993 to 2001, Heumann served in the Clinton Administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education. Heumann was responsible for the implementation of legislation at the national level for programs in special education, disability research, vocational rehabilitation and independent living, serving more than 8 million youth and adults with disabilities.
For more than 30 years, Heumann has been involved on the international front working with disabled people’s organizations and governments around the world to advance the human rights of disabled people. She represented Education Secretary, Richard Riley, at the 1995 International Congress on Disability in Mexico City. She was a US delegate to the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. She has been active with Disabled Peoples’ International, Rehabilitation International and numerous Independent Living Centers throughout the world. She co-founded the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley California and the World Institute on Disability in Oakland California.
Heumann graduated from Long Island University in 1969 and received her Masters in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. She has received numerous awards including being the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award in recognition of efforts to significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. She has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Long Island University in Brooklyn, an Honorary Doctorate of Public Administration from the University of Illinois, Champaign, and an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from the University of Toledo.
MS. BENTON: Good afternoon. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Thank you so much for joining us for the tenth installment of Conversations with America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in a live discussion between a top State Department official and the leader of a nongovernment organization.
Today’s discussion will focus on U.S. efforts to promote disability rights around the globe. And as a reminder, I want everyone to know that they can follow us on captioning – they can follow us through captioning on state.gov; that is, that we will have this on caption on state.gov. Our blog, DipNote, has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from all around the world. We have selected some of the questions for discussion during this broadcast.
Before we begin, I would briefly introduce you to our guest. Judy Heumann is the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. She is an internationally recognized leader in the disability community and a lifelong civil rights advocate for disadvantaged people. For more than 30 years, Judy has been involved on the international front working with disabled people’s organizations and governments around the world to advance the human rights of disabled people.
Let me now introduce you to David Morrissey. David is the executive director of the United States International Council on Disabilities. He has held management positions in several nonprofit organizations, served as a member of the board of directors of his local Center for Independent Living, and was the 2007 Disability Policy Leadership Fellow for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.
And yesterday, Secretary Clinton held her first strategic dialogue with civil society, and it was such a thrill that both Judy and David were there. And I think it’s just a demonstration of the Secretary’s commitment that when the table was set, all voices will be there, including our disability partners.
Today, Judy and David will discuss their efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities around the world. Before we get started, I’d like to invite our guests to provide brief introductory remarks. David.
MR. MORRISSEY: Thank you very much for having me. It’s exciting to be here. And thank you, Judy, for joining us today. I just want to acknowledge that yesterday was an exciting dialogue with the Secretary of State about the commitment of the U.S. Government and the Obama Administration toward engaging civil society organizations in advancing rights and development around the world. And to have the disability community represented at that table was really an honor and an exciting sign of, I think, the progress ahead of us.
MS. BENTON: Absolutely. Thank you. Judy, can you give us some opening remarks?
MS. HEUMANN: Sure. My position was created, as you know, in June of last year. I filled the position at that time. It was created by President Obama as a part of his implementation of the commitment that he made during the campaign to be supportive of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to create a position in the State Department which is intended to help include issues affecting disabled people across the world in all aspects of our work. There is also a person who is newly appointed and working over at USAID, a woman named Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, and the two of us are working collaboratively to really help beef us what we’re doing in the area of disability as a mainstream issue.
MS. BENTON: Very good. Now, David, I’d like you to go ahead and begin the discussion and just lead us off in the path you want us to take initially.
MR. MORRISSEY: Oh, well, thank you. I think following on Judy’s remark about the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, this is an exciting time for U.S. disability organizations to be more engaged in global disability movement through advocacy for this treaty. And the Obama Administration’s – President Obama’s pledge to see the U.S. sign the treaty was an exciting event in 2009 on the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I wondered if, on that spirit of sort of the ADA and now today the CRPD, Judy, if you have any thoughts on this new era in disability rights.
MR. HEUMANN: Well, I believe what’s going on right now is we’ve, in the United States for the last – probably since the mid ‘60s, we’ve seen an increasing engagement of disabled people in the movement, very much following what was going on with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement at that time, the aging movement. Disabled people, really until that period of time, were not that engaged in what we would call rights-based organizations. A lot of the work that was going on until that time was really focused more on what we call the medical model, which is giving money to organizations to cure those of us who have disabilities.
So what we’ve seen in the U.S. and subsequently around the world is, as disabled people are basically saying we have disabilities, it’s our normal way of living; we shouldn’t be substituting medical research for human rights. And so in the States, what we’ve seen is a series of major pieces of legislation. The general public in the U.S. and around the world know a lot about a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is now a 20-year-old law. And that law is really one that’s been looked at and seen by disabled people and advocates around the world as a model, because it talks about ending discrimination both in the public and private sector.
So for somebody like myself who is now 63 years old, I grew up in New York City. I had polio when I was 18 months old, so I haven’t been able to walk since I was less than two years old. And I grew up in an environment where there were no ramps on streets, the buses weren’t accessible, the trains weren’t accessible, public accommodation like going shopping and having a bathroom that was accessible or having a fitting room that was big enough or a movie theater where I could sit, or for deaf people or blind people to get accommodations, none of those things were happening.
And I think at that point in time, we kind of looked at those changes as hopes that we weren’t sure could ever happen. But I think what we realized was by working together we were able to really address those barriers, which in the beginning as we were working on them, manufacturers, local governments, universities, schools were all opposing these kinds of changes: It couldn’t be done; it would be too expensive; we wouldn’t benefit.
In some way, I think this is very similar to what went on in the women’s community. Why should you educate girls? Why should you educate girls in Africa or Latin America or in Asia? The societies that they live in really keep women at home, so it’s not important. And what we’ve seen when we look at other agendas, like the gender one, that as girls went to school, as they grew up and become mothers and breadwinners, that it makes a dramatic change both in their family and in the community.
And likewise, that’s what we’re seeing in the area of disability. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which came out of the United Nations in 2006 was really a monumental international change. It was four to five years of very hard work from disabled people’s organizations who came to the United Nations and worked two to three times a year for two to three weeks at a time, with delegations of government officials and disabled people as a part of the formal governmental units at the UN. People became educated. Government leaders and representatives began to learn that it was the barriers that we were facing as disabled people that needed to be removed. And so when we look at the convention, it very much follows the principles that we have in the legislation that we’ve passed in the United States, like the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So I think disabled people and governments around the world and civil society in general can really now be looking 10 to 20 years down the road to really see some major changes in developing and middle-income countries, just like we’ve seen here in the States and in Europe and other Western countries.
MS. BENTON: Good. So with the initiation of ADA all the way to the United Nations, it’s been quite an explosive journey, because as you were saying, you were housebound. People with disabilities were housebound because there were no facilities to aid in their getting out and about. Have you found that in your work as well?
MR. MORRISSEY: Yes, that the disabled – or disability rights movement around the world has really exploded. And there’s a really renewed enthusiasm among civil society partners to look at disability not in that medical model, as maybe many nongovernmental organizations traditionally would have if they engaged with disability at all. It’s now a new framework to look at disability rights as human rights, and how inclusion and access for people with disabilities can be infused across-programs, not even those that are specifically regarding the disability community, which are important programs as well. But when we look at infrastructure development or promoting democracy or promoting gender equity, making sure that both our government’s efforts and the efforts of nongovernmental organizations are thinking about, is our program inclusive, is it accessible, is going to really expand the reach and impact of those efforts to reach populations that may not have been met before. And it’s exciting to see them now being brought to those efforts.
MS. BENTON: I can imagine. And, Judy, as you travel around – and you’ve done a lot of traveling since you came on board – what’s been your experience in other countries?
MS. HEUMANN: Well, I think we see variations of inclusion of disabled people. And I talk about physical barriers because I don’t walk, but it’s important really to look more broadly. So we’re talking about people who are blind and need materials in Braille when we’re using information technology to make sure that the developers of the technology are working to ensure that the technology is available for blind people and for deaf individuals.
We’re seeing that changes are happening, but there’s really still a need for helping to support the growth of civil society in many of the countries we work in. Like the work of the Secretary is very much focused on giving support and recognition and helping to empower leaders in civil society in general. What we’ve seen – and it’s not atypical to what we’ve seen here in the United States – is that the voices of disabled individuals are really one of the last groups that are emerging.
And because of the stigma attached to disability in many countries, one of the things we’re really trying to do is to get, for example, the broader human rights community to embrace issues of human rights for disabled people, the broader women’s community to understand the fact that disabled women are equally in jeopardy and in many cases more in jeopardy around issues like violence and exposure to AIDS, and how the healthcare systems are frequently presuming that if you are a disabled woman – and I hear this all the time – if you are a disabled woman and you believe you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease and you go for medical care, frequently healthcare providers will say oh, there’s no reason to test you, you have a disability, you’re not sexual. In reality, what we see because of issues of abuse, because of difficulty of disabled women getting married, that they definitely are at greater risk.
So I guess the approach that we’re taking here at State, talking about some of the issues that David was raising, we’re trying to take disability and not make it a stovepipe issue, which is not just look at programs that deal with disability, but look at how we can infuse disability into all of our work, including ensuring that when U.S. dollars are being used abroad for construction that they’re in compliance with our laws. And there’s still a problem with that.
MS. BENTON: So the issue of accessibility and all of the other issues that arise around disabilities, are we more advanced here? Are we more caring about the issue than other countries?
MS. HEUMANN: I would say that we are a country that is very – we are an advocacy-oriented country.
MS. BENTON: Okay.
MS. HEUMANN: And the disability community, as I said earlier, really was learning from other movements that you kind of can’t wait for someone to step in and deal with issues of discrimination. If you don’t lead that effort, it isn’t going to be addressed appropriately. You may have people who are caring and concerned and understand that you’re facing problems you shouldn’t have to understand, but when the voices of women, African American, Latinos, Native Americans, whatever the group is, and add disabled people who are also African Americans, women, Latinos, et cetera – when those voices are the ones that come forward and people have to look us directly in the eye.
When I talk about not being able to get services that I need, one of the big issues around the world is the denial of educational opportunities for disabled children. The World Bank estimates that at least 40 million of children who are not in school are children with disabilities. And we have to realize in the U.S. that we didn’t have our educational laws until 1973 and 1975, and at that point there were at least one million children not in school. I mean, I didn’t get to go to school till the middle of the fourth grade, and then I was only in segregated classes. So education is critical for anyone in any community to be able to – it goes beyond just being learned. It’s the respect that you get in the community, or the lack of respect. If you’re not going to school, if you don’t have the education that you need to be able to get a job, then you’re continually waiting for others to have to help you. And that’s true in our country and any country. The U.S. still has a very high unemployment rate in the area of disabled people.
MS. BENTON: I see. Do you find that to be true as well, David?
MR. MORRISSEY: Yes. I want to also acknowledge what you were saying about the U.S. as an advocacy-oriented country. I am younger in my career, and so I was really inspired by Judy when I was learning about the movement and had seen what folks who had moved into the movement prior to me had accomplished, and so I wanted to acknowledge that inspiration that she and others have really pioneered in pushing things like the Americans With Disabilities Act forward onto the national dialogue.
And I think that there’s a national – or, I’m sorry – an international slogan now, “Nothing about us without us,” that is rallying the international disability community to do the same in their countries, to say to their governments and to nongovernmental development organizations as well: Bring us to the table. You’re working in education or development programs and wanting to be inclusive and accessible; bring us to the table to help you do that. This slogan, “Nothing about us without us” is one that increasingly now, our NGO colleagues are saying they’re hearing, and they’re getting that message from grassroots advocates in countries around the world. And it is changing the way business is being done.
MS. HEUMANN: I just want to say one other thing, and that is there are dramatic changes in countries going on around the world, and I think one of the most important changes is the development of organizations run by disabled people. I think –
MR. MORRISSEY: That’s happening, yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: — that it’s – you’re seeing it in South Africa, in Uganda, in Ethiopia, and many countries in Africa. You’re seeing it in countries all over Asia. Latin America has been a leader in this regard for quite a number of years, Brazil being one of the strongest countries really leading the political movement in Costa Rica and others.
So as the voices of disabled people and parents – I think that’s another area – parents need – as they have in the United States – parents of children with disabilities need to fight for the rights of their children, because if they’re not going to fight for the rights – if my mother and father hadn’t fought for my rights, and I think the same thing is true for David because we both had our disabilities when we were younger, I never would have gone to school, I never would have gone to high school, I never would have gone to the university.
And I think the leaders all around the world with disabilities, for those of us who became disabled when we were younger, you very frequently hear people talk about their parents, not that their parents were necessarily advocates. Like, in the case of my parents, my parents were not advocates before I had polio. They were just immigrants that came to the United States and were learning about a new country. The other thing that I think is very important is disability is different in as much as people acquire their disabilities as they get older.
So in many countries like the United States, you have people as they get older who are acquiring disabilities because of age, but also when you look at the data, poverty is a very big link to disability. So there are about 650 million disabled people in the world, which we actually think is a low number, and about 80 percent of those people live in developing countries. So if they’re not getting education and they’re having difficulty getting jobs, or if they’re working and they acquire a disability and there is not the kind of support – in many cases, which is not a lot of money – but the stigma that then gets attached to the person having a disability who was a bread-earner and is no longer being allowed to participate in the economic environment, it doesn’t just have an effect on that person, but it has an effect on the entire family.
So you can see the economic drain that need not happen. I think that’s the big issue. It need not be that way, and if we can end discrimination and we can remove the barriers, we can move forward.
MR. MORRISSEY: You asked me about employment and –
MS. BENTON: Yes, yes.
MR. MORRISSEY: — this touches exactly on that. For people with disabilities to find gainful employment that’s enriching is still a goal in this country. Twenty years after the Americans With Disabilities Act, our employment rates among people with disabilities are not where we’d like to see them yet. And so that vision for being able to support one’s family and oneself is just as alive in the disability community as in the nation at large.
MS. BENTON: The broader community.
MR. MORRISSEY: Yeah, absolutely.
MS. BENTON: Oh, I can imagine, and I also would – like you were saying, Judy, if you are poor, then the barriers are triple, quadruple, but that it’s incumbent upon societies around the world to be inclusive of the disabilities community so that we can lift everybody up.
MS. HEUMANN: Exactly.
MS. BENTON: Because if a family is burdened with having no food, no job, that impacts the community and impacts the neighborhood.
MS. HEUMANN: Right.
MS. BENTON: So many countries have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Why is this convention important and what impact can it have on the lives of persons with disabilities? I wanted to see, David, if you would give us our first answer on that.
MR. MORRISSEY: Sure. Well, I think we’ve touched on it a little already, that it’s really created a groundswell of enthusiasm and energy among disability rights advocates, and not only for disabled people themselves, but broader communities around them – their communities, their families see that a equitable and just society that does not marginalize people with disabilities by law, but rather is working to include them really is advancing society more broadly. And so to see support for this convention from outside the disability movement is really exciting, and so the commitment of world leaders particularly has further inspired the civil society movement around this.
And so today, I think we have – 97 countries have ratified this treaty and over 140 have signed the treaty. That is –
MS. BENTON: Amazing, isn’t it?
MR. MORRISSEY: — huge in a very short period of time, and so I think really points to a global excitement.
MS. BENTON: Yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: And I think when I travel and I visit embassy offices and I – and here at the State Department also, and you sit down and you talk to people about what’s my job and what am I supposed to do and I talk about issues of inclusion, it’s very clear that there is a very strong interest in what needs to happen. But there’s also a need to really help develop the capacity. So when we look at the CRPD and we look at governments and civil society, we see this interest in what we can do next. One of the reasons why it’s so important, not just for the United States but for countries that have a history and a success in both supporting the development of civil society like in countries in Uganda, where they have a very strong disability rights movement and countries like Pakistan and Japan, and there’s great work going on in Asia that the Japanese are playing a very strong role in in helping to create something called Centers for Independent Living which really emerged from the United States –
MS. BENTON: From America. That’s right.
MS. HEUMANN: Exactly. It came from the States. This is enabling us to have a more serious discussion with governments and civil society about how to. How do you take the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has 40 some articles in it and talks about education, awareness, employment, healthcare, very specific broad statements that then have to be taken and really developed? Laws have to be developed and/or implemented. Many governments really have not effectively – not just in disability, but they haven’t done things like monitoring.
So in our country and other countries, we know that the law is going to work not just because it’s a well written document, but it means there are certain things that have to happen. Government workers have to be trained, teachers have to be trained, whatever the particular group that’s implementing it has to learn what to do. But there also has to be accountability. So the government in this case needs to really be saying, not only did we sign and ratify this convention, but we need to look at what we need to do to make this a reality. Lots of countries have laws that are great laws, and nothing happens with them.
And I think the issue that we’ve been discussing this whole hour is the role of civil society. So in our country, and – I mean, Pakistan – there’s been interesting things going on of late, many countries all over the world. As the disability community organizes, they do what other movements have done. They learn about the political process. They become more engaged in the political process. That’s another issue where it’s very important for us as the State Department and USAID to play a role, to help open doors.
When we invite disabled people to an embassy and say we want to hear from you what is going on, what are the issues, how should we be looking at it. Like, we have human rights reports that we do every year. There’s a section on disability. Since we came – this position was created and we started last June, we’ve really been working hard with the people that are doing the human rights reports. We’ve met with civil society, allow them to understand the importance, allow them to understand that all the embassies have a person on staff who wants to learn from them what human rights violations exist. We want to hear about good things too, but we all need to know what are some of the problems. It’s not just to show the problems; it’s also to give us guidance and direction, how we can possibly engage with government and civil society.
So it has to be a very robust, energetic, interactive. And I think in the states that we’ve seen for the last 40, 50 years, it’s – we’ve learned more. We’ve learned how to – in disability, one thing that’s very important and we’re seeing it happening with the Convention and other laws, previously, you had blind groups, the deaf groups, the parent groups, the polio group, and all these separate groups, and every group would go a legislator and say, I need this, I need that. And the legislator would say, well, when you can come together and tell us as a group what you need, then we’ll listen. And people are seeing that happen now.
MS. BENTON: Right, and, I mean, that’s the total strength of it.
MS. HEUMANN: Right.
MS. BENTON: Because the individual voices can only get you so far. It’s when you come together as a collective and then you advocate and push on a system that you begin to see the changes that can be made, and the changes benefit society.
MS. HEUMANN: Exactly.
MS. BENTON: Because if everyone is not at the table, then society suffers because the contributions of those positive voices will not be there. That’s very interesting.
MR. MORRISSEY: Sometimes we refer to – that is the cross disability movement of bringing together people across disabilities into a big tent. And the organization where I serve, the U.S. International Council on Disabilities is a cross-disability organization. Our governance and our staff are people with all sorts of backgrounds who come together to do this work. And there’s some wonderful international organizations as well, such as Disabled Peoples International, or the International Disability Alliance, that are bringing together folks again from a lot of different backgrounds and a really diverse community to advance this work globally.
MS. BENTON: That’s great.
MS. HEUMANN: And we learned about each other’s issues.
MR. MORRISSEY: Yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: So you’ve got the groups (inaudible) the Federation for the Deaf, the Organization of Psychiatric Survivors. Mental health is a very big issues because particularly in countries where there’s been violence, there’s a great deal of need to help empower people who’ve experienced situations which are adverse to their ability to work effectively, to lead effective lives, and be promoters of themselves. So these self-help groups, working with people’s intellectual disabilities, it’s vibrant at this point. And it’s growing more vibrant around the world, so change is in the making.
MS. BENTON: And change, while it can be scary, is really a good thing. This has been a great conversation, and thank you so much for your comments on this very important human rights issue. Many interested viewers have submitted questions via DipNote, the State Department’s blog, and I’d like to take a moment and start asking some of those questions. But I also want to remind folks that we’re closed captioned on state.gov, so we are encouraging you to go in and tune in on that medium.
We’ve got a question from Ron in New York. He writes: Removing all obstacles for disabled peoples will enhance the life functions of all humanity. Isn’t this goal beneficial for economies, political and social systems alike?
I mean, probably a no-brainer, right?
MR. MORRISSEY: Yes. I’d like to say yes, and I’ll even reference Secretary of State Clinton yesterday tied together that advancing economies and advancing society are hand-in-hand, and those are integrally related.
MS. BENTON: And the Secretary often says human – women’s rights are human rights, disability rights are human rights. I mean, it’s the same strain.
Bob R. in Ethiopia writes: United States now has a rich experience in guaranteeing equality of access and opportunity for Americans with disabilities, thanks to the ADA and other progressive legislation. Now that an increasing number of developing countries are ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, how can the U.S. Government, the U.S. ICD and other U.S. organizations share experience and expertise to assist countries, governments, and civil society to implement the Convention?
MS. HEUMANN: So one of the things that we’re doing through the State Department and USAID is making it none both to our staffs that disability is now part of the agenda, to make sure that we are learning about what’s going on in the disability communities and also learning what governments are doing. When I’m traveling, for example, I’m meeting with governments in every country with meetings that are being set up by the embassies to basically say, if you’re interested, we’re willing to talk with you to see how we can be of assistance to help you learn about how to implement the Convention.
So for State, for example, our visitor’s program has, for many years – but the numbers are increasing – been bringing over disabled individuals and parents who are coming in visitor’s programs to learn about what we’re doing here. They’re meeting with government officials. We have some interesting projects. There’s a project that started now between the Mayor’s Office in Amman and the Mayor’s Office in Chicago, through Sister Cities.
MS. BENTON: Oh, really? The Sister Cities? Yeah.
MS. HEUMANN: Yes. When we visited – when I was in Jordan, we met with the mayor, and we were talking. He has an office on disability and their issues that they’re dealing with. And he’s friends with Mayor Daley from Chicago. And so we’ve had a videoconference between the two offices in Chicago and Amman, and there’s going to be another one and possibly a visit where they can actually come and look and meet with government officials and civil society to see how they’re making their communities accessible – so engagement, knowledge.
We did a conference in December. It’s the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, so the State Department held a meeting here. We had over 200 people who participated. We had a panel on violence against disabled girls and women, which brought together U.S. and international bodies, both civil society and entities like the World Health Organization to talk about these issues, and we had a panel on HIV/AIDS, to really, as I was saying earlier, help people understand that disabled people are not angelic; they’re not protected by God, they’re not cursed by God. They need to have the same opportunities as others. So sharing information, allowing the – our embassies to speak directly with government and civil society on a country by country basis is what – is the role that we’re seeing for the U.S. to play.
MS. BENTON: All right, good. We have another question from Nicar B. in Jamaica: A challenge that many disabled people’s organizations face, especially in Jamaica, is pushing for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But in many countries, disability often takes a backseat to bigger issues, such as national security, disaster relief, and economic recovery. Others have suggested to mainstream disability in all projects. But then how we can effectively and properly advocate for mainstreaming without the public looking at it as a burden, an additional cost or a favor for persons with disabilities?
I mean, I think that is always a particularly – in this day and age and time, the bad economy, it’s going to maybe be portrayed that way.
MR. MORRISSEY: Well, Jamaica, where Nicar is writing from, I believe was the first country to sign the treaty. And yet, the change isn’t instantaneous for a country because they joined the treaty. It then will take time. Twenty years into the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have not fully realized its vision here in the U.S. And so we have to, I think, have fortitude to continue to advocate and move our own societies forward, and that requires collaboration, it means making partnerships with other sectors in society to help raise the understanding of the win-win that comes with education for all or a more inclusive workplace, that those are benefitting broader society. And I think also, if we continue to support civil society, particularly disability civil society, to lead these efforts, we’ll be advancing the effort in a greater way.
MS. BENTON: To you.
MS. HEUMANN: I mean, I think in the disability community, we kind of joke about the economy. I mean, I’m old enough that I’ve been in strong economies, weak economies, strong economies, now we’re in a weak economy. The truth of the matter is barriers that disabled people have faced, we’ve faced in strong economies and in weak economies.
What I think is important here is, in the U.S. and other countries that have been moving forward, in fact, what we know is that the cost of, for example, making our bus system accessible, new construction – new construction, as an example, is no more than 1 percent cost. Governments don’t understand this, or I frequently think it’s – it gets back to what I said earlier. People don’t see the benefit. Why should we do this?
We never – I mean, really, in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, when the big push was going on here in the States, you had major transit authorities saying,
“We’re not keeping people off a bus.” Of course, how could I get on a bus in a wheelchair? They were saying, “Well, wouldn’t it be better to have someone pick us up at the door of our house and take us to where we need to go?” And we said, “Well, everybody would like to get picked up at their house and take them to where they want to go.” (Laughter.) If you had a choice of getting a car to come to your house or going out on a bus or a train, what are you going to take?
But what have we seen in countries around the world that have really stuck to this? You see disabled people out in the community, you see scooters and older people going around using walkers and things. In the States, we see baby carriages with parents pushing those baby carriages and using the elevators in our public transportation system.
MS. BENTON: That’s right, that’s right.
MS. HEUMANN: So I think what we need to be doing is working with people like the gentleman who just wrote from Jamaica, and allow us to help – or come onto our websites. We’ve got – if you have access to the internet, U.S. Government has great websites. You can go onto the Transportation website, Education websites, Justice Department websites, and they’ll not only give you information about our laws, but they’ll give you information about organizations that are getting funded and the work that’s being done.
So I think the first thing is we have to dispel – and I wouldn’t allow a long debate to go on with this; this is the advocacy-related issue – every building that is built that is not accessible is denying us an opportunity into that building, which is either for education or employment or the ability to spend our money. What we’re seeing in the U.S. is that businesses who might not have loved the Americans with Disabilities Act in the beginning are getting more business as a result of it. And you can see it in advertising in our country and Brazil and England and other places, where disabled people are now a part of ads – deaf people signing, blind people, people in wheelchairs, people with developmental disabilities, they’re a part of the ads. And to nowhere near the degree that we should be, but it’s happening at a more rapid rate.
So cost is really not an issue. It’s, in my view, ignorance, and we can accept a degree of it. The U.S., in my view, has a very strong responsibility to make sure that we are following our laws correctly, so that when we are building overseas, no one can turn around and say, “Why is this building not the same as you would have built it at home?” And when we’re wrong, we have to advance it.
MS. BENTON: That’s right. That’s right. But we have to lead.
MS. HEUMANN: Absolutely.
MS. BENTON: We have to lead on this. I want to get to another question, Don W. in Massachusetts. His question is: What do you see as the gaps and opportunities facing us as we take on the challenge of ensuring that children with disabilities are beneficiaries of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Part two: How can we engage and rally the multiple stakeholders across the sectors of child and youth development – social and legal protection, nutrition, health, and education for these catalytic and timely opportunities?
So I’m going to give that one to you.
MR. MORRISSEY: Sure. I believe 60 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30. So when we’re talking about addressing young people, we’re really talking about our own future. And so again, to be supporting education for all, opportunity for all, gainful employment, we’re building our shared future. I think that the efforts to combat terrorism by, again, creating opportunity for young people is helping to combat that.
I’m going to let Judy –
MS. HEUMANN: I think also, in the area of – we’re looking at youth and then we’re looking at children.
MS. BENTON: Yes, and children, two different things, right.
MS. HEUMANN: Yeah. Well, they’re on a continuum, really.
MS. BENTON: Yes.
MS. HEUMANN: So it’s very important, and it’s not just a disability issue. So we know that if a child is born and is not at the appropriate weight that that child should be, that that child is at risk for all types of disabilities. So looking at programs that are being developed in developing countries, middle income countries, and First World countries, looking at ways that we can identify mothers that are at risk, children that are at risk, and trying to provide them with appropriate nutritional supports as an example.
But we also do know that some of these children have disabilities. Between the ages of zero and three, we begin to see it. They’re not beginning to crawl or walk or speech is being delayed. So ways of helping to ensure that parents can get information – so there’s anything, from the more sophisticated getting people who are appropriately trained to help out, and then there are books like from a gentleman named David Werner, where there are no doctors, real simple things that have been translated into many, many languages. And the World Health Organization has just come out with a whole set of materials on community-based rehabilitation, which is really focusing in rural areas and areas that are not developed – or developing is the more appropriate way, I think, to say it – and to give families simple tools.
The removal of stigma is important, and I think the other issue that’s very important is civil society pushing on their governments, donors like the United States and the EU and others making sure that in the work that they’re doing, they’re not stove-piping disability. They need to be looking, when they’re doing early childhood work, at what are we doing to ensure that at this age, kids that you could call at-risk, some of them will have clearly defined disabilities that will last their whole lives. But some of them, you can intervene, and so kids who might have had a more significant disability may not.
And basic healthcare; like in Brazil, I used to work at the World Bank, and there was a project that they started where they went in and made sure that all kids who needed glasses got them. Because if you think about it, a child or an adult who needs glasses who doesn’t have them has a disability. If you get those children glasses, just like here, a kid no longer – or an adult – no longer has a disability. Now some people will because their vision can’t be corrected. That’s fine. But it’s the simple sharing of information, making sure that we’re working collaboratively together, and recognizing that the benefit is these people will grow up to be contributors.
MS. BENTON: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. We’re getting close to our final out, but I did want to ask one – to get one more question in from Wushea (ph) in Illinois. Wushea writes: I would like to see more effort to address obstacles faced by disabled refugees who are resettling in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Specifically, what is currently being done to help disabled refugees and what else needs to be done?
MS. HEUMANN: I’d like to thank the questioner for asking this question.
MS. BENTON: Yeah, good question.
MS. HEUMANN: So there are a number of things. One, when a person is granted the right to enter the United States as a refugee, the entity that is working with them is supposed to be providing them with information about what is available in the U.S. as far as programs that can benefit them as a disabled person. One thing that we are going to do as a result of this question is to really go back in and find out whether those organizations have sufficient information, at what impact it is available for disabled people.
But I would like to say for people that are listening to this program now, there is something called Centers for Independent Living. There is a website, or they can go onto Google and look up Centers for Independent Living. There’s also parent organizations, parent training information centers, and then organizations that work with blind people, deaf people, people with mental health disabilities and others. If the individual or a family or a friend can help do some searching to look for these organizations, many of these groups are very strong advocacy organizations, protection and advocacies and others. They can help people look for programs that exist in the communities. But it is the entity that is sponsoring them and supporting them that may also need some additional information and training.
MS. BENTON: Good deal. I hate that this is over. This has been fascinating and such an education even for me, but this does conclude this session of Conversations With America. I’d like to thank you, Judy Heumann, and David Morrissey, for sharing your work and knowledge on the issues that we just discussed.
I’d also like to thank you all for joining us. Please note the video and transcript will be available on state.gov very shortly. Please join us Friday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time for a conversation on internet freedom with Assistant Secretary Mike Posner. Also, look for upcoming conversations on stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan on global water issues. We hope that the series will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging with you again very soon, and thank you so much. This was great. I appreciate it.
Cairo – U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Matthew Tueller hosted a graduation ceremony on Monday, August 17, 2009, for 26 Egyptian lawyers who received five months of training in legal sign language in Arabic. This training will allow the lawyers to better advocate on behalf of deaf Egyptians. This project was a collaborative effort of NAS (a non-governmental organization supporting the rights of disabled Egyptians), the National Council on Human Rights, the National Association for the Deaf, Helwan University, and the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
NAS Chairman Dr. Ashraf Marie and Member of the Shura Council and NCHR Mr. Adel Qura delivered opening remarks. U.S. Chargé Tueller also congratulated the trainees, saying, “The program we celebrate today is one example of the many partnerships the U.S. Embassy has with civil society and universities across Egypt to expand opportunities for all citizens of Egypt to be active participants in their communities, regardless of any physical disability. As President Obama said in his historic speech in Cairo, ‘We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek.’ This includes a world where the rights and dignity of all God’s children are respected. This is a mutual interest. But we can only achieve it together.”
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of certificates to the trainees.
AMBASSADOR ZHARBUSSYNOVA: Ladies and gentlemen, today I am truly honored to welcome the Secretary of State Madam Hillary Clinton. Madam, all of us present here today are grateful that despite the challenging schedule and the long flight, you were willing to have this meeting with representative of the civil society and other organizations and students of the university.
Now that Astana air is filled with the Helsinki spirit, it is especially important for the civil society to realize that they are an integral part of the OSCE process. And just the last week alone, Astana hosted a number of key events which have effectively demonstrated the importance and the possibility of a constructive dialogue between the officials and nongovernmental organizations. Among them, the OSCE and the NGO forum initiated by the chairmanship and the Office for the Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and also, of course, the review – the last segment of the Review Conference which was attended by a large number of NGO representatives from OSCE countries. And the participation of the civil society at these events was highly remarkable and not just because of the large number of the participants, but primarily due to the recommendation they introduce to the documents.
Many participants of these events are here among the participants of this meeting, and men and women – they are men and women with strong intentions to make our world a safer place for everyone. And I am more than sure that our meeting – this interactive dialogue – will incorporate both crucial and important issues. Clearly, your persona is well known all over the world, however I would like to share with the audience some facts characterizing you as a human being and a woman.
Growing up, Mrs. Clinton had a dream. She dreamt of being an astronaut. Thus, she approached NASA, yet at that time she was turned down because NASA did not allow at that time women into its space programs. To my mind, this to some extent influenced your later becoming a champion of human rights, democracy, and civil society. Your famous speech in Beijing in 1995 when you declared that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, inspired women all over the world and helped to galvanize a global movement for women’s rights.
As the First Lady, you worked on many issues related to children and families. You launched the U.S. Government’s Vital Voices Democracy Initiative. Today, Vital Voice is a nongovernmental organization that continues to train and organize women leaders across the world. And given this occasion, Madam, I would like to express the help of women of Kazakhstan that the Vital Voices chapter will be open here in the nearest future. We are looking forward to the cooperation with this organization.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton made history as the first lady elected to the United States Senate and the first women – the first woman elected statewide in New York. In the Senate, she served on the Armed Services Committee, the House Education, Labor, and Pensions Committees, the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Budget Committee, and the Select Committee on Aging. She was also a commissioner on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Hence, it is of no surprise that President Barack Obama invited Mrs. Clinton for the position of the Secretary of State underlining that Mrs. Clinton is capable of successfully leading the U.S. State Department and working on the realization of an ambitious foreign policy agenda jointly with the President. It is a great importance for our nation and our people that in this foreign policy agenda, Kazakhstan is positioned as a strategic partner.
We have had the pleasure of welcoming you in Kazakhstan in 1997 and we are very honored to welcome you here today just on the eve of the historic OSCE summit. (Applause.)
And now let me introduce the moderator of today’s evening, Mrs. Iva Dubichina, whom you well know as she worked here for several years as the head of the Freedom House mission in Kazakhstan. She made many friends in Kazakhstan and she looks forward to continuing this cooperation.
Iva, the floor is yours. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Good evening. Indeed I have made many friends in Kazakhstan, but this role of moderator will make me probably the most hated person at the end of the day in Kazakhstan.
So, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, my dear colleagues and friend, it is a great honor and a privilege to give the floor to the U.S. Secretary of State, Her Excellency Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Iva. Well, good evening. And it is an absolute delight for me to be here in Astana on the eve of the OSCE Summit and to have this opportunity to meet with you. I very much enjoyed my visit, as the ambassador reminded us, in 1997, and I have looked forward to returning. And I am grateful for this warm welcome, Ambassador. Thank you, Rector, for your invitation. And as you saw the young musicians who were playing as you may have walked in this evening, the youngest one was one of the Rectors’ daughters. And so education is a family commitment.
And I also want to recognize the other officials and dignitaries who are here this evening, and I’m very grateful that I have a chance to address so many strong activists for democracy, for human rights, for freedom, and for a better future, not only in Kazakhstan, but across Central Asia, Europe, and indeed the world.
When Kazakhstan hosts the first summit of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe ever held in Central Asia tomorrow, that will send a very strong message that the work of the OSCE and the Helsinki principles are not confined to one group of people or to one group of nations. They indeed are applicable around the world. I will be meeting with many government leaders to talk about a range of issues that affect all of us, from our mutual interests in the security of Afghanistan, to nuclear nonproliferation, of which Kazakhstan is a leader, to the diversity of energy supplies and so much else.
But first, my very first stop was to come and meet with you, because strong democracies, thriving economies, and stable societies cannot be built by governments alone. There must be a partnership between governments and vibrant institutions and free societies that work together to solve the problems that we face in the 21st century.
Thirty-five years ago, when the leaders of North America, Europe, and the Soviet Union came together to sign the Helsinki Final Act, they committed themselves to a core set of human values, including the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, thought, and religion. These values are as fresh and relevant today as they were 35 years ago, and they are absolutely critical to the building of sustainable societies and nations that are committed to creating a better set of opportunities for all of their citizens.
I know in this auditorium tonight there are many activists who represent many organizations that are making a difference in your societies and countries. I’d like to just mention a few of these groups because they are standing up for the core Helsinki principles. As the ambassador said, I served on the Helsinki Commission when I was a senator in the United States Senate, and I have followed the work of so many individuals and organizations that have consistently stood for the principles that all of us agreed to 35 years ago. I developed a special respect for the work of nongovernmental organizations, the work that many of you do to bolster civil society, women’s rights, expand opportunity, promote tolerance, and so much more.
Tonight, I would particularly like to honor the Almaty Helsinki Committee. You have worked for decades to advance peaceful, democratic change based on the noble principles of the Helsinki Act, principles that we continue to hold dear.
I also would like to commend the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law for its work toward developing the National Human Rights Action Plan and recognize the role that that Evgenyi Zhovtis, a leading human rights activist, played in drafting this important document.
And I would like to salute Galina Morozova, who has devoted herself in the past 12 years to fight against human trafficking. She has sheltered hundreds of women. She has made herself vulnerable, because in the face of death threats she has fought for tougher sentences for traffickers. And she has worked with the government and with law enforcement agencies to change their attitudes and to help them understand that human trafficking is the modern form of human slavery.
There are so many people who have worked hand in hand to advance democracy and human rights. And I particularly was pleased to see some of the women who are on the front lines of change in Kazakhstan, some of whom I met in 1997, some of whom I have seen in other settings, but all of whom I greatly respect.
But I also want to commend the Government of Kazakhstan, because this government has made more progress than any other in the region and has committed itself to continuing that progress. Civil society groups help hold governments accountable, but governments have to be responsive. So I’d like to thank Adil Soz, the International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech, for its vital role as a media watchdog, because the OSCE commitments include the right of all citizens to know and act upon their rights. And it takes both brave journalists and independent local monitors to fight violations of press freedom.
I could go on and on, because really so many of you could be acknowledged and thanked. But I want to hear from you. I want to hear about what you see as continuing challenges, what you see as the changes that you are seeking, and how we can better all work together. Many of you took part in the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference that ended yesterday, and you noted the systematic and persistent human rights problems in many post-Soviet states. We will certainly work with you and with the governments involved to try to address these problems.
But I do think it’s important to just take a step back for perspective. We have come a very long way in just 35 years. When you get to be my age, 35 years seems like a very short time. In 1975, the international community embraced a revolutionary idea, that security among states was directly connected to the way that their citizens were treated within states. And in the decades since, we have seen time and again that countries need more than military and economic security if they are to achieve stability, prosperity, and progress. They need vibrant civil society.
President Obama and I understand this. I started my career at a nongovernmental organization called the Children’s Defense Fund. He began his as a community organizer in Chicago. We live in a country where civil society movements have been the engine of major social advance. Change is not easy anywhere. It wasn’t easy in the history of the United States and it is not easy anywhere else in the world. It takes persistence and it takes a commitment by people, sometimes generation after generation. We found that in the struggle to abolish slavery, to establish civil rights, to empower women, to protect our environment. And we have watched civil society write history, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the end of apartheid in South Africa, to the spread of democracy. Thirty-five years ago when the Helsinki commitments were made, very few people predicted the end of the Soviet Union. And yet 15 years later, it was no longer.
So think about the work you are doing in the urgency of the moment, but also with the perspective of what it takes to create change. We now have so many organizations ready, willing, and able to help you – foundations, universities, other nongovernmental organizations. We now can communicate to understand what is happening in countries and societies far from our own. We can become global problem solvers. And that is what I hope we will determine to do going forward, and that we will bring governments into partnerships.
One of your neighboring countries, Kyrgyzstan, has just undergone a dramatic change, culminating in a free parliamentary election. Now, the road ahead is hard, and I will be going there on Thursday to meet with the president and the people that are working with her, but that is a courageous moment that now must be built upon.
No country can be fully free unless human rights defenders are given their rights. That means right to counsel and trials. It means journalists who can bring their attackers to justice and prevent impunity. It means pollsters who can ask questions about public attitudes. It means that civil society groups are not harassed by the tax police, or that the rule of law is protected and respected even when everyone disagrees with a position that is taken by an activist.
I really believe that we are at a particularly important moment in history. The 20th century ended totalitarianism, two bloody world wars, a cold war, and now in the 21st century we have to make good on the sacrifice of all those who came before us. And this is not just for activists, but for government leaders as well. Because if you want your country to grow, if you want your people to prosper, if you want all of your citizens to fulfill their own God-given potential, then governments must respect human rights.
My country will continue to advocate for democratic government, civil society, free markets, and we will continue to do so in part by supporting education and exchange programs that empower civil society groups. And I hope at tomorrow’s summit we will reconfirm our commitment to a community of freedom, security, and prosperity, stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Each government will finally be judged by how it lives up to the promises that it makes. Constitutions can be written with all kinds of promises, but they’re not more than paper if those promises are not implemented. Laws can be passed promising all kinds of protections, but they really are not worth much unless they are enforced.
So governments hold so much of the future in their hands, but they are not the most powerful determinant. That is the people themselves, and particularly the organizations that bring people together in civil society.
So it is an honor for me to be here. I look forward to hearing your questions and your comments, your ideas that you think would make our partnerships here in the OSCE and between my country and yours even more effective. Thank you for the work that you do every single day. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Ladies and gentlemen, before I open the floor for questions, and I will use the right to first question that I have as a moderator. I would like to tell you that we have around 45 minutes for questions, so I would like to ask you to keep your interventions as short as possible so that we have more time for people to ask questions or to make short interventions.
I will be calling those of you who I know by name, and those who I don’t I will describe their appearance, so sorry if I miss a thing or two about your outfit because it’s really not visible from here. But let me use my right – or abuse my right, I don’t – know as moderator to ask the first question, and it will be about the OSCE because we are here in Astana because of this organization.
So in the ‘90s, OSCE was high on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities, and it was then when the OSCE adopted a number of key documents stressing the importance of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law as requisites for security. However, in the last few years this model is somewhat challenged by a number of member states of the OSCE and other countries, and that the OSCE as an organization is experiencing some difficulties and tough negotiations are held, some observers are even questioning the value-added of the organization. So how high is the OSCE on the list of your priorities?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Iva, first, it’s very high on the list of my priorities and this Administration’s priorities. It won’t surprise you to hear that I agree with you that in the 1990s, when my husband was president, the OSCE was considered a very important part of our foreign policy. And the Obama Administration agrees with that, and I have taken steps to reaffirm our commitment to the OSCE, including coming here to Astana, to be sure that the good work that was started 35 years ago continues.
Now, the times change and there are new challenges, but I think the core values of the OSCE remain as important today as they were in the past. And it is, in my view, part of the foreign policy of the United States to be more involved in supporting multilateral organizations like the OSCE. And one of the difficult issues that we are grappling with in the OSCE is whether or not countries that once signed up to the core documents and principles underlying the OSCE will continue to support them.
And so we are very committed to making the OSCE more active, more vital, more relevant, and frankly, challenging any members who are not willing to abide by the very principles that they agreed to support when they joined the OSCE. Nobody is made to join the OSCE. It is a voluntary organization. But if you join it and then you say, “But I don’t really believe in the human dimension pillar of the OSCE, I don’t really support the Helsinki Act,” then why did you join?
And so what I want to do is keep the emphasis on the importance that the OSCE plays and the very significant connections between successful countries and following Helsinki principles. Because if you want to be a successful country in the 21st century, eventually you’re going to have to accept that you must do more on behalf of human rights. So I think that from my perspective, we are reinvigorating our commitment to the OSCE.
MS. DUBICHINA: That’s really encouraging to hear. So now I am opening the floor for questions. And because we are in an academic institution, I will give the first question to a student, so let me try to locate a student. Yes, that young lady there with a white shirt.
QUESTION: (inaudible.) My microphone is not working? Good evening, Madam Secretary. I am a student of Eurasian National University. My name is Camila and my question is if you have chance to meet a politician of any period of time of human history, who would you like to meet with, and why?
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s a wonderful question. I have been very privileged in my life to meet many extraordinary people, many brave and courageous people, many people that risk their lives for freedom and for human rights and for women’s rights. I think that the person who I have been most impressed by in my meeting has been Nelson Mandela. I think what Nelson Mandela demonstrated through all those years in prison, which could make you a very bitter person – you could come out of prison hating – but he came out of prison determined to create a society in South Africa that didn’t look backwards but looked forwards.
And I’ll tell you a quick story about why I am so impressed with him. I’ve had the privilege of spending a lot of time with him over the last 18 years, and I went to his inauguration as president in 1994 in South Africa. And after the big ceremony where he gave the speech and the bands played, he invited a large group of visitors from around the world to a lunch at the presidential house. In the morning it had been inhabited by the last white Afrikaner president, in the afternoon it was inhabited by the first African president.
And at this lunch, then-President Mandela stood up and he said, “I am very honored to have all of these distinguished visitors from around the world, but the three most important people to me who are here that I personally invited are three of my former jailers from Robbens Island.” And he asked these three white men to stand up, and he said, “I had many jailers over 27 years,” I think it was. “These three men treated me with dignity and respect. They may have been my jailers, but they related to me as a fellow human being.” And I will never forget that.
And I thought in politics and civil society, we often draw lines against people, the good people and the bad people. And sometimes things are done to you that are very hard to forgive. But here was a man who was telling the world, “I can see through the prejudice, the stereotypes, and I can see the human beings because they saw me as a human being. And I will never forget that.” So he is someone who I highly admire and deeply believe is one of the great leaders of the world and of all time. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) but you will have to go out of the row and find the microphone. Yeah, you will have to move forward to the microphone (inaudible). I’m sorry. It’s so complicated, but –
MODERATOR: I will translate it for you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. Please translate.
MODERATOR: The microphone was not working. So what do you think will happen (inaudible) the government (inaudible) the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the events in Kyrgyzstan.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Madam Secretary, what do you think about the future of Kyrgyzstan, and what do you think – and what kind of role the civil society of Kyrgyzstan can play in the future?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I will be going to Kyrgyzstan the day after tomorrow because I want to meet with not only the president, but other leaders there, talk to civil society, and get my own firsthand impression. But I will say three things. First, I think that the people of Kyrgyzstan have spoken very forcefully in favor of representative government and democracy, and all of us need to help them. Secondly, as with any society, there are tensions. There are tensions between ethnic and nationality groups, and all of us need to try to help ease those tensions and to support efforts by civil society and by the government to punish the wrongdoers who were behind a lot of the rioting, but to do so in accordance with the rule of law, but to also look for ways that people can work together and create more a inclusive society.
And finally, the elections which were held, nobody knew who was going to win. That was a remarkable election. It was an election where people really had to go out and think for themselves and cast their votes. And now they have to try to put a government together, which means they have to what I call “practice politics.” They have to actually listen to each other and try to figure out what they can give and what they can ask as they put together a government. It is a very difficult path they have chosen for themselves, but the United States will do everything we can to support them. I very much appreciate the role of the government of Kazakhstan, which has been extremely helpful in supporting Kyrgyzstan, and we have to keep working together. We have to do everything possible to help them succeed at their important effort to bring democracy to Kyrgyzstan. So let’s work together on that. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Trying to get some gender balance, so (inaudible) please.
QUESTION: Thank you, your Excellency. By giving the (inaudible) the world’s (inaudible), which was (inaudible) in the United States recently and includes one very landmark provision requiring transparency from energy in many companies, do you think that assuring energy security should play a more important role at the OSCE agenda? And more specifically, do you think that OSCE, as an organization, should endorse (inaudible) EITI? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think the EITI is a very important development. And that is, for those of you who may not know, the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. And it is an effort for civil society, the private sector, and governments to work together. Really any country consists of – it’s like a three-legged stool. You have a government, you have an economy, and you have a civil society. And sometimes if it gets out of balance, if the government is too strong, the stool is not stable. If the economy is unregulated, as we have seen in the world in the last two years, the stool is unstable. So the EITI is a good example of government, the private sector marketplace, and civil society working together.
And I appreciate the commitment that Kazakhstan has made to the EITI. I think it’s the kind of initiative that the OSCE should be looking to replicate. What else can we do to enhance that kind of cooperation, that commitment to an outcome that will actually benefit everyone, even though in the short term it might take away the privileges of some? So I’m looking forward to reviewing the recommendations that have come from the NGO meetings, the civil society gatherings that have taken place her Astana, because I know that you all have made some very specific recommendations. But I certainly believe – to go back to Iva’s point – that the human dimension part of the OSCE has to be supported strongly, and we intend to do so. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Okay. The wheelchair (inaudible) – I’m sorry. The lady in the wheelchair. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Clinton. My name is (inaudible). I represent here the network of organizations of women with disabilities in Kazakhstan. And my question is, we know that U.S. embassy and the national (inaudible) in Kazakhstan on women’s affairs has signed a memorandum on cooperation in gender equality issues. So my question is: How do you see the role of the interests of women with disabilities in this cooperation and the role of our organizations and our network in this process?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you for asking the question. I don’t know if you could hear her, but she was asking about the memorandum of understanding that our embassy has with organizations on gender equality, but what about women with disabilities. Well, let me broaden your question. What about people with disabilities? I think in many societies in the world today, people with disabilities are seriously discriminated against. They are not given opportunities for schooling, for jobs, to live independently, even if they are able to. So I think that the struggle for the rights of people with disabilities is one of the big question marks that hangs over human rights work.
The United States in the last 30 years has made progress in how we treat people with disabilities. We change laws and we’ve enforced them. In fact, the very first job I did right out of law school when I went to work for this group, the Children’s Defense Fund, was going door to door as part of a big national survey – and this was back in 1974 – as part of big national effort to find out how many children were not in school. Because if you looked at the data, you would see, according to the census figures, the number of births in a year, and you would then go up in a couple of years and then you would look at school enrollment figures, and you would see that they were not the same. So I went to a couple of communities, and I knocked and doors, and I asked people, “Do you have any children who aren’t in school?” Now, some had children who were working already. They had gone to work to help support their families. But the majority of children who were not in school were children with disabilities. They were children who were deaf, or blind, or in a wheelchair. And the schools were not equipped to educate them. They were not what we call “handicap accessible.” The children couldn’t even get into some of the schools if they were in a wheelchair or other – suffering from another disability.
So we began to pass laws to open up our schools to children with disabilities, and then to open up our places of employment, and then to require accessibility so that if you went to a public facility there would be a way in, if you were in a wheelchair for example. So we’ve made progress, but we still are working on it. And I think that worldwide this is an area that doesn’t yet have enough attention. I’ve appointed a special representative for people with disabilities in the State Department to work with activists and governments around the world. So really, the short answer to your question is we want to make sure that people with disabilities are on the agenda of their countries and that the countries can share information about how to help.
And then let me say the final thing is some disabilities are preventable – polio, which we still have problems with in many parts of the world and there was a slight epidemic of polio here in Central Asia which Kazakhstan helped us address; spinal bifida, which can be prevented with folic acid and other supplements. So we need to do more in – during of a woman’s pregnancy and labor and delivery to make sure we prevent disabilities that are preventable. And then we have to work to make sure that people with disabilities, either because of a genetic issue, or an accident, or a disease get a chance to live up their own potential. We have blind judges; we have deaf doctors; we have people in our country who have overcome their disabilities, but we need to make sure every person with a disability gets a chance to do that. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Person in back.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, my name is (inaudible). I represent two NGOs. One of them observes election in this country, and another on women leadership fund. First of all, of course, I would love to emphasize my exciting with your brilliant, I would say, career . (Inaudible) politics, political. And here’s my question related to this. What would be your key suggestions, recommendations to women in this country, Kazakhstan women, who wants to get in this (inaudible). Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me go back to something the ambassador said when she was here talking. I helped to start an organization called Vital Voices, and I know some of you know it because some of you have attended some of its programs. And we’re going to bring a women’s conference — and Vital Voices will be part of it — to Central Asia next year because we want to reach out and renew our relationship with so many of you who are doing such good work. And I think that – I received the book of women in Astana who are doing astonishing things, and I am very impressed by that.
But I think that organizations like Vital Voices or like Women in Business and others that are represented here have to be constantly reaching out to young women. Young women need to be brought in and given the opportunity to participate when they’re in a university, like here, and creating more avenues for women to develop their own interests, to start their own businesses, to become an academic, to become an advocate, a lawyer, go into government, go into the Foreign Service. And that takes a lot of encouragement, because it is still hard. And it’s not only hard in Kazakhstan; it’s hard everywhere. It is still challenging, and it is something that I see all the time.
And as I traveled around the world and I do events like this, I’m very often asked a question like yours – well, how does a woman become active in politics or become whatever she chooses in her own interests? There is no substitute for preparation and for the best education you can get. But there’s also no substitute for the encouragement and support of other people. And that’s why I think a lot of these organizations that are represented in the book you gave me can take an even bigger role in helping to encourage and support and prepare women to take leadership positions.
And I would offer the continuing support of the United States – not just our government, because we do try to support women’s activities –and I made it a core priority in American foreign policy because I know from so much that I both have seen and so much research that had been done, countries that utilize the skills and talents of half their population will actually become stronger and more prosperous and secure. But also because I think that this is – this century really is the century for women’s full empowerment and for women to make the choices that are right for them.
And I say this everywhere. Not every woman wants to be a secretary of state, or an ambassador, or an activist on behalf of freedom and human rights. But every woman should have the same choices as her brothers, her husband, her father, her son, and then make that choice as to what is best for you consistent with your own responsibilities and how you see your life. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Because you mentioned the (inaudible) conference and because the event is on empowerment of (inaudible) in Central Asia, I see an organization that works in many countries in Central Asia, the (inaudible).
You have to step — you have to step out. Yeah.
QUESTION: Is it working? Yeah. Madam Secretary, thank you for coming here, (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Can you move it up? Yeah, it’s hard to hear. Yeah, there it goes.
QUESTION: I’m from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, one of several organizations which have been part of organizing the Parallel Civil Society Conference these last two days. And as we finished yesterday, some of our colleagues are struggling in prison, and many of them could not be present at our conference. The U.S. Administration is now two years into reengagement on Uzbekistan, and during this time, the human rights situation continues to deteriorate, and it’s now actually 14 human rights defenders in prison. The Parallel Conference discusses their fates and the fate of political prisoners in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan is, in fact, such a repressive country that no organization is able to find out how many political prisoners there are.
When you go to Uzbekistan next week, would you be able to raise this question with the Uzbek Government, that there is great international concern for our colleagues in prison? And what could you be able to do for our colleagues in Turkmenistan? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for the work that you’re doing. And of course, I will raise that. I will raise it at the very highest levels of the Government of Uzbekistan. And I think that this is an issue that we face everywhere around the world. It is deeply distressing to us because there should be the rule of law. There should be an inclusive society where different voices can be heard. And I raise it in every corner of the world with leaders where we believe it continues to be a problem. And I will certainly raise it in Uzbekistan. And although I will not be going to Turkmenistan on this trip, I will see the leaders. And as I have in the past, I will continue to raise that issue with them. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: There is a desperate student right there.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mrs. Clinton. My name is Damira. I am a student of Eurasian National University. And I know you were a student, and as we know, you were the head of student government of Wellesley College. Can you recall some mostly interest in events, projects, and things which you did? It’s really interesting for me because I’m a member of student government.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good, I’m glad you are. And I appreciate your question. I met three other – where are the two young men and the young woman that I met earlier who are members of the student government? And I’m a very big believer that if you care about government, politics, if you want to be active, starting by being involved in the student government teaches you some good lessons. When I was president of the Wellesley College Student Government many years ago, it was during the height of the Vietnam War, and there was a lot of protests in college campuses in my country. And as the president of the college government, I had to deal with a lot of issues that I never would have dealt with if I had not been in that position.
And I think that it’s not for everyone; some people have other interests, they’re not concerned about it. But no matter what you decide to do in the future, if you want to go into government, if you want to run for office, if you want to head an organization, if you want to be active in your society, it teaches you good skills, and it teaches you the basics of what it’s like to be in a democratic political system. You have to get along with people. You have to listen to them even if you disagree with them. You have to try to find compromise. In some circles, even in my own country now, compromise is considered a bad thing. But in fact, compromise is often the only way to resolve any issue peacefully – you give a little bit, the other person gives a little bit, and then you try to move forward, and you make incremental progress.
So I learned a lot being in student government, and I’m glad to hear you are in student government, and I hope that it proves to be an interesting experience with a lot of useful lessons for you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: Yes, you, sir, in the middle. Yes. Just you have to – yes, you are.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Why don’t you come around the front?
MODERATOR: The gentleman, if you –
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s too hard. Just come around the front and let – yeah, that’s fine.
MODERATOR: That’s probably –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Your Excellencies, I am representing (inaudible) Association of Kazakhstan. So we have discussed a lot, what kind of questions that I can to — ask from you, from favorite music tools or to your favorite internet websites. So – but however, we agreed that for us – what you can suggest for us for internet owners? Where is balance between freedom of expression and responsibility for information, what we are providing in internet? Because it’s our business and we have to understand, is it legal or it’s illegal information? So what is the balance?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s a really good question. Obviously, I’m thinking about that a lot these days. (Laughter.) I’m a big believer in internet freedom. I gave a speech about it at the beginning of this year. Because if you think about freedom of expression, in my own country, in our Constitution, we protect freedom of expression. But freedom of expression used to be person-to-person, newspapers that were distributed maybe to 10- or 20,000 people, and that was a lot.
And today, you have the vehicle of the internet, where you can say anything about anyone, and it can be all around the world, and people don’t have a chance to respond, they don’t say, “You’re taking that out of context, that’s inaccurate, that’s not true.” You just are at the mercy of whoever puts the information in and whoever takes it out. So we know that this is a difficult line to draw. And I respect the seriousness of your question. And I think it is always better to err on more – err on the side of more expression, more information, and then try to counter it with other information and make it clear what the context is.
But it’s also true that some information is very hurtful. We have cases in my country where teenagers went on the internet and said terrible things about other teenagers, totally lies, made up. And it’s so distressing to – it was usually girls or boys. Sometimes it was about their behavior or their character. Sometimes it was true, like to say that a young boy was gay. But that was a private matter, but they put it on the internet. And these young people have killed themselves. I mean, we’ve had a number of young people killing themselves because they felt so embarrassed, so humiliated because anything can be put on the internet.
So it’s a question we’re all going to have to deal with going forward, because it’s a wonderful means of communication. I mean, we can sit here in Astana and have a conversation with somebody in New York, and we can punch a button or move your mouse and get information about anything that you’re interested in. So it’s a great gift to human knowledge and communications. But just as we found in the past, where what you said could be harmful, we have to come up with the right kind of framework.
But we also have to be very careful that governments don’t overreact. Governments could say, “Well, now it’s even worse if you say something bad about us because it’s not just talking to a small group in an auditorium. You can tell everybody in the country, so we’re going to have to throw you in jail.” A lot of governments are throwing bloggers in jail because they get on the internet and they say, “Our leaders are corrupt, or our leaders are dishonest, or our leaders did this, that or the other thing,” and for expressing that opinion they go to jail. So that’s an overreaction, and we cannot permit that.
So somewhere, we’ve got to support that freedom of expression, whether it’s from an individual or from a journalist, but there also have to be some rules of – or some sense of responsibility that has to be inculcated. So that’s what we’re all struggling with, because this is a new phenomenon. This is something that, 10 years ago, we didn’t deal with even. So I think your question is a very important one, and human rights activists, as well as governments, are going to have to come together to understand how best to deal with this. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Another guest from (inaudible).
QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) and I represent the NGO division of Georgia, which works for minorities in need of protection in Georgia. First of all, Madam Secretary, let me – is it a possibility to send a person to U.S. Department of State and its employees and policies which provide very strong protection to human rights (inaudible) of Georgia, in particular as it was the case of (inaudible) organization with other (inaudible) authorities. There’s a great problem in protection (inaudible) by ambassador of United States in Georgia.
But my question is that in your intervention, you mentioned (inaudible) and you mentioned how important this deal is to keep human rights and human (inaudible) agenda, even with some of the policy problems. But, unfortunately, in our countries, these issues are often put aside by our governments. And that is why external support and support of U.S. is very important for us always.
Now, unfortunately, some representatives of civil society feel that new foreign policies of Obama Administration may be (inaudible) less support. But returning to your statement today, it’s still very much hope that you, U.S., will still advocate for us and will support the ideas of human rights priority in our developing countries. Thank you very much, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, and let me reassure you that we are absolutely committed to supporting human rights. We continue to look for ways that have most likelihood of success, because we know that in some countries, we can try one approach and it doesn’t work, so let’s try another approach and see if it does work. So what I have directed our teams, our embassies, our diplomats to do is try many different approaches.
And look, I think in some countries, if an American ambassador or other diplomat creates a relationship with a leader or a set of leaders, and behind the scenes pushes, that’s more effective than going public. In other countries, going public is more effective. So we’re trying to expand what we call the toolbox so that we have many different tools to work on and support human rights.
MS. DUBICHINA: Thank you. And (inaudible).
QUESTION: (inaudible) (Applause.) My name is (inaudible). I’m a graduate of (inaudible) of Technology, and I’m a councilmember of (inaudible) Association. And I have a question. For example, I am a native Kazak, I speak Kazak language. And here in this community, when the discussion started, everybody started speaking Russian and English, even though it’s Kazakhstan and here we have a role of taking our native language – and I was just informed that I can ask a question only in Russian or English.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, no, ask it in Kazak, so then translate –
QUESTION: So – but –
SECRETARY CLINTON: Ask it in Kazak and then translate it. So that –
QUESTION: The point is that here in Kazakhstan, if I don’t speak Russian and English, I wouldn’t be able to ask a question, okay? My first question is: How many politicians, successful politicians, do you have in U.S. who don’t speak English?
SECRETARY CLINTON: None, none. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: But let me just say a word. I think that’s a very legitimate question. I mean, the issue of language is still a very complicated and controversial one in many places. And it is – in my country, for example, we have many, many different languages. I think – when I was senator from New York, I think in the New York City schools, there were something like 170 different languages and dialects. Now, the school system was able to provide support for large groups of children. So children whose first language was Spanish got support; children whose first language was Chinese got support. But if you had a language that were – that there were not many people who understood it or spoke it, it was very difficult.
So our emphasis has always been, in the United States, to respect your native language but to encourage and educate everyone to learn English so that we have a common language. And we tried to accommodate people like – again, obviously, the example from New York. We might have ballots written in both English and Spanish, where we have a lot of older people who came to the United States from Latin America – they have not yet been able to learn English – or in what we call Chinatown or Koreatown, where we have large groups of people who speak Chinese or Korean.
But my point is that there should be respect for native languages. And I wish I spoke another language. I only speak one language, and I feel very disadvantaged in the modern world because I only speak one language. So I think that you’re lucky you speak and understand three languages.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I think it’s important to respect other languages but also to have a common language. So I understand the personal feeling behind your question, and I hope that maybe you can become a professor of the Kazak language and keep it alive and vital for the future and look for ways that people can communicate with each other. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Ma’am?
QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, I’m (inaudible) government association, where I work in Kazakhstan with civil society organizations. Well, right now, participation in civil society (inaudible) for institutional support of international society, but also increasing of support from the social (inaudible). But for us as well as for human rights NGOs or for social NGOs, it’s still a question for institutional support or technical assistance for institutional support. Is there any interest from State Department to provide such kind of support to (inaudible) technology? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I would like to know more about what you mean by institutional support. Because I think it is important to look for ways to help build stronger civil society institutions. And perhaps I can ask our Ambassador or Embassy to meet with you to get a better idea of what you mean by that. We provide a lot of support for individuals. We provide opportunities, one you told me that you missed in Los Angeles, working on human trafficking issues and learning what we have been doing. So there’s a lot we can do with individuals, and there’s a lot that we can do giving support to organizations. So please let us know more about what you mean by institutional support.
MS. DUBICHINA: And I just said that we (inaudible) person in this room because they are – all 600 people want to (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: We’ll take questions. We’ll take maybe five more.
MS. DUBICHINA: Okay.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Five more.
MS. DUBICHINA: Okay. Five more questions. So, you.
QUESTION: Good morning, Madam Secretary. My name is (inaudible) and I represent the future* leader exchange. My situation – I spent a year in America the previous year, and as you already mentioned in your conference, American Government is going to support exchange (inaudible) countries. But I have experienced, both at your country and my country, they have low level of cultural understanding. And what is your perspective on that issue? Thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that’s it’s often the experience when a student comes to the United States to find that many Americans don’t know much about Kazakhstan, for example. They don’t know much about Central Asia. And part of the importance of your coming is that now many more people know about Kazakhstan than did before you came, because you were able to educate people. And I think that the United States has such a diverse population, and we kind of take it for granted that people basically live the way we live, because most Americans don’t have that experience outside of a pretty small number comparatively who have travelled to places like Kazakhstan.
So one of the things that I did as First Lady and when I came here in 1997, I would go on a trip and we would, of course, bring United States journalists with us so that there would be some coverage. So maybe people would say, “Oh, she’s in Kazakhstan. Where’s that? Let me find out more about that country.” And then when I would got back, I would kind of do a presentation and invite people to the White House or some other setting to talk about the places that I had been. Because I’m well aware of the fact that – even when I was growing up, I never went to foreign countries until I was an adult because I had never had that experience.
So for many Americans, it’s a real opportunity. You may be coming to my country to experience the United States, but the people you come into contact with, you’re like an ambassador for Kazakhstan, and we think that’s a good, cooperative relationship. And that’s why we want to do more of that, and try to enhance awareness on both sides, learn more about America and have more Americans learn about other countries.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Nobody there is raising their hand. Over here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) national office of Central Asia. I would like to ask you about what do you think about the future of (inaudible) and what do you think about including (inaudible) issues in priority issues of office for (inaudible) institutions of human rights?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Future of what?
QUESTION: The future of office for (inaudible) insufficient in human rights, OSCE (inaudible).
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. I think it’s a very important part of the OSCE and I think we need to do more to expand support for democracy and institutions in civil society working on behalf of democracy, and create more opportunities so that government leaders will meet with and hear the views of civil society members, including those working on behalf of democracy within the OSCE framework. Really, when the Helsinki principles were adopted 35 years ago, it was democratic countries and nondemocratic countries who adopted them together. And I think it was one of the most important human rights documents ever adopted. And it gave a lot of hope to people inside the former Soviet Union that change could happen and that people outside cared about what was going on in their situation.
And I think now we need to send a similar message, that yes, we – the Soviet Union no longer exists, we have many new countries at different levels of democratic development, and we need to keep working to support the democratic institutions in those countries and to support the democratic defenders and activists as well. And that should be part of what OSCE stands for.
MS. DUBICHINA: (Inaudible) right there.
QUESTION: Yes, (inaudible). Let me welcome you once more to Astana, Kazakhstan. My name is (inaudible). I’m president of program, the company that administered (inaudible) program. In most mainstream newspapers today, an article was published quoting the address of Ambassador Hoagland to our state secretary. And I quote: “The real international story of Kazakhstan will not be the official conclusions of the public meetings. The real story of Kazakhstan will be that Kazakhstan is a more confident state which respects the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.”
So does that reflect your official position? Can we confirm, as of today (inaudible), that Kazakhstan is a modern, confident state which is open and democratic? Thank you. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think Kazakhstan has made remarkable progress. And I think certainly, in the economic sphere, it has grown and developed at a very fast and steady pace, even through the economic slowdown that the world has experienced. I think that Kazakhstan has set goals for itself and has been meeting those goals. And I think that being willing to be the chairman in office for the OSCE and a hold this summit was a very important commitment by the Government of Kazakhstan. But I know that there is still much more work to be done. I know that there are many issues that are not yet satisfying the people about what should be done in the human rights regime, in the democracy development.
So I think it has to be a balanced picture. There is a positive story to tell in the fact that all of you are here. I go to many countries where this would not have been permitted, to be honest. The fact that you all are here, that you’ve been here for a couple of days, that you’ve had the meetings that you’ve had, that the government is committed to the OSCE, I think that’s all a very positive story. Yet every country can do better. Kazakhstan may be further along than the countries in this region, but if you compare where I know Kazakhstan wants to be in 10 or 20 years, there’s a long road ahead. But let’s be proud of the positive success, let’s be fair about the criticisms, and let’s encourage the changes that will benefit the people of Kazakhstan in terms of democracy and human rights.
So I think it’s important not to be either too optimistic or too pessimistic. I think you have to strike the right balance, and I’m certainly supportive of the steps that have been taken, and I’m also more than willing to raise issues like the human rights defenders and others who work in this society to make sure that they can play a productive role in the new Kazakhstan. So let’s look at it from a balanced perspective and try to be positive where we can positive and be constructive about what changes are needed where they are needed. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: (Inaudible.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. There are a couple of hands way back there.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Madam Secretary, we’re very proud to see that – we all over the world are very proud to see that your husband, Bill Clinton, went himself to North Korea to free journalists for imprisonment. That is the way that he showed his respect not only to the citizens of his own country, but also to the members of the press, to the journalists.
Unfortunately, my husband, who is a journalist, is here in this country, the country who is now the chairman of OSCE. The chairman of the country who is hosting the OSCE summit is still holding my husband in jail. And I know that he is jail termed, (inaudible), but there is no way to see that he will be free in the time that he is supposed to go free. (Applause).
Unfortunately, my husband did not have a chance to use his own attorney at his trial. He has no way to seek support from the outside. And no matter how I was trying to help him, there’s no success. So I was trying to seek support from my own government, from some organizations that fight for human rights, and there is no success. So my question to you, first of all, what is your opinion about something like this, and will I be able to ask you for your support when you meet with the members of my government?
SECRETARY CLINTON: First, I am sorry about your husband. I cannot comment. I don’t know anything about his case. But let me make three points.
Number one, we believe strongly in the rule of law, and that includes the right to counsel, to have your own attorney, to have someone who will advocate for you and will, if necessary, go all the way through the court system to try to get justice for you. And that is, to me, a fundamental human right, that you have a rule of law and a system of justice. And since most people are not lawyers, they cannot defend themselves and they need competent counsel to be able to do so.
Secondly, journalists are particularly vulnerable in the world today. Journalists are being killed, attacked, imprisoned all over the world, and particularly in the OSCE countries, where it’s contrary to the Helsinki principles, where journalists are supposed to be protected. I have spoken out about the abuse of journalists in Russia, where you know a number of leading journalists have been brutally attacked and even killed. And that, to me, is – runs counter to the claims that the Russian Government is making on behalf of a new and different and democratic future.
So whether it’s Russia or Kazakhstan or anywhere else, journalists are particularly vulnerable and deserve protection. Even though many people don’t focus on what happens to journalists, it is an indicator of the rights and freedoms of everyone else to speak out and to not be imprisoned or persecuted by their government.
Thirdly, when I meet with governments, I raise the issue of political prisoners, of journalists who have been imprisoned. And if you would talk with our Embassy, then we will have information about your situation and we will certainly follow up on it.
MS. DUBICHINA: Thank you, (inaudible). (Applause.) Out there, the lady in pink or red.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. For now, a journalist has an opportunity to ask a question. Just recently, we knew of the proclamation by WikiLeaks of some correspondence of U.S. embassies, including the representatives with their governments. Will you raise this question to your meetings here in Astana with other government leaders and with members of other countries? I know that some of the questions that probably you will be discussing in your meetings in Astana were already covered by the WikiLeaks correspondence.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I, of course, have been reaching out to governments and leaders around the world over the last week. I will continue to do so. As I said before I left Washington yesterday, we consider it regrettable that the information that was meant to be confidential has been made public.
And I am particularly worried about the human rights activists, the religious leaders, the critics of governments who speak to members of our Embassy about abuses in their own country, whose names may either be in a reported cable or who may be identifiable because of the description of the person. So I believe that this was a very irresponsible, thoughtless act that put at risk the lives of innocent people all over the world without much regard for those who are most vulnerable, including journalists.
I also think that it’s important always to maintain a level of candor in discussions. That’s not only true for governments; it’s true for journalists, it’s true for academics, it’s true for doctors, lawyers, and businesspeople. Everyone has a right to depend, to some extent, on confidential communication. And that, of course, has been breached in this incident.
But I think that the foreign policy of the United States is very clear. We have moved vigorously in the last 22 months in the Obama Administration to repair the damage that we inherited to reinvigorate organizations like the OSCE to become much more internationally oriented, to work with friends, partners, and allies around the world on threats that we face, like Iran becoming a nuclear power by nonproliferation. And so we will continue to pursue the policies that we are, despite the efforts by some to disrupt that.
And let me say one other word about Kazakhstan. I think Kazakhstan deserves the warmest credit for removing the nuclear material that you inherited on your territory. And the United States has been your partner in doing this. I think nonproliferation is a human rights issue. I think the effort to go after the nuclear material that can fall in the wrong hands, that can be used to terrorize, maim, kill people, contaminate large areas is a fundamental human rights issue. And in this area, Kazakhstan has been a world leader, and I want to publicly express my appreciation for that. (Applause.)
MS. DUBICHINA: Thank you very much for showing (inaudible), but that you would actually stay for half an hour longer than planned. That shows your (inaudible). (Applause.)
Statement on Rights for the U.S. Department of State at Round Table II: CRPD Article 24-Inclusion and the Right to Education
The United States reiterates its great pleasure to attend this Third Conference of States Parties, and is highly appreciative that our Round Table today is focused on Inclusion and the Right to Education. To quote a nineteenth century American educator, “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” (Edward Everett) Education is the vector for all human development, is foundational to society, and is a predicate to the full enjoyment of a wide range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including political participation, freedom of expression, and access to employment. Providing children, youth, and adults with disabilities a right to education without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity is critical to achieving the core principles of the Convention, including inclusion, respect for dignity, autonomy and independence, and respect for children.
Although education in the United States is provided largely by state and local governments, federal laws extend the reach of the federal government over the states’ provision of public education to children with disabilities through the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), first enacted in 1975. These statutes recognize and protect the rights of persons with disabilities to be educated, to the extent appropriate to their needs, with their non-disabled peers. Under these laws public elementary and secondary school systems – as well as private schools receiving federal funding — must provide children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education” designed to meet their individual needs and in the most integrated setting appropriate. Through the IDEA, eligible children are entitled to appropriate special education and related services, early intervention, and supplementary aids and supports generally from age 3 through 21, that is through high school graduation. The number of children with disabilities receiving special education and related services, aged 6 through 21, increased from 3,288,534 in 1976 to 5,889,849 in 2008; for those aged 3 through 5, the numbers increased from 196,223 in 1976 to 709,004 in 2008.
The United States is pleased to make available additional information about our laws aimed at achieving the goal of inclusive and equal education for children with disabilities in the United States. In turn, we look forward to learning about and from the actions that other States Parties and signatories are taking. Thank you.
• Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B
(20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.) (34 CFR Part 300 – Department of Education’s implementing regulation)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Part B (IDEA) (formerly P.L. 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.
IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each child with a disability who requires special education and related services. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect the individualized needs of each student. IDEA also requires that particular procedures be followed in the development of the IEP. Each student’s IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be reviewed at least annually. The team includes the child’s teacher; the parents, subject to certain very limited exceptions; the child, if determined appropriate; an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents’ or agency’s discretion. If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from the state educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the state agency’s decision to state or federal court.