Thank you. As Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the Department of State, I welcome the opportunity to address the Fourth Conference of States Parties. The Obama Administration has appointed several senior officials to elevate the importance of disability issues, and Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Coordinator for Disability Inclusive Development at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is on the U.S. delegation this year. In his July 2011 Proclamation on the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the President reiterated his commitment to upholding the rights of persons with disabilities; ending all forms of discrimination against us; providing us with opportunities on an equal basis with others; and having the U.S. ratify the Disabilities Convention, which the United States signed in July 2009. To support the President’s commitment, key U.S. Government agencies continue to work diligently towards ratification.
As we move towards ratification, the theme of this year’s session, “Enabling Development and Realizing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” takes on particular importance. On inclusive development, the Department of State and USAID are collaborating to ensure that U.S. Government agencies advance the participation of persons with disabilities in the broader society. At the State Department, Secretary Clinton has asked each of our embassies to designate a point of contact on disability issues. This will facilitate communication between Washington and the field, and encourage engagement on a range of concerns directly affecting persons with disabilities, including discrimination, accessibility, health services, and independent living.
The State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” give detailed information on the human rights situations of 194 countries. They aim to advance worldwide efforts to end human rights abuses, calling attention to countries that fail to uphold internationally recognized rights. The Country Reports include sections dealing with groups that are at particular risk for human rights abuses, and specifically address persons with disabilities.
The State Department and USAID have continued to introduce disability-related criteria in awarding international grants, and continue to provide technical assistance on improving accessibility to countries that have ratified the Convention. As a result, we have seen an increased number of grant applicants addressing the inclusion of disability in their proposals and reaching out to partner with disabled people’s organizations.
In the United States, federal agencies are using recruitment, retention, and reasonable accommodation to implement the President’s July 2010 Executive Order on increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the federal government. The Department of Labor has established October as National Disability Employment Awareness month. This year, for the first time, the State Department is partnering to involve U.S. embassies in raising awareness of these issues at the country level.
We continue to seek the valuable input of civil society groups. As part of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, the State Department has elevated the issue of disability rights. Disabilities groups have taken part in various conversations with senior officials, including Secretary Clinton, and staff members at various federal agencies. Similarly, USAID and the State Department held a joint listening session with key disabilities stakeholders. The State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs continues to increase the numbers of disabled people participating in the International Visitors Leadership Program and other cultural exchanges.
The U.S. looks forward to joining the upcoming discussions on the sessions’ sub-themes of international cooperation, political and civil participation, and work and employment. In closing, let me mention a side event that the U.S. and Australia will be hosting this Thursday, September 8 on “Implementing Article 24: Inclusive Education through International Cooperation.” We hope to see many of you during this lunchtime panel discussion. The U.S. delegation welcomes conversation with you, our partners, over the coming days.
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.