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Issues: Disability Rights

Disability Rights

Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.  The United States works with foreign governments and civil society organizations to protect the rights of disabled persons, and ensure their inclusion and full participation.  The United States, as part of our foreign policy, works to remove barriers and create a world in which disabled people enjoy dignity and full inclusion.

In pursuing diplomacy that is inclusive and empowering of persons with disabilities, the United States:

  • opposes discrimination against persons with disabilities everywhere and in all its forms;
  • urges foreign governments to combat discrimination, prejudice and abuse against persons with disabilities in their countries, and to protect the rights and ensure the dignity and inclusion of all persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others;
  • encourages and assists governments to learn about the development and effective implementation of laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities;
  • encourages and assists civil society organizations, including organizations of persons with disabilities and their families, to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities; and
  • encourages U.S. businesses operating overseas as well as domestic host country businesses to take into consideration persons with disabilities in relation to employment practices and local stakeholder engagement, including in their labor and human rights corporate social responsibility policies, programs, and practices.

Disability Rights News

UPR 27th Session-Intervention for Finland
May 3, 2017 | U.S. Delegation to the UN Human Rights Council

As delivered by Flacelia Celsula

Thank you Mr. Vice President.

The United States warmly welcomes the Finnish delegation to the UPR Working Group.

We commend Finland’s longstanding commitment to promoting human rights domestically and globally.

We congratulate the government on its efforts to combat discrimination and foster inclusion; we encourage Finland to take steps to reduce the number of religiously motivated hate crimes, especially against the Jewish and Muslim communities, and ensure equal access for ...Read More

A Conversation on Gender Equality and Disability Rights with Silvia Quan
Jan 9, 2017 | Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith Heumann

As one of the most tenacious leaders in her generation of disability rights advocates, Silvia Quan has faced down the forces of discrimination and fought for expanding the rights of all persons with disabilities, in her native Guatemala, in the broader Latin American region, and on the global stage. For her many achievements, especially in her capacity as Vice-Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Silvia was recently honored with the ...Read More

Human Rights Heroes: Conversation on Gender Equality and Disability Rights
Dec 9, 2016 | Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith Heumann

Transcript below:


JUDY HEUMANN:  Hello everyone and thank you for joining us for this month’s Human Rights Heroes podcast.

My name is Judy Heumann.  I’m the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. 

For your information, I use a motorized wheelchair because I had polio in 1949. 

Now, almost 69 years old, I have seen significant changes in the United ...Read More

TEDx Talk Stronger Together: Advancing the Rights of People with Disabilities
Dec 5, 2016 | Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith E. Heumann
I know discrimination when I see it. And I see it every day, both here in the United States and when I travel abroad. I'm always meeting with disabled women. And those women tell me stories about how they experience violence and rape and how, in many cases, these forms of violence occur from family members and people that they know who, in fact, may be working for them. And frequently, these cases are not adjudicated. ...Read More
VOA Editorials: International Day of Persons With Disabilities
Dec 5, 2016 | Voice of America
When you are excluding a large percentage of a population, it has economic implications on the country, needless economic consequences … We try to work both with civil societies in other countries and government to make them recognize that disabled people can make the same contributions as other people if those barriers are removed. ...Read More
International Day of Persons With Disabilities 2016
Dec 3, 2016 | Secretary of State John Kerry
We often think of human rights in theoretical terms, but for persons with disabilities the concept could not be more tangible. It finds its expression in a sidewalk with curb cuts; a public building with accessible entrances and bathrooms; a bus with lifts; an elevator with Braille and audio cues; a train platform with tactile strips; and students with intellectual and development disabilities being included in classes with non-disabled children. ...Read More
Press Release
Presidential Proclamation: International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Dec 2, 2016 | President Barack Obama
Additionally, we created the first-ever Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, and we established the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally in order to address violence against women and girls around the world -- because women with a disability are more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse than women without one. And last year, we committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which recognize inclusive education, disability employment, and social acceptance of the disability community as important steps to ending world poverty. ...Read More
USUN Remarks at a UN High-Level Panel on the Commemoration of the Tenth Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Dec 2, 2016 | U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Michele Sison
Meanwhile, our State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor is proud to fund what we call the RightsNow! consortium, launched in 2014 with six countries, and the consortium is empowering persons with disabilities to effectively advocate for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their own countries. ...Read More
Inclusion Works: National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Oct 31, 2016 | Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Judith E. Heumann
One of the biggest challenges disabled people face is our invisibility in the community and in the world. The less people see, know, or experience persons with disabilities the more they accept negative stereotypes as fact. Many of the barriers disabled people experience in seeking employment and inclusion are the result of fear, ignorance, and low expectations, when, in fact, their disabilities do not hinder them from achieving excellence in the workplace. ...Read More
Fact Sheet
Fact Sheet: Human Rights and Mega-Sporting Events
Oct 28, 2016 | Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Mega-Sporting Events, at their best, inspire humanity and have the power to unite people under the sporting ideals of fair play, dedication, equal access, and teamwork.

To set a high bar for mega-sporting events — to not only showcase the best in athletic achievement, but to also be respectful of universal human rights — the U.S. Department of State joined the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Institute for Human Rights and Business ...Read More


Fact Sheet

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Featured Quote

About The Disabilities Treaty

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    Over 130 countries have joined the Disabilities Treaty, which is now the primary mechanism through which countries are working to ensure that disabled people have full access to their communities, and that the deplorable abuses threatening the lives of disabled adults and children are addressed.