Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Home and Abroad

By Guest Blogger Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Department of State

Twenty-one years ago, the United States became the first country to adopt national civil rights legislation, unequivocally banning discrimination against people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was remarkable not only because of its groundbreaking provisions, but also because it was developed with the extensive participation of disability organizations, bi-partisan champions from the House and Senate, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the business community and widespread support from civil society. This was the first occasion that cross-disability organizations had worked collaboratively to advance a common cause. Since that time, the ADA has had a profound impact both at home and abroad. Here in the United States, the ADA, in tandem with other disability legislation, has been utilized to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life.

Abroad, the success of the ADA has encouraged many other nations to adopt their own domestic non-discrimination legislation, moving away from more traditional charity or welfare approaches to disability and empowering people with disabilities to claim their rightful place in society. Internationally, the ADA has been cited as one of the inspirations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In keeping with the drafting of the ADA, the CRPD incorporates the same principles of equality and non-discrimination.

At the State Department, we are drawing upon the vision and principles of the ADA and CRPD in our work to enhance the full inclusion and enjoyment of rights by people with disabilities worldwide. The knowledge and experience that we have gained as a nation through implementation of the ADA serves as an excellent resource to be shared with other countries as they seek to implement the CRPD effectively. With more than 100 countries now having ratified the CRPD, there is great appetite around the world to ensure real inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. This is an interest common to many developed and developing countries, and one that I have witnessed first-hand in my travels for the State Department. There is also great need, with recent reporting from the World Bank and World Health Organization expanding the recognized global population of people with disabilities.

Americans with disabilities have much to give to, and gain from, this effort. In sharing our experiences with other nations, we have the opportunity to contribute to tangible improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities around the world. At the same time, successful implementation of the CRPD will create a more barrier-free world in which Americans with disabilities are better able to live, work, study and travel, and in which American businesses will have a competitive advantage. The State Department is committed to supporting the rights of people with disabilities everywhere, and ensuring that they are free to contribute and participate as equals in their societies. We look forward to continued collaboration in this work, and opportunities to learn from colleagues around the world who bring to their work the same passion and commitment for equality that has made the ADA such a remarkable and enduring exemplar of civil rights legislation. 

Judith Heumann serves as the special advisor for international disability rights, the first such advisor to be appointed at the Department of State. The position of special advisor was created following U.S. signature of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and resides in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). As the senior-level disability human rights position at the State Department, the special advisor leads disability human rights issues across the Department. The special advisor also coordinates the interagency process for the ratification of the CRPD ; ensures that foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities; leads on disability human rights issues; ensures that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations; and conducts public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues. Please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/144458.htm and http://www.facebook.com/SAHeumann for more information.

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