The State Department Puts the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Front and Center

> Posted by Joshua Goldstein
On May 9-10, I represented the Center for Financial Inclusion and Accion at the State Department’s “U.S. Leadership Conference for International Disability Rights.”  It was an extraordinary couple of days spent in the company of leaders of disability organizations from around the world, interested NGOs, like the CFI, and our State Department hosts.

People with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the world, an estimated 15 percent of humanity, (and a minority that any of us could find ourselves part of at any time)—yet they have not been given the attention they deserve by politicians and policy makers.  But that may be changing now, thanks, in part, to this high level conference.  Topics discussed ran the gamut from disability rights inclusion in health and education to disability rights in post conflict and crisis situations and accessible polling places. Rights abuses like infanticide or sterilization of people with disabilities were put in the spotlight.

While this subject matter may be standard fare for such convenings, what was remarkable and unprecedented was the ringing endorsement of State Department officials for making disability rights a global human rights priority for the US government. This was unequivocally stated by the likes of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Samantha Power, Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs, National Security Council representing the White House, and with great flair and eloquence by Legal Advisor to State, Harold Koh.

Koh, who had suffered from polio as a child, and spoke movingly about what that experience was like, was one of the closing plenary speakers of the two day conference. He emphasized that State now “owns” this issue, by which he meant that there can be no human rights without disability rights. And that disability rights will no longer be peripheral in U.S. human rights advocacy to other governments.   He also emphasized that there is no need to re-invent the wheel to operationalize disability inclusion globally since the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) provides a detailed and well tested roadmap for implementation.

For the last two years, The Center for Financial Inclusion has been leading a global effort to make microfinance institutions disability inclusive and we are committed to playing our part in making the vision of an inclusive world a reality.  After this conference, I believe wind is now at our backs. Onward ho.

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