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Twenty-nine Years of the ADA

July 26, 2019

We have much to share, however, the U.S. Government is absent from the Global Disability Rights Movement and Disabled Peoples Organizations and others are asking why.

ada29-celebrateToday, marks the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and advocates and activists have been celebrating this week, but we are all keenly aware that our work is not done.

Did you know the ADA was the model used when drafting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)? There have been 177 countries that have ratified (there are only 195 countries in the world) but the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify the convention. USICD led the CRPD campaign in 2012.

Last year, USICD’s work via the RightsNow! Strong Communities through Enforcing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities project concluded. The U.S. State Department project began when the President Obama appointed the first U.S. Special Advisor on International Disability Rights, Judith Heumann. Working as a consortium, we provided training and technical assistance to six countries that had ratified: Armenia, Guatemala, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam. The consortium sent U.S. experts, conducted multiple in-country trainings, and worked with stakeholders, such as disabled peoples’ organizations and government officials. We made a positive impact in countries at the local and national level.

Many around the world are seeking assistance with implementation of the CRPD but they consider the U.S. as being absent from the global disability rights movement.

When the U.S. Senate chose not to ratify the CRPD, Senator Bob Corker, who was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and others in the Senate expressed the view that the U.S. could continue to exercise leadership in international disability rights bilaterally, working with individual countries on their CRPD implementation issues. President Obama’s appointment of the Special Advisor was the embodiment of this bilateral approach. Today, under the current Administration, there’s no Special Advisor and no Disability Coordinator at USAID— remember, 15% of the world’s population has a disability—cue the crickets.

On June 20th, Representatives Dina Titus (D-NV) and Don Young (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation to help ensure that the State Department makes disability rights an international priority. The Office of International Disability Rights Act, H.R. 3373, would establish in law the Office of International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department, to be supervised by a Special Advisor of International Disability Rights. If we fail to pass this Act, then without a doubt, the silence will continue. Governments and our global brothers and sisters with disabilities will continue to turn to other countries for assistance resulting in lost opportunities for the U.S. and countries receiving less than optimal results. They want their laws, similar to the ADA, to combat discrimination and we have proven we can help.

U.S. Department of State mission:

The U.S. Department of State leads America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity.

About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population in the U.S. has some form of disability—we are the American people and we demand representation in U.S. foreign policy.

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International Guide Dog Day

April 24, 2019

by USICD Program Manager, Vivian Fridas

Vivian Fridas with her guide dog Ditto.

Vivian Fridas with her guide dog Ditto.

Every year on the last Wednesday of April we celebrate International Guide Dog Day. This day honors the importance a guide dog has in the life of a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Historically, there are countless references depicting the relationship between dogs and the blind. The earliest recorded example can be seen in a first-century mural in the buried ruins of Roman Herculaneum. Similarly, there are other examples from Asia and Europe up until the middle ages of dogs leading the blind depicted in various forms of art work. The modern story of guide dogs, however, can be traced back to World War I with many soldiers returning from the war blinded from poisonous gas. Many observed that dogs were useful in aiding former soldiers in traveling independently. There were efforts to train dogs to be used as guides in Europe as early as 1916. The first guide dog school in the United States was established in 1929, the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey. Today, the International Guide Dog Federation has been established and has 92 member organizations across 30 different countries.

Years ago, I made the decision to apply to receive a guide dog. I felt that traveling with a cane did not provide as much independence and mobility as I wanted. After researching guide dogs and various schools, I applied for a class date with Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York. In May 2011, I was matched with my first guide dog, Ditto, a black male lab. After almost four weeks of residing on the school’s grounds and training with Ditto, I went home excited to take on the world with my new guide dog. I can still remember what it felt like the first time I picked up Ditto’s harness for a practice route. The feeling of complete freedom washed over me. It was the first time I truly felt like I was an independent and mobile traveler. I will now continue to use guide dogs for the foreseeable future.

Not only do I feel that traveling with a guide dog is safer, but I gained a new confidence that I did not have when using the cane. This is not to put down those who still make use of the cane. I say that it is a personal choice whether you use a guide dog or use a cane. Whatever you feel most comfortable using and as long as you get from point A to point B safely, I don’t think it matters if you are a cane user, guide dog user, or sighted guide user.

Now with our eight-year anniversary of working together approaching, I look back on all Ditto and I have accomplished together. He was by my side when I started and completed my master’s degree, all the while sleeping through all the long seminars and lectures, with occasional loud moans and groans to make his presence known and acknowledged. Every time I was sick or had to visit the doctor or hospital, Ditto would make sure to be a protective and comforting companion never leaving my side. Ditto was with me through all my internships and first employment position making sure we made it to the office safely.

Ditto and I have traveled all over the world many times from Germany to Greece to Lebanon and more. He never left my side or got annoyed even when I would get us lost and always the cool and calm presence by my side giving me courage to brave the world even when I am unsure of my surroundings. I know that I can pick up his harness, give him a command, and find our destination through our team effort.

I think it is important to acknowledge all the hard work that goes into training a guide dog. It all starts with puppy raisers who take the dog to live with them for the first year-and-a-half of their lives. During this time, they are socialized and get some basic training. Once the dog is old enough, they return to the school for testing to see if they have what it takes to continue on the road to becoming a guide dog. If the dog passes, then comes approximately six months of training.  Finally, instructors will determine which dog will get matched to the handler based on a whole range of variables. Once dog and person are matched, the team completes a few weeks of training together to become a successful and safe team. All of this is done at no cost to those who apply to receive a guide dog.

For me, I cannot thank the instructors, volunteers, puppy raisers and countless other staff members at Guiding Eyes for the Blind for all the work they put in to providing me with my first guide dog. Today is a celebration of our guides as well as the schools they came from. The dedication to providing quality guide dogs in order for the blind and visually impaired to live a life of dignity and independence is limitless. With Ditto approaching his tenth birthday in just a few short weeks, I am beginning to think of his retirement. I know that once that day comes, though it will be difficult, I know I can count on Guiding Eyes to help me transition to a new guide dog with excellent training.

I hope that all of you take a moment to celebrate the guide dogs in your life and give our pals an extra treat today for the hard work they put in every day.

 

Reflections on the 2019 Commission on the Status of Women

March 28, 2019
Vivian Fridas at CSW 2019

USICD program manager Vivian Fridas with Ditto and Diane Bergeron and Lucy at CSW 2019

by USICD Program Manager, Vivian Fridas

March 11th saw the opening of the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW at the United Nations (UN) in New York. this is a two-week long high-level event which focusses on gender equality. It is attended by representatives of member states, UN entities, and non-governmental organizations from all regions of the globe. The priority theme for 2019 is social protections systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

This was the first time I attended the CSW. There were some interesting take-aways from the side events and the official proceedings. For instance, during a town hall meeting of civil society and the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, the issue of gender parity in positions of power at the UN was highlighted. The Secretary General made a point that not enough is being done with regards to women with disabilities in positions of power and leadership. This was a reoccurring comment stressed by many advocates in the disability rights community, however, not stressed enough by other speakers when discussing the topic.

I also noticed a push to acknowledge the participation and inclusion of women with disabilities on panels or in other capacities throughout the CSW. This is great, however, more women with disabilities must be included in the conversation if true gender equality is to be realized. During a networking event of women with disabilities I attended, for example, some issues of discrimination came to light that I hope will be addressed by the UN. For instance, one panelist had to make due without her sign language interpreter because they were denied a visa to enter the country. Other side events did not have sign language interpretation available for those in the audience requiring the accommodation. Along with another guide dog user, I experienced some resistance from security personnel prior to entering the UN security checkpoint. It is clear that there is a need for disability inclusion training for all UN staff. As a woman with a disability, I am disappointed this kind of exclusion still exists. This marginalized group must be included in all proceedings at all levels if we want to see progress and leave no one behind. I hope that we can bring the issue of equality for women with disabilities to the forefront of the conversation and promote the inclusion at high-level positions.

I also attended events that examined the diverse priorities and the intersectionality of gender and disability. The obstacles women and girls with disabilities experience were detailed and analyzed in areas of social protection and access to public services and infrastructure. Too often, women and girls with disabilities cannot access social protections and services. This is due in part to stigmas, misconceptions, misinformation, and negative attitudes. In order to ensure women and girls with disabilities do not get left behind, it is crucial to prioritize the needs and voices of women and girls with disabilities in program design, implementation, and evaluation by eliminating gaps in social protection programs. Once we achieve this, can we realize gender parity and empowerment.

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2019

UN Women Logo

Every year on March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day. this year’s theme is  #BalanceforBetter.  International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, political, and cultural achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender balance. Additionally, this year’s theme seeks to promote a future where both men and women are equal in professional status, media perception, and the positions they hold in government and more. Women’s rights and equality has come a long way since the first observance of International Women’s Day, however, there is still a great deal to be accomplished in order to realize full equality. For example, women are still not receiving equal pay, and in many parts of the world, women and girls do not have access to education. This is even more evident when discussing women and girls with disabilities.

Today, the United States Council on Disabilities (USICD) staff,  Board of Directors, and its members join women and allied men globally to celebrate this momentous annual event. This year’s theme is a reminder that we as a society cannot progress without the inclusion of 50% of our population.

As a woman with a disability, I confront challenges when these two areas intersect. Women and girls with disabilities face widespread discrimination, human rights abuses, and marginalization in employment, health, education and political settings. In too many countries, fewer girls than boys attend school, fewer women than men participate in the parliaments of their countries, and women still struggle for economic equity. It is when gender and disability intersect that we see women and girls with disabilities who are twice excluded and twice marginalized. Women and girls with disabilities are left behind in the struggle for disability rights because the disability community does not always include gender specific concerns of women and girls. Similarly, they are left behind in the struggle for gender equality because the gender community does not always include the concerns of women and girls with disabilities.

If we really want to follow this year’s theme and reach true balance for all  then we must achieve the full participation of all women and all girls, including women and girls with disabilities. If we leave behind women and girls with disabilities when trying to realize equality in the global challenges of poverty, human rights, natural disasters, public health, and universal access to education, then this will be a world that will not progress.

Next week, I will be representing USICD at the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, or CSW. This will be the first time I am attending and I hope to see more disability inclusion in gender specific issues going forward. we cannot continue to leave behind our women and girls, especially with disabilities, when trying to achieve economic, cultural, and political balance. I hope to connect with leaders in both the gender and disability community next week in order to continue promoting and advocating for the rights and inclusion of women and girls with disabilities all around the world. Follow USICD on Twitter (@USICD) to receive highlights and updates from my experience at the CSW.

Vivian Fridas, USICD Program Manager

My Expectations During my Fellowship with USICD by Wike Devi Erianti

October 18, 2018

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I’m so thrilled to start my fellowship experience this fall in Washington, DC – United States of America! My name is Wike Devi Erianti, a program officer at Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) in Jakarta, Indonesia. I have been working on human rights issues in Indonesia and ASEAN region for almost four years. The areas of my interests are migrant workers, death penalty, gender, politics, public policy, persons with disabilities, and ASEAN human rights mechanism in order to gain knowledge and experience. The Youth South East Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) program arranged by the American Council for Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) and funded by the US Department of State, placed me at the U.S International Council on Disabilities (USICD) for a month.

My placement with USICD will further advance my advocacy programs in Indonesia and the ASEAN level. For your information, my organization – HRWG is a non-governmental organization  Coalition with more than 50 members across Indonesia’s region working for regional and international human rights advocacy in the UN and ASEAN human rights mechanisms. HRWG envisions the full implementation of international and regional human rights obligations by the Indonesian Government. In doing so, we are conducting programs and projects to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Indonesia through ASEAN and UN human rights mechanisms. For instance, HRWG is collaborating with OHANA to submit a joint alternative report for the Committee on the CRPD next year. We are also working closely with the ASEAN Disability Forum (ADF) to advocate for the draft of Enabling Masterplan 2025: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the ASEAN Community, which will be adopted this year in the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore.

 

In order to acquire self improvement, I would like to learn more knowledge and gain first-hand experience at USICD on several issues regarding persons with disabilities. First, it would be great if I could learn about the establishment of the National Council on Disability and how it works to serve and advise the President, Congress, and other agencies in the US regarding the policy, regulation, practices, and programs affecting persons with disabilities. Once I return to my country, this knowledge would help me to advocate for the establishment of a National Council on Disability in Indonesia.

Second, I also would like to learn how the promotion, protection, and fulfillment of disability rights in the US can occur as they have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Indonesia has already ratified the CRPD and enacted the Law on Persons with Disabilities though the development process of government regulation is still ongoing and being advocated by local DPOs. Therefore I’m interested to learn how the US has undertaken measures to apply the rights of persons with disabilities stipulated in the CRPD though it has not ratified.

Why You Should Employ People with Disabilities by USICD Program Manager, Vivian Fridas

October 9, 2018

 

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Vivian Fridas with Ditto 

Every year, October is set aside as National Disability Employment Awareness month. During this time, we celebrate the contributions that people with disabilities make to the economy. This observance also seeks to promote the education and awareness of the value of a workforce inclusive of people with disabilities and their skills and talents.

 

According to the US Bureau of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the September 2018 Disability Employment Statistics show 21.4% of persons with disabilities were employed and the labor force participation for individuals over age 16 without disabilities was 68.2%. It is well documented that people with disabilities are more likely to be jobless, work part-time, or be self-employed than those without disabilities. Many organizations and federal agencies have programs, such as the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) and the Schedule A Hiring Authority, to recruit, retain, and advance the employment of people with disabilities but as the statistics show, there is still a long way to go.

The struggle is REAL!

People with disabilities face many challenges and obstacles when seeking employment. Often, there are attitudinal barriers they encounter from the interview process through getting hired. Some employers may wrongfully believe that hiring a person with a disability will create challenges for the company or organization. Not only is this discrimination, but this sentiment has been proven to be false. For instance, one myth is that people often assume a person with a disability will be absent from work more often than able-bodied counterparts. In reality, workers who have disabilities miss the same or fewer days of work than their non-disabled co-workers. In addition, there are misconceptions about hiring and accommodating the work-related needs of a person with a disability by employers.

As you can see, people with disabilities have to overcome issues like inaccessible workplaces and equipment, and a lack of accessible transportation to get to a work site. Many people with invisible disabilities, such as epilepsy or a mental health diagnosis, do not disclose their disability for fear of discrimination.

I can personally attest that it can be very frustrating when looking for employment. Searching and applying for a job is a full-time job in itself. The added layer of having a disability makes this process all the more frustrating because, for example, online applications websites may not be accessible for the blind.

In order for a person to be considered for a position, the candidate must match the description of the job position and have an excellent record of experience. Since many people with disabilities face extreme difficulty in attaining employment, it is hard to get the chance to build one’s resume and experience. One recommendation I have is for employers to reach out to the disability and services office on college campuses to proactively seek out a pool of candidates with disabilities when recruiting. There are talented and knowledgeable individuals just waiting to be hired and contribute value to a company or organization!

By neglecting this talent pool, many companies and organizations are missing out on an opportunity to employ highly qualified individuals who are productive and provide unique and different perspectives to problem-solving. By excluding people with disabilities, employers miss out on adding an asset to their team—they bring skills, talent and dedication to the workforce. Recruiters who actively seek to hire people with disabilities will benefit greatly from their expertise and perseverance gaining a competitive edge.

What USICD is Doing:DId you know

USICD is committed to promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace. This starts by giving students and recent graduates an opportunity to gain experience and skills through our internship program. For many of our internship program alumni, the program was instrumental in helping them gain the skills and experience needed for future employment. This eight-week long program, previously funded by the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, pairs youth with disabilities in host organizations that deal with international development or affairs in the Washington DC area. In 2019, with funding support, we hope to expand the program to include matching interns with disabilities interested in the STEM field with global information technology companies in the area.

By hosting international Fellows, through U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) program and initiatives, USICD shows individuals from around the world—those with and without disabilities—the best practices in the employment of people with disabilities. So far this year, we have hosted two Fellows from Uganda and Hungary whose focus area was the employment of persons with

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USICD Fellows, Daniel Csango from Hungary & Ronald Kasule from Uganda on their way to meet with the Dept. of Labor’s ODEP staff

disabilities. We arranged meetings with several national disability non-profits, such as the National Council on Independent Living, RespectAbility, and the U.S. Department of Labor. They learned about Project Search Transition to Work program, Marriott Foundation’s Bridges-to-Work.

After Fellows leave the U.S. and return home, USICD staff remains in contact with each Fellow and often shares relevant information and resources. They take with them  information about U.S. laws that support the employment of people with disabilities and the experience of seeing positive examples of people with a range of disabilities being successful in the workplace and holding leadership positions.

 

USICD is thrilled to continue promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities. We hope that during this National Disability Employment Awareness Month that others become just as committed and dedicated to closing the employment gap for people with disabilities in order to promote inclusion and equality in the workplace.

Please consider donating to USICD so that we can continue supporting young interns with disabilities and hosting international Fellows.

 

Cities and Inclusive Political Participation in Mozambique by Carlos (Ntsholo) Quembo

September 25, 2018

Introduction

Today, September 25, 2018 begins the electoral campaign for the fifth municipal elections in Mozambique. There are 53 municipalities in total. As part of its activism, APODEMOS, a civil society organization that fight for the rights of disabled persons, particularly the right to access the city in Mozambique. This blog addresses ways in which disabled people are excluded in political participation and from accessing buildings in Mozambique. Before addressing the issue of city accessibility, the blog discusses the ways in which the Mozambican electoral law excludes the political participation of disabled people.

Electoral law vs disability in Mozambique

To adapt the electoral law to the constitutional amendment approved in May 2018, and particularly to “deepen decentralization process in Mozambique, the government approved the new law for municipal assemblies. Once again, the right to vote for disabled people was not addressed in the new law, though the Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique implicitly provides that right. Other laws related to electoral process in Mozambique, namely presidential, legislative, provincial assemblies and municipal assemblies’ elections do not yet address the vote of disabled people. This exclusion significantly hinders the political rights of disabled people; a right established in the Convention about the Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD) when Mozambique ratified in 2010.

Fig. 1 Polling station in Mozambique

As a result of this legislative negligence, disabled people are completely excluded from electoral process in Mozambique, although they are fully capable of voting. For example, ballot papers are not accessible; they do not have braille ballots for people who are blind. Polling stations are not accessible for people who use wheelchairs, as can be seen in figure 1. Polling stations do not have sign language interpreters available to assist voters who are deaf.

Because people with disabilities are excluded from electoral processes, their concerns are also excluded from electoral manifesto of election candidates at all levels. The fifth municipal elections in Mozambique are just another example of this unacceptable reality.

Municipal elections vs inclusive cities

For the fifth municipal elections there are more than 30 candidates. These include political parties and citizens’ groups. Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique), Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM) will compete for the 53 Mozambican municipalities. A striking fact is that our cities are not accessible to people all kinds of disabilities. They  face enormous difficulties in moving around independently or even with the assistance of another person because there are no ramps and not curb cuts, etc. Although some public transportation has reserved spaces for disabled people, elderly and pregnant women, there are not enough. There is no accessibility for wheelchair users and signage is also not accessible (braille) in the 131 years-old capital city of Maputo. Barriers are created by cars that park diagonally, as in figure 2 below. Most public and private buildings, if not all, are not accessible and in most of them, there are no accessible toilets.

There are many reasons for the barriers and exclusion mentioned above.  Law enforcement is one of them. Although the Article 204 (1) (a) and (f) of the Constitution of the Republic, in conjunction with Decree No 53/2008 of 30 December (Bulletin of the Republic 4th Supplement I Series – 52), establishes the Construction Regulation and Technical Devices for Accessibility, Circulation and Use of Public Services Systems for Persons with Disabilities or Conditioned Mobility, technical specifications and the use of the International Access Symbol, which are attached to this decree and form an integral part of it, that is not the case.

Cars parked diagonally block access to the building

Fig. 2 Cars parked diagonally block access to the building

The attitude of exclusion is still dominant in Mozambique, at the level of decision-makers, and of the general public in general. Disabled people will not benefit from the reserved spaces in public transportation if they cannot get on the bus in first place, which is the case. The other reason is the lack of a disability law in Mozambique. It has two-fold impacts. On one hand, this legal vacuum leads people to continually discriminate against disabled people, given the fact that it is not a crime. On the other hand, the vacuum hinders the capacity of disabled people to fight for their rights.  We are happy to learn recently that the law on disability is being discussed at the National Parliament.

Conclusion

Given the political momentum in Mozambique, APODEMOS urges the different actors of the electoral legislation in Mozambique to mainstream disability rights in every electoral legislation in Mozambique. In fact, this mainstreaming must start with the Mozambican Constitution first. Because it still addresses disability as medical and care issue instead of a social issue. People with disabilities are not “disabled” because of their disability they are disabled by the barriers and negative attitudes and discrimination that exist around them. If disabled peoples’ voting rights are ensured by law, then political parties, the head list of municipal elections and the candidates of all other elections in Mozambique will begin to include their concerns of disabled people in their election manifestos, and these will be transformed into action by the successfully elected candidates. Together with all stakeholders and affected parts, APODEMOS will continue to fight for the rights of disabled people in general and particularly for the right to vote.