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COVID-19 Response

April 9, 2020

WeHelp-logo-colour-1024x420My grandparents lived through World War 11 and taught me some valuable lessons about that time period.  My grandfather served in the United Kingdom’s Navy torpedo boats in the English Channel. My grandmother talked to me about ration books, powdered eggs and about children being sent out of the cities and living with strangers in the Scottish countryside because of the bombing blitz. Everyone did something.

We all have something to contribute during this catastrophic pandemic. Perhaps it is donating to a local food bank, sewing masks, calling isolated friends, or educating others and speaking out about the injustices happening around the world against people with disabilities and the elderly during the pandemic.

I began donating masks after a friend who works as a nurse told me that local hospice care nurses only had three masks.  I’ve been calling friends and relatives and my family has been taking handmade masks and baskets of food to people I know who are caregivers or personal care attendants.  Helping others is our family’s coping mechanism (game nights and Netflix helps too).

These are a few personal examples. I decided that as Executive Director of the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD) that our non-profit organization had an important duty to collect COVID-19 information, resources, and news articles from around the world. The web page of information would help other people with disabilities and disabled peoples organizations, but most importantly, it would give us a snapshot of the global COVID-19 issues impacting over one billion people with disabilities and some of the best practices occurring globally.  So far, since the beginning of March, we have compiled information from 27 countries and information from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the International Disability Alliance–over 182 items with more being added daily with help from a volunteers (Thank you to Robert Goldstraw and to my son Andrew Hodge!).

The other ways USICD is being active and responsive to the needs of our members during the pandemic is by signing on to Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities’ (CCD) letters and statements e.g. avoiding disability discrimination in rationing care, using the Defense Production Act to help confront the critical shortages, expansion of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, and many more. We are sharing important COVID-19 disability-related surveys on our Facebook page and Twitter (@USICD) and highlighting the important work of others. We are also developing CRPD Article 32 online training which will include a module addressing COVID-19 and have a Discussion Forum with over 9,000 people registered that’s ready for people to share their stories, etc.

Our Board of Directors, consisting of the leading advocates and activists in the country, is meeting to discuss how the pandemic will impact USICD’s operations. We are already experiencing a reduction in revenue from our individual and organizational memberships and have revised our annual budget to reflect the expected shortfalls. All non-grant related travel for 2020 has been curtailed.  We have applied for the Paychex Protection Program and hope to receive assistance with payroll for 2 months and in essence are doing what many non-profits are doing to survive.   We hope you will consider donating to USICD., 

In closing, don’t forget to journal about your experiences. One day, someone might ask you about this period in our history…

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A Tale of Two Continents

October 9, 2019
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Isabel Hodge, Rebecca Posante & Carol Quembo with training participants

The last month has been an incredibly busy time for USICD. In August, via a grant from Rehabilitation International, USICD partnered with a Disabled Peoples’ Organization APODEMOS in Mozambique and conducted inclusive education advocacy training in the city of Maputo. We expected 40 training participants and were surprised to have over 70 attend! Participants received training on a variety of topics, such as Individualized Education Plans, Self-advocacy, Person-centered Planning and how to make low-cost accommodations. All of this was possible because USICD hosted U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) International Fellow, Carlos Quembo, who is the Executive Director of APODEMOS. His Community Solutions Program project was inclusive education, and also non-profit management.

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Isabel Hodge speaking about survivor assistance under IHL

Last week, together with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the European Disability Forum, LUMOS and the Lund University Faculty of Law, we held an international workshop in Lund, Sweden to explore the fit between International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its relevance to NATO operations. This workshop was funded in-part by NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program (SPS). I moderated a panel on the general risks and risks for specific groups of persons with disabilities and spoke the following day on CRPD Article 11 and Survivor Assistance under IHL. In many ways these discussions complimented the Article 32 – International Cooperation research USICD conducted in 2018. It was a wonderful experience to work alongside USICD Board Member and International Disability Rights Lawyer, Janet Lord, and Professor Gerard Quinn. Professor Quinn is a leading authority on international and comparative disability law and policy and is a professor of law at NUI Galway. He received USICD’s International Advocate award in 2014.

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Budapest Sign

Today, I’m sitting in my hotel room in Budapest, Hungary. I’m on day two of meetings arranged by another US Department of State ECA International Fellow, Daniel Csango. USICD also hosted Daniel and his project is employment but he’s also working to address the lack of personal care attendant (PCA) services in Hungary and achieving independent living for Hungarians with disabilities. (Expect a blog from me soon on the Long-term Services and Supports and the gap that exists globally in the provision of support for activities of daily living for workers with disabilities).

Yesterday, I spoke with approximately 20 special education students attending ELTE University. The meeting began with a video about US disability activist Ed Roberts and the Rolling Quads. We discussed a few of the people featured in the video and I shared my personal story.  I shared information about Early Intervention Services and Individualized Education Plans, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It is my understanding that most children with disabilities are attending segregated public schools here or private schools, and there are several institutions in the country. Hungary ratified the CRPD in 2007 but, like many countries, implementation at the local level is taking longer than expected.

This morning, we met with the CEO of The JDC here in Hungary which is a Jewish international development organization that works in over 70 countries worldwide. The JDC is funding a project that Daniel is leading that will bring awareness to the PCA issue here in Hungary and I hope internationally as well. It is encouraging to see his project thriving with the support of The JDC, his colleagues with disabilities, and other allies. Progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Both Carlos and Daniel were provided the opportunity to experience the U.S. disability model. They saw what progress looks like when the human and civil rights of people with disabilities are enforced and respected. Seeing Americans with disabilities living independently with community-based services and supports positively influenced them and has been a continual motivation in their own advocacy efforts in their countries.

On a lighter note, I’ve learned how to navigate the streets in both Lund and Budapest and even managed to ride the trolley today and not get lost.  Tomorrow is another day, and we are looking forward to meeting with one of the Mayors of a district in the city.

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.

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.