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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



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


Vivian (2).jpg

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


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


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.


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.

Raising a child with disability in Mozambique by Carlos Quembo

August 16, 2018
Carlos Quembo

Hosted by USICD, Carlos Quembo is a 2018 IREX Community Solutions Program Fellow

Mozambique, located in southern Africa region, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has almost 29,000,000 habitants (INE, 2017), 4% of them, about 1,600,000 inhabitants are disabled. Despite greater availability of health resources and positive socio-economic developments, in the last years, inequities in health and education continue to be a challenge for its population, and particularly for persons with disability. Absolute poverty still affects 54% of the population. Malnutrition remains problematic with 25% of children under the age of 5 being underweight. Adult illiteracy rate is 51.9%. Enrolment rates for primary school level are increasing but primary school completion rate in 2005 was 39%. Only 36% of the population has access to safe water and 46% access to adequate sanitation

Though there is a favourable legal framework (the country ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD); its constitution establishes equal rights for every citizen, and the government just approved its strategy on inclusive education), the country lacks the ability to provide basic services for children with disabilities, such as education and health care. As a result, many parents face challenges in enrolling their children at crèche (kindergarten) and school. Parents can access public and private physiotherapy services to improve the independence of their children, however the need for physiotherapy is great and there is a shortage of qualified providers.



On January 20th, 2009 my first son, Ntsholo, was born in the capital city of Maputo. Due to poor health services and the lack of early intervention services, it was not until my son was 6 months old that we realized he had cerebral palsy. His grandmother noticed that he could not hold his neck upright. From that moment, we started to face many challenges to raise Ntsholo. We began the search for therapies. The biggest and the best public hospital (Hospital Central de Maputo) had only one child neurologist and five nurses to provide physiotherapy for approximately one hundred children who needed assistance every day. Also, in Mozambique, parents do not have flexible working hours to take their children with disabilities to the hospital. Those who challenge their employers, end up losing their jobs or giving up physiotherapy sessions for their children.

Another challenge we faced was finding crèche for Ntsholo. When he became three years-old, most of crèche, including public, asked if Ntsholo could walk. As he could not and still cannot, they refused on the grounds that there was no staff and infrastructure to assist with his mobility needs. In the end, we paid extra money to hire an assistant to take care of him while at crèche which placed an additional strain on our family. We faced the same challenges when he was six and entered primary school. Now he his nine years-old and is attending one of the few private special schools for children with disabilities in Maputo (CERCI), the capital of Mozambique.

Like us, there are many other parents who have children with disabilities who also face many challenges in raising their children and providing them with access to basic support. Most of the parents are poor and cannot afford to pay school fees in private special schools or private hospitals. The same applies for accessing entertainment. As a result, there are many parents who keep their children at home. Consequently, these children do not socialise and are likely to become abused and neglected and as their parents age, and pass away, they become even more vulnerable.

The government is implementing laws, policies and strategies to minimise the challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities. But, discrimination and stigma persists. We had to challenge, and we are still challenging these societal barriers to provide the best, not just for Ntsholo, but also for other people with disabilities in Mozambique through APODEMOS. Despite the difficulties that Ntsholo faces, he is a happy boy, very active, communicative and willing to learn from other children. We love him so much.

The 28th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 26, 2018


Woman with long brown hair, seated with black labrador service dog next to her

Vivian Fridas with her service animal, Ditto

Vivian Fridas is USICD’s new Program Manager.  She has a master’s degree in Government and Politics with a concentration in International Relations from St. John’s University in New York and received a certificate in International Law and Diplomacy.  Most recently, Vivian worked at the Women’s Refugee Commission in their Disability Program where she assisted on projects that strengthened child protection and gender-based violence prevention and response strategies in Lebanon. Vivian travels with the assistance of a guide dog “Ditto” and is always happy to bring awareness around issues related to access of service dogs in public places.



Today we celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This groundbreaking piece of legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and all other public services open to the general public. As we mark this year’s anniversary, it is important to note the progress we have made and how far we still have to go to realize all people with disabilities have a fair and equal chance at living the life they want to live.

We have come a long way since the signing of the ADA in 1990. For example, protections extend to me and my guide dog when seeking to access public services such as transportation, hotel accommodations, or entering a restaurant. As a result, I am able to be a contributing member of society participating in all levels of community life. No longer am I denied services or access simply based on the fact that I have a disability.

This is not to say that discrimination against people with disabilities no longer exists and that all barriers have been eradicated. Personally, I have encountered countless instances where my guide dog and I were denied service in areas like restaurants or taxis. It is evident that continual awareness efforts and campaigns are needed for the public to understand the struggles facing people with disabilities on a daily basis. In addition, people with disabilities encounter a number of obstacles including high unemployment rates, negative social and attitudinal barriers, and lack of inclusive and accessible environments or technology. You may be aware of efforts under the current Administration to roll back and undermine important protections and programs for people with disabilities. The nation must come together to protect the rights of people with disabilities. This is a cross-cutting and intersecting issue. Disability does not care if you are a particular race, age, ethnicity, gender, or religion. This issue affects us all and thus demands the appropriate attention and action.

It is also critical to discuss the global influence and reach of the ADA. Indeed, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) was modeled after the ADA framework. To date, 177 countries have ratified the CRPD, though the United States is not one of them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 15% of the world’s population has a disability with 80% living in developing countries. With one billion people having a disability, it is crucial their voices are heard and included throughout all levels of society. We will not be able to move forward if our most vulnerable and marginalized people are left behind.

This anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, celebrate by acknowledging all that has been achieved, but also take a moment to assess what more is needed so people with disabilities can participate equally in society. Please also consider donating to the United States International Council on Disabilities. Your support is greatly appreciated and will go a long way to fulfill our vision of a world where the equal rights of people with disabilities is protected and advanced, where the capacities and talents of people with disabilities is celebrated and elevated, and where people with disabilities come together across borders as a global disability community.

My Perspective on Why It Is Important for the U.S. to Ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), by Della Leonor

December 18, 2017

By Della Leonor

Della LeonorSix years ago at the age of 40, I was fortunate to be granted a full fellowship by the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) at American University supported by The Nippon Foundation to pursue the world’s first online master’s degree in disability and public policy. I graduated and received my Master of Arts in International Affairs with a concentration in Comparative and International Disability Policy in December 2012. When I graduated, I asked my faculty mentors how I can pay it forward and make the biggest impact for others. One mentor told me to go back to my city, Roxas City, or municipality, Capiz Province, to help persons with disabilities.

I am a member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission of the Philippines government representing the Persons with Disability Group in my home region. As part of this role, I was tasked with executing the Bottom Up Budgeting Project in my community for years 2014-2016 as a Provincial Focal Person. Furthermore, I am a Steering Committee Member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) of the Philippines.

I traveled abroad for the second time in my life when, during my graduate school career, I was given a practicum project by the Asia Pacific Development Center on Disability (APCD) in Bangkok, Thailand, to create a captioning system for the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Stakeholders Meeting in December 2011. My task was to create a captioning group that consisted of blind and mobility impaired captioning experts.

From 2012-2016, I was a Program Associate with IDPP and traveled across Southeast Asia to focus on marketing and recruitment efforts for the IDPP Fellowships Program, of which I was an alumna. I was on a mission to find and identify persons with disabilities who have the same zest as I do for advocacy, knowledge, perspective and shaping policy to become the next generation of disability leaders.

My story is not that amazing compared to those who have been fighting for disability rights to be viewed as human rights for decades, including those whose advocacy brought the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to fruition. The story of our global disability community is about the potential of all persons with disabilities – including in the United States – who can contribute to their country. I believe what is essential is the unity that it shows when a country decides to ratify the Convention. Ratification–and subsequent implementation–will allow for more benefits and comprehensive rights for persons with disabilities in the US and enhance the already existing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The CRPD would supplement the power of the ADA to ensure that people with disabilities have stronger access to the same human rights to which all people are entitled.

As the most powerful nation, if the United States ratifies the CRPD, it would send a strong message around the world that it, too, supports comprehensive human rights for people with disabilities at a global level. Ratification may also help inspire remaining countries who have not yet ratified to ratify the CRPD so that more people with disabilities around the world can enjoy its protections. I believe now is the time for the US to take its longstanding history of ensuring rights for persons with disabilities to the next level and ratify the CRPD.

Della Leonor is a member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission of the Philippines government representing the Persons with Disabilities Group, a local disabled people’s organization in the Philippines. USICD invited Della Leonor to share her perspectives, as a citizen of another country, on why it is important for the United States to ratify the Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).