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International Day of Persons with Disabilities – Executive Director, Isabel Hodge

December 7, 2017

International Day of Persons with Disabilities2017 Theme: Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all

Sunday was the annual observance of the International Day of Disabled Persons. It aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

Since the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted in 2006, the international community has made progress in advancing the rights persons with disabilities worldwide. I recently witnessed evidence of progress being made this summer when I participated in the review of Antigua and Barbuda’s draft legislation that would implement the CRPD.

USICD board member and nine-time Paralympic athlete, Candace Cable, can often be heard saying “Nothing Without Us,” taken from the well-known slogan of the global disability community, “Nothing About Us Without Us”. This is a message that aligns perfectly with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledge “to leave no one behind.” The 15-year Agenda is a voluntary political commitment agreed to among most country governments around the world, though unlike the CRPD it is not legally binding. The United States has not ratified the CRPD, but we can hold our government to their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals.

For example, Goal 8 calls upon us to “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” The labor force participation rate for people with disabilities in the United States is 21%, and by comparison, the labor force participation rate for people without disabilities is 68.3% Many countries do not systematically gather data on disability and employment. But in cases where this data is available, it has consistently been found, similar to the United States that people with disabilities have significantly lower rates of employment. One World Health Organization survey conducted with 51 countries found that only 53 percent of men with disabilities and 20 percent of women with disabilities were employed, compared to 65 percent for non-disabled men, and 30 percent for non-disabled women. With that in mind, and with a growing U.S. interest in global disability employment and inclusion, we must examine how U.S. companies conduct business overseas with regards to the employment of people with disabilities.

In 2016, the U.S. government launched the first-ever National Action Plan (NAP) on Responsible Business Conduct. The NAP has some roots in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which briefly mentions how to consider effectively issues of vulnerability and/or marginalization, recognizing specific challenges faced by people with disabilities, and the need to consider additional standards. When we consider the theme, Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all, all stakeholders, including the U.S. government and American private sector businesses, should think beyond borders and begin by asking what initiatives exist, if any, on the effective employment and retention of people with disabilities. Likewise, disabled peoples organizations here, and overseas, should hold governments and the private sector accountable through their commitment to the 2030 Agenda. #NothingWithoutUS!

Isabel Hodge
Executive Director

Please take a moment to read my message that was published via social media on 3 December.

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Message from Isabel Hodge, New USICD Executive Director

September 11, 2017

By Isabel Hodge, USICD Executive Director

Woman with shoulder length medium brown hair smiles at cameraDear UISCD Members and Friends,

I am beginning my third month as the new Executive Director of USICD and I have never been busier! As a part of our Disability in Public Policy (DIPP) project, I have had productive meetings with four key Members of the House (the Co-Chairs of the Disability Caucus and the Chair and Ranking Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee) and staff representatives for six Democratic Senators. Many thanks to USICD member, Mr. Jeff Kramer, for his expert assistance on this project!

The purpose of the above meetings was to introduce them to USICD, our policy priorities and, more recently, to discuss our concerns regarding Secretary Tillerson’s letter to Senator Corker where he outlined his plan to eliminate the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the Department of State.  USICD sent two letters to Secretary Tillerson this year asking him to make the Special Advisor a permanent entity within the Department. Just recently, Senator Cardin successfully included language in the State Authorities Act, Fiscal Year 2018 that will establish an Office of International Disability Rights. USICD fully supports the inclusion of this language and will reach out to our USICD members and networks shortly to ask for their action in contacting members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and others. I have also met with World Vision and Lutheran Services to share our policy priorities and learned that combatting child trafficking is their current focus.

In July, Andrea Shettle (USICD Program Manager) and I attended the Global Independent Living Summit that was held in conjunction with the National Council on Independent Living annual conference here in Washington, DC. Over 19 countries were represented and a World Independent Living Network (WIN) was established. It was exciting to be included in this historic global movement and USICD looks forward to participating in future discussions.

I attended the Regional Biennial meeting of Disabled Peoples International North America Caribbean (DPI NAC) on 19-20 August in Antigua. At that meeting, I was elected as the Vice President of the organization. USICD provided an update on activities and received country updates from other regional members. Most of these countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This week, I am slowly receiving reports from each member on the destruction in the region due to Hurricane Irma and the impact on people with disabilities. In Barbuda, there are 60 people with disabilities. The news has described the island as being “wiped off the map.” USICD has launched a fundraiser to assist disabled peoples’ international organizations with medical equipment and supplies. Please donate.

Planning for 2017 Gala to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is progressing very well. The Gala will be held on 5 December at the U.S. Embassy of France. This year we have established a Gala Host Committee that is co-chaired by Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole and Senator Tom Harkin and his spouse, Ruth. Sponsorship opportunities are available! Event registration will open in October. This year’s Dole-Harkin award honorees are Senator John Barrasso and Judith Heumann. Our international advocate is Risnawati Utami from Indonesia. Our team has toured the venue, checking accessibility, and has been working on logistics with the Embassy staff.

Our work as a U.S. consortium member on the RightsNow!: Strong Communities through Enforcing the Rights of Persons with Disabilities funded by the Department of State continues. Just recently we provided technical assistance to Armenia on accessible domestic violence shelters.

I have enjoyed working with USICD board members through our board and committee work. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many outstanding leaders from the community. They each have diverse backgrounds and experience. Today, I read that our Policy Committee co-chair Mr. Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of Disability Rights International has been in Mexico this week for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights meeting and visiting Guatemala. In two weeks, USICD’s Vice President, John Wodatch will be speaking about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at a variety of events around the state of California. Next month, I will be joining USICD President, Dr. Patricia Morrissey, at the Pacific Rim Conference held in Oahu, HI, where we will provide a CRPD update and share USICD’s public policy work.

In 2013, USICD launched the Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs program, an internship program to inspire youth involvement in international affairs and development careers.  This program formally engaged USICD’s goal of incorporating a disability perspective in all foreign affairs issues.  The program ended this year with a fabulous cohort of 9 interns. We are grateful for the funding and support USICD received from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation and for all of the organizations that hosted our interns. The experienced changed their lives and many have secured employment as a result.

You could say I hit the ground running.  Just yesterday, I met with Senator Dole and he shared that he was receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. I cannot think of a worthier recipient. His support for ratification of the CRPD will forever be embedded in the minds of advocates. If you have a minute, please sent him a Tweet @SenBobDole and tell him thank you and congratulations.

I continue to look for opportunities to grow our network of members and realize our vision. Seeking advice from our Board, our members, and from Senator Dole and others will be key to my success as the new Executive Director.

Thank you,
Isabel Hodge
Executive Director

Untold Story: I am the Present and Future Story of Those Who Inspire Me

August 23, 2017

By Yuliya Gileva

Almost everyone I meet asks me the same question: what was the difference between living in Hatton, Alabama and Arkhangelsk, Russia? In Russia, my family and I lived in a ten-story apartment building that towered over the center of the frigid city. In Alabama (from the age of twelve and until my undergraduate studies at Emory University), I lived in a single-family home near a sweltering, small town where people knew not only their neighbor, but also the person living miles down the road — and perhaps what he had for dinner last night. My backyard was no longer a crowded park. Instead, acres and acres of corn and cotton fields surrounded me. The lights of buses and taxis no longer flashed into the living room windows. Instead, a tractor became my alarm clock.

The one aspect I never addressed was the difference in people’s facial expressions when they met me for the first time. In Russia, it seemed as though my physical disability—Cerebral Palsy—had the chance to speak before a single word escaped my lips. On the first day of first grade, skipping toward my school in Arkhangelsk for the very first time, I counted every step aloud. My mother attempted to make a smile and said what, at that time, seemed like the oddest statement. “Remember that no two butterflies are alike.” At that moment, I did not take the meaning behind the words. When I pulled on the school door, it did not budge. I expected my mother to reach out and open it for me, but she stood back and watched. “If you don’t pull harder, it will never open,” she said. After a couple of strenuous pulls, the bulky door opened.

As we entered the building, I dropped my purple backpack next to a bench. When our conversation with the school director, a woman in her forties with fire red lipstick, ended, I grabbed my backpack. My knees bent, and my stride became uneven under the weight of the books. I noticed that the spark and excitement present in the director’s eyes a moment earlier were replaced by sorrow. It seemed the director wanted to ask a question, but she was unsure of where to begin. I wondered whether I should I attempt to restart the conversation or just escape the awkwardness? When I stepped into the classroom, my confidence vanished. I never wanted to see that sorrow again in anyone’s eyes.

Five years later in Alabama, I relived the jitters of starting at a new school. Mrs. Anderson, my social studies teacher and first mentor, did not treat me as a fragile piece of glass ready to break. She saw my strengths before I found them. As we made our way to the classroom through a maze of children, I embraced my imperfect stride.

Twenty years have passed since my first day of jitters in first grade. As I’m about to begin my final week at the International Finance Corporation (the corporate branch of the World Bank), I’m convinced that my family, friends, and many incredible mentors this summer and previously have allowed me to explore what it means to be a woman with a disability and an immigrant with a passion for law. I am seeing the path ahead in more vibrant colors. Thank you to USICD, IFC Diversity and Inclusion Council, IFC Legal Department, my law school mentors, my Emory mentors, my family, and my friends for joining me on this path and for contributing so much to the person that I am today. I’m grateful in ways that words cannot describe. The best way that I can thank you all is to keep paying it forward.

Yuliya Gileva is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Yuliya Gileva is completing her internship at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the World Bank.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or IFC or World Bank.

Trial by Fire: Rising Phoenix

August 8, 2017

By Katie Giles

young woman smile at camera

Katie Giles

Recently, I presented to the Education Practice team at the World Bank. I was asked to share my story as a part of an initiative within the Bank to see the people impacted by disability-inclusive education–not only the numbers and statistics.

I was thrilled to take part in such a nice event. I prepared my presentation well in advance. I practiced and revised and practiced and revised some more. I discussed my presentation content with colleagues and mentors within my network. Yet nothing could prepare me for what I would walk into on presentation day. As one of my closest mentors has said to me, “Sometimes, you have to learn through trial by fire”.

I’m happy to report that I went to trial by fire, and I came out a phoenix. On presentation morning, I found myself waking up quite nervous. I arrived at my presentation early, and my sign language interpreters and I rehearsed it before the start of the session. Everything was settled. Then the room began to fill up, and fill up, and fill up. Before I knew it, we had a packed house. I was shocked, I had thought this would be a smaller event based on the RSVPs!

Nonetheless my presentation was underway. I began to delve into my experiences with inclusive education a deaf student, and my audience appeared to be captivated. My audience was filled with brilliant minds from teachers to Task Team Leaders and even Senior Managers. One person tuned in online all the way from Guinea! It was a very humbling experience.

After I finished, the floor opened for questions. The questions led us to go 30 minutes past our scheduled time frame—I was really impressed and thrilled with the questions asked. I loved the concept of looking past the statistics to the real people who are impacted by inclusive education, but I was worried that sharing my story would leave people with a set vision of what inclusive education looks like. I tried to interweave into my presentation the idea that there is no standard cookbook for inclusion. It is like a grandmother’s recipe—a pinch of this and a pinch of that—but not an exact measurement. The questions I was asked clearly showed that the audience had received the message I intended and was moving along to apply it to their own work.

The entire experience was nerve wracking. I had to make myself vulnerable at a fragile stage in my professional career by sharing very personal stories. I also as a lowly intern was presenting to and advising professionals whom I very much look up to. I’m so grateful to the World Bank and to USICD to putting this internship in place and setting the platform that granted me such an incredible opportunity.

Katie Giles is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Katie Giles is completing her internship at the Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience (GP SURR) Global Practice at the World Bank.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or GP SURR or World Bank.

 

The 27th Birthday of the Americans with Disabilities Act

August 3, 2017

By USICD President, Dr. Patricia Morrissey

Woman with short, blond hair wearing a white blouse, pearl necklace, and black suit jacket smiles at camera

Patricia Morrissey

Twenty-seven years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to draft amendments, along with my colleague, Randy Johnson, now with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that were retained in the law. The ADA not only transformed communities but recalibrated how we view each other, and built brighter futures for many people. Then from 2002 to 2006, the ADA was the guidebook for drafting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a U.N. disabilities rights treaty. The CRPD has been ratified by over 170 nations, but the U.S. is not one of them.

Historically, the U.S. has ratified few UN treaties. When a treaty focuses on human behavior should be, that makes many members of Congress nervous because these members fear that endorsing an international treaty is “potentially” an intrusion on our sovereignty as an independent nation.

But—whether we ratify the CRPD or not at some point—as a nation we stand for and must practice the principles that both the ADA and the CRPD reflect so clearly. These being, the opportunity and right of each individual with a disability to fully participate in and contribute to the communities, nations, and world of which they are a part.

This means we must seek out and offer to help people in other countries who are attempting to make these principles a reality in their homelands. It is not enough for us to affirm, practice, and protect these principles in the U.S. We must lend a hand and learn from others in faraway lands.

As you celebrate the anniversary of the ADA today, consider others less fortunate in the U.S. and elsewhere who would benefit from what you have experienced and know. The U.S. international Council on Disabilities plans to launching an online Global Connector in 2018 and hope you will consider joining it.

Thank you.

Patricia Morrissey
President
USICD

This text originally appeared on the front page of USICD’s website at http://www.usicd.org, it has been moved here for archival purposes.

Why International Development Students Need to Take Disability Studies

August 3, 2017

By Adeline Joshua

Young woman smiles at camera

Adeline Joshua

When I was 10 years old, my mom and I spent one month in the Philippines to visit relatives. I remember this trip fondly because it was my first time out of the country, and my first time visiting a place so vastly different from the bustling streets of my hometown of New York City.

It was a tropical paradise filled with friendly people and delicious food, yet even at a young age, it was hard to ignore the financial and social inequality that existed around me. For people with disabilities (PWDs), living in the Philippines meant living with cultural stigmas and structural barriers that prevented many from reaching their full potential. The most memorable moments of my trip included interactions with other children with disabilities who were marginalized from society and unable to attend school.

I had the privilege of growing up with a physical disability in the United States after the Americans with Disabilities Act () was passed: I grew up with the concept of education and self-determination as a right ingrained in me. It was a humbling and profound experience to learn that everyone did not share access to the rights I took for granted, and this experience was what sparked my interest in studying international development.

The aim of international development is to improve the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable populations. Approximately 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, and 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries. Yet despite the statistics, very few universities offer classes that address disability and development. Based on conversations I have had with professors and peers, disability seems to be perceived as a specialization for “disability experts” to focus on. A lack of disability experts in academia meant that I had to piece together my disability education by absorbing what I could from independent study and brief discussions on disability in lectures.

It was not until this USICD internship program that I had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of disability and development. In the past 8 weeks, I attended presentations on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and on disability and the Strategic Development Goals (SDGs). I participated in discussions debating the merits of disability-inclusive education vs. special education through my assignment at the World Bank, and acquired valuable insight into the needs of my fellow interns who represent a wide spectrum of disabilities.

Through this in-depth knowledge, it has become increasingly clear to me that disability studies should not be confined to people interested in disability as an area of focus. Anyone with a passion for helping others, alleviating poverty, or ending hunger needs to learn about how these issues affect PWDs. Disability is not a specialized topic, it is crosscutting: it affects every race, every nationality, every sexual orientation, and every issue in international development. Academia needs to move past viewing disability as being separate from other topics. It denies students—eager to make a difference in the world—the opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of the challenges people face. By undertaking this shift, I believe that development practice will follow suit, and perhaps one day, there will be many more PWDs able to partake in the same privileges that have allowed me to thrive.

Adeline Joshua is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF). Adeline Joshua is completing her internship at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the World Bank.  Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or IFC or World Bank.

First Time for Everything

August 1, 2017

By Anna Custis

Young women smiles at camera

Ann Custis

Being in USICD’s Youth in Foreign Affairs and International Development internship program gave me an opportunity to stay in the George Washington University Potomac House dorm, where I was assigned to be roommates with fellow cohort, Janelle Lyons!

      Keep in mind, that until June 2017, I had never had a roommate, not even in college.  I remember recalling all of my friends’ roommate horror stories, from possession of illegal substances, stealing food and more (one of my closest friends was punched).  From bathroom scheduling to lights out, I was worried I’d be stepping on some toes. Turns out, there was no need to worry at all! Janelle and I get along really well.  She’s like the cool older friend with lots of wisdom and advice to give you, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from her.

    Back when I was still in Orlando, my closest friends constantly told me to explore Washington D.C., make new friends and have some new experiences.  They told me to avoid being lonely. I honestly thought I would just stay in the dorm all the time, doing nothing on the weekends except for playing computer games. Well, sometimes I still do that.  Anyways, the more important thing to note here is that I actually made a friend! Our time together was short, but trying out new restaurants and visiting our favorite little yogurt shop was some of the best times I’ve had so far in Washington D.C.  I miss my friends in Orlando a lot, but Janelle helped lessen the pain of missing them.

            Pretty soon, our two month internships will be over and everyone will be going back to school or to new jobs. Janelle will be going back to Boston, and I’m still unsure on whether I will be remaining in Washington D.C. or moving to Chicago.  What I do know, however, is that I will miss the 2017 USICD cohort, and that I wish nothing but the best for all them from here on out.

Ann Custis is a member of the 2017 cohort of the USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program and other topics, to be posted at this blog during the summer.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  The internship program was enabled by funding support from  the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation(MEAF). Ann Custis is completing her internship at Handicap International USA (HI USA)  . Read the biographies of our interns in the summer 2017 program.  Or read blog posts by other current and past interns. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD, MEAF, or HI USA.