Why the USICD YIDA Program is Important
By Kathryn Carroll
Kathryn Carroll is one of eight participants in the 2014 Youth in International Development and Affairs (YIDA) internship program. She and other YIDA interns will be writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with the YIDA program this summer, to be posted at this blog. USICD coordinates the YIDA intenship 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. Kathryn Carroll is completing her internship at the Burton Blatt Institute. Learn more about the YIDA internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257. Read Kathryn Carroll biography, and the biography of other YIDA interns in the summer 2014 program, at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=269. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.
Last week, eight young students and professionals including myself arrived in Washington, D.C. as part of a program to learn about and work in international development and affairs. The United States International Council on Disability, with funding from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, runs the program because it believes more people with disabilities should be involved in foreign affairs. The United States needs experts in international affairs and development who are disability-aware. I want to use this post to outline why.
First, the U.S. contributes aid to developing counties where eighty percent of people with disabilities around the world live. The higher incidence of disability in developing countries is due to a number of factors, including conflict and poverty. Whether you believe just over one percent of the federal budget is too little or $46 billion is too much (What is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead?) to spend on all State Department and USAID activities put together, if we are going to offer effective development programming abroad, we should be making the programs accessible to people with disabilities. Accessible programs are designed with input from a disability perspective and implemented so that people with disabilities can benefit from the programs as well as nondisabled people. Experts on disability and development can design and implement programs so they accomplish these goals. (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=18; http://www.state.gov/r/pa/pl/222843.htm)
Secondly, the U.S. is a dynamic participant in international affairs going beyond your standard, targeted, foreign aid package. For example, virtually every federal agency has a department, office, or section (probably more than one!) that focuses on international issues (just do an internet search, and you’ll see what I mean). That is to say nothing of the numerous U.S.-based NGOs that advocate abroad, and the private companies that do business abroad. Not only do these organizations need people who understand international affairs, but people who understand disability. Disability does not discriminate; it can be found in every single population on the planet. So, whether or not as organization specifically serves people with disabilities, it will likely have to address audiences, clients, consumers or constituents with disabilities.
Thirdly, the U.S. is the world leader in disability rights. I am not talking about American exceptionalism here. Rather, the U.S. simply has the most developed disability rights movement of any country with the corresponding law and policy to show for it. Right now, the U.S. can provide a wealth of expertise and experience on the subject of inclusion of people with disabilities into all areas of social, political, and civil life. People with knowledge of international affairs and disability are the natural leaders in providing this expertise.
Fourthly, not only does the U.S. have the credentials to teach disability inclusion, but by doing so, it create jobs and economic opportunities for Americans. (http://www.c-span.org/video/?316053-1/senators-hear-testimony-disabilities-treaty)
Finally, the intersection of disability and development has only just begun to be fully realized and will expand with the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities around the world. The Americans with Disabilities Act, 24 years old this July, actually served as the foundation for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention articulates the rights of people with disabilities as human rights, and has been ratified by 147 countries. Should the U.S. decide to support the aspirations of the CRPD, American influence in inclusive development will only increase and the need for people expertise in international development and affairs and disability will grow stronger. (http://www.un.org/disabilities/; http://www.state.gov/j/drl/sadr/disabilitiestreaty/index.htm)