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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

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