OAS Commemorates International Day of Persons With Disabilities

Ann Cody, Department of State, addresses the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, December 11, 2019. (OAS Photo)

Remarks by
Ann Cody
U.S. Department of State

December 11, 2019

Thank you, Madam Chair. The United States takes this opportunity to thank El Salvador for coordinating the inclusion of this important item on the agenda today. We would also like to recognize the OAS Secretariat for Access to Rights and Equity, and its Department of Social Inclusion, for their ongoing work on matters related to the rights of persons with disabilities.

I am Ann Cody and I am honored to be here today in representation of the U.S. Department of State. My government service follows years in the private and non-profit sectors, including more than a decade in governmental affairs leading efforts to secure support for disability, health, and sport legislative initiatives.

Madam Chair, violence, neglect, and abuse against persons with disabilities affects millions of people annually. Every human being deserves a life free from violence.

The United States, as part of our foreign policy, works to remove barriers and create a world in which persons with disabilities enjoy dignity and full inclusion.

Discrimination against disabled people is not simply unjust – it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.

In pursuing diplomacy that is inclusive and empowering of persons with disabilities, the United States urges foreign governments to combat discrimination, prejudice and abuse against disabled people in their countries, and to protect their rights and ensure their dignity and inclusion on an equal basis with others.

We encourage and assist governments to learn about the development, implementation and enforcement of laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

For example, a leadership program participant from Venezuela who visited the United States in 2016, returned home and applied knowledge gained from his exchange program to promote change at the municipal level. He worked with a team to write a city ordinance on “Accessibility for All” that was adopted in two municipalities.

We also encourage and assist civil society organizations, including organizations of persons with disabilities and their families, to advocate for disability rights.

One such example can be found in Paraguay, where a network of grassroots organizations worked with the Paraguayan government in advance of the 2012 census to add the UN “Washington Group” questions to the census, and then trained more than 10,000 census workers. These six questions are designed to solicit disaggregated data on how many persons with disabilities live within a community or nation. Utilizing these questions, the reported number of individuals with disabilities in Paraguay jumped from 1% to nearly 11%. Accurate data has enabled the Paraguayan government to make informed decisions when allocating resources.

With the private sector, we engage U.S. businesses operating overseas as well as domestic host country businesses and NGOs and encourage them to fully include persons with disabilities in their employment policies, programs, and practices and local stakeholder engagement.

National Business and Disability Networks are rising throughout the world, including in many OAS member states. Through these networks, private enterprises that employ persons with disabilities can join forces and share best practices.

In summary, we take a whole of society approach, because eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities requires all of us—governments, the private sector and civil society—to take immediate action.

To help bring attention to this global challenge, Madam Chair, the United States is proud to observe December 3rd as International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

In his December 3 statement, Secretary Pompeo affirmed that, “Disability rights are at the heart of American values of human dignity and freedom. Today…we recommit ourselves to upholding the rights, dignity, and inclusion of persons with disabilities at home and around the world.”

Globally, the UN estimates that approximately 15 percent of the world’s population live with disabilities, noting that this percentage is higher in developing countries – and that persons with disabilities are disproportionately included among the poorest of the poor.

However, when societies create an environment that is inclusive and accessible to all people, accepting individual differences becomes the norm, resulting in reduced levels of gender-based violence, crime, bullying, and discrimination of all kinds.

Because we can all benefit from sharing unique experiences and best practices when addressing discrimination faced by persons with disabilities, the U.S. approach to preventing and responding to such discrimination globally is founded on the principle of collaboration and exchange.

The U.S. government remains firmly committed to upholding the universal rights and fundamental freedoms of the more than one billion people living with disabilities worldwide.

Let me close by underscoring Secretary of State Pompeo from his December 3 statement: “We want all people – including persons with disabilities – to have the knowledge, skills and opportunity to pursue their aspirations, develop their capabilities, compete, and succeed in the 21st century.

To this end, we hope all OAS member states will to continue to work together in our shared responsibility to promote inclusion for all persons, with or without disabilities.

Thank you very much, Chair.