Reception In Honor of National Disability Independence Day

Remarks by
Ambassador Francisco O. Mora
U.S. Permanent Representative to the OAS
July 26, 2023

On behalf of the Missions of the United States, Chile and Uruguay to the OAS, as well as the Art Museum of the Americas and the OAS Secretariat on Access to Rights and Equity, welcome!

Today we come together to celebrate National Disability Independence Day and Disability Pride Month here at the OAS. This commemorates the July 26, 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability.

Modeled on other civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, color, age, national origin, or religion, the ADA guarantees U.S. citizens with disabilities the right “to equal opportunity.”

For this historic legislation, and for all that it has inspired throughout the world, we owe a great debt to Judith “Judy” Heumann — the “mother of the disability rights movement” and one of one of the protagonists of today’s film screening.

Judy was a trailblazer and extraordinary leader during her decades of human rights advocacy and public service.

She embodied the collective fight for the rights of all people with disabilities throughout a multitude of diverse roles and platforms — including through the Americans with Disabilities Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities … and right here at the OAS in championing the Decade of the Americas for the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.

And so, I am deeply honored to join Special Advisor on International Disability Rights Sara Minkara to help share her inspiring story with many of you this afternoon.

For Judy, being recognized wasn’t about personal fame, it was about shining a light on the community of more than 1.3 billion people with disabilities around the world. Here in the Americas, an estimated 140 million people are living with a disability, and only 3% have access to rehabilitation services. Moreover, more than 1 million people with disabilities are highly dependent on another person to carry out their activities.

At the OAS, the United States is firmly committed to regional efforts reaffirming that disability rights are basic human rights, not special rights.  Integrating persons with disabilities fully into our societies is an important OAS priority, and one we strongly support.

Chile’s leadership on this work is to be commended, as coordinator of our OAS Group of Friends process. We also join with the Trust of the Americas in promoting its vocational and job skills training — through the POETA initiative.

This is because persons with disabilities have the same rights as all people — to non-discrimination, access, equality of opportunity, inclusion and full participation in society.  And yet, the rights of persons with disabilities are often violated due to prejudice and discrimination.

In spite of remarkable advances towards accessible and disability-inclusive societies, an enormous gap still remains between commitments made by OAS Member States and the daily experiences of persons with disabilities.

It’s important to recognize that physical, attitudinal, and institutional barriers can also marginalize disabled people. We must follow through with concrete actions to address these barriers, in each of our countries and here at the OAS. Because it is one thing to adopt mandates in our General Assemblies and Summits of the Americas – and quite another to implement those mandates at the national level.

This leads me to my second key message today: the role of art in the movement for disability rights and recognition. In memoirs, paintings and drawings, sculptures, installations, videos, and live performances — and in venues ranging from small galleries to movie theaters to professional sports arenas — disabled artists have shared their myriad perspectives on life and talent, again and again.

With persistence, these works have begun to chip away at ableist beliefs, exposing disability biases and promoting inclusion. Thanks in no small measure to the Art Museum of the Americas, and the Uruguayan National Museum of Visual Arts, we are beginning to see the impact of social change as cultural tides turn.

To support such efforts, it is incumbent upon us all to support and promote our region’s rich cultural heritage. In very real terms, this means resourcing the Art Museum of the Americas to ensure responsible and accessible stewardship of our hemisphere’s unique history and legacy.

Unfortunately, lack of space, limited digitalization and accessibility, especially for persons with disabilities, are very real challenges for the Museum that we must urgently address.

Let this event today serve as a call to action — to address the Museum’s accessibility needs, and to promote art and culture that is fully accessible by all. This is fully consistent with Judy’s effort’s here at the OAS to ensure our Main Building became accessible for persons with disabilities. In fact, we have her to thank for the fully operational elevator lift now in the Bolivar Room.

Because, as Judy put it so well, “Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives — job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example.”

With this in mind, I am pleased to now bring focus and attention to the new Museum exhibit entitled “Petrona Viera: creación sin fin” (Petrona Viera: Endless creation), which highlights a truly inspiring and transcendent career.

But before I turn the microphone over the Museum’s tireless director, Adriana Ospina, to talk about this installation, l want to again thank you all for coming this afternoon. The many contributions of disabled Americans – all Americans from our entire hemisphere – are to be commended and supported.

Following the reception, I hope you stay and join us for a special panel discussion and the screening of Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. It’s an intimate look into the lives of a group of disabled teens and their fight to move from oppression to equality — one that continues to resonate today.

In closing — I look forward to working with each of you to advance a hemisphere where all individuals and communities have access to art and film – and can be inspired by new ideas and stories about our diverse cultural heritage.

Let’s get to work by recommitting to accessibility and inclusion for all. Thank you very much. And happy Disability Pride Month!