Remarks to the USAID Meeting on "From Policy to Action: Making Progress Toward Disability Inclusion"

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights 
Washington, DC
May 30, 2012

(As Prepared for Delivery)

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Date: 05/30/2012 Location: Washington, DC Description: Under Secretary Otero delivering remarks at USAID meeting on ''From Policy to Action: Making Progress Toward Disability Inclusion'' - State Dept ImageThank you. It’s wonderful to be here today with all of you representing civil society, as well as colleagues from across the U.S. government. I am, as you’ve heard, Maria Otero, and I have the pleasure of representing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today.

 For Secretary Clinton, and indeed for the Obama Administration, the word “inclusion” has taken on a new focus in our foreign policy. From women’s rights, to LGBT rights, to the rights of individuals with disabilities, we recognize one vital truth: we cannot fully honor our commitment to human rights so long as any one group is left in the shadows of society. As Secretary Clinton has said, “All people everywhere have the right to live productive lives, free from discrimination and with equal access to opportunities.”

Over the past three and a half years, we have sought to advance that vision in every part of the world, including here in the United States, which is why President Obama has asked the Senate to join 111 other countries and the EU by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In the United States we have worked hard to achieve equality of opportunity and the full participation of our citizens; and, though we are far from perfect, we do have important lessons and best practices to share with partner governments around the world.

In my three years as Under Secretary, I have learned that the State Department’s greatest value is our network of embassies and diplomats around the world. We have one of the world’s largest networks of professionals, all of whom are in their positions to promote American values.

Whether we are engaging in a bilateral conversation with a partner government or contributing new language for a resolution in the Human Rights Council, our diplomats are poised to build political will for the promotion of human rights for all individuals, including those with disabilities. I want to take a moment to recognize the work of Special Advisor Judy Heumann in helping direct those efforts around the world.

Let me give you a couple of examples that show how we are making disability inclusion part and parcel of our understanding of the full realization of human rights.

Through our embassies, we are talking to government officials about their laws and regulations and how they can better protect against discrimination towards persons with disabilities. We are engaging with the multinational companies and local enterprises to increase inclusive employment opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities. And we are working with civil society advocates like those of you in this room, to ensure that we are up to date and informed on where the needs are greatest.

We have also set visitor programs so that professionals and students can learn from the United States, and vice versa—so we can learn from them.

I know you addressed in an earlier panel the power of using Sports to promote the rights and abilities of persons with disabilities, and I think it is wonderful that the 2012 Hours Against Hate campaign, started by our Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and Special Representative to Muslim Communities, is officially affiliated with the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Also here in Washington, we are making sure our grant guidelines and procedures are inclusive of persons with disabilities as well as members of other vulnerable and minority groups. For example, the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor will now assign weighted criteria to evaluate how proposals support and empower persons with disabilities, as well as women, members of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and LGBT people.

No matter what tactic we are taking—whether educating our diplomats about disability inclusion or bringing leaders like yourselves together—it all depends on a robust partnership with civil society. We all know that inclusion is not just a goal, but a process as well. And it’s thanks to all of you that we are making great strides in both.

So, thank you for being here and for all that you do. We look forward to the progress that lies ahead.