Video Message on the Disabilities Treaty

Uzra Zeya
Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC
December 13, 2013

Hi everyone. I’m Uzra Zeya, the acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State. I’m here today to talk with you about the work the State Department is doing to achieve ratification of the Disabilities Treaty. U.S. ratification of the Treaty will help us bring our common high standards as embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, to people with disabilities throughout the world who face numerous barriers in their own societies.

I know that today, some countries don't have laws that protect or promote the rights of people with disabilities. And many countries that do have such laws either don’t provide comprehensive protection, or don’t have the capacity to fully implement their laws. As a result, disabled people face discrimination that significantly limits their opportunities to contribute to society. Inaccessible public buildings, schools, transportation, workplaces, and businesses are effectively closed to people with disabilities.

Polling places are also inaccessible for many people with disabilities around the world. The lack of ramps, Braille ballots or signs, and professional training for poll workers are just a few examples of ways that people with disabilities are unable to vote in many countries. Unable to have their say on Election Day. Unable to directly exert influence by choosing representatives who would advocate for their rights. When people with disabilities are left out of the polling booths, they are often also left out of the larger democratic process.

Additionally, job discrimination and unemployment remain serious problems for people with disabilities. Employment for disabled people around the world is critical to the economy, but many live in extreme poverty because they cannot obtain a job as a result of societal or structural barriers. Effectively, millions of capable individuals who have disabilities are unable to contribute to their societies, weakening local and national economies.

In some nations, people with disabilities face deep, societal discrimination that manifests itself in inadequate medical care, the inability to get an education, and abandonment by government and other institutions. People with disabilities are often vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse. In some countries, children with disabilities are chained to trees and beaten – or killed – because they have a disability. In some cultures there is a belief that people with disabilities are afflicted by demons that must be exorcised, a belief that leads to torture, including deprivation of food, water, and shelter.

Marginalized. Stigmatized. Institutionalized. Forgotten. These themes are too often repeated around the world.

We're fortunate to live in a country in which the ADA and other ground-breaking legislation protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities. The Disabilities Treaty embodies the principles and values underlying these laws, including nondiscrimination, equal opportunity, independence, accessibility, human dignity, and full and effective participation and inclusion in society. Ratifying the Treaty would put us in the best position to export these principles and values to the rest of the world, so that we can help to ensure that people with disabilities overseas enjoy the same rights and freedoms that they enjoy in the United States.

Why is this good for us? Why does it matter? To put it simply, Americans with disabilities wanting to work, study, serve, or travel abroad deserve to take full advantage of their overseas experiences on an equal basis with others. Additionally, we live in an increasingly interconnected world where knowledge of languages, customs, and other cultures is often the key to competitiveness in the global workforce. To maintain our competitive edge in the international workforce, all Americans should be allowed full access to international job opportunities without discrimination on the basis of disability.

That’s why we're working hard for Senate ratification of the Disabilities Treaty. Ratification doesn't add a penny to our budget. It doesn't require any changes to U.S. domestic law. But it will expand opportunities for millions of disabled Americans, reaffirm America’s leadership in the area of disabilities, and create new markets for American businesses. Ratification of the Treaty will reinforce what we believe in as Americans, including our refusal to tolerate discrimination and injustice toward people with disabilities here and abroad.

The rights of people with disabilities are human rights. As Americans, we will fight for the rights of people with disabilities everywhere, so they're included, protected, respected and active participants in their societies.

Thank you for time and attention. For more information about the Disabilities Treaty, please visit And for more information about the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, please visit our website.

Thank you.