Conversations With America: International Disability Rights

Judith Heumann
   Special Advisor for International Disability Rights 
Cheryl Benton
   Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
David Morrissey, Executive Director of the United States International Council on Disabilities
Washington, D.C.
February 17, 2011

MS. BENTON: Good afternoon. I’m Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Department’s Bureau of Public Affairs. Thank you so much for joining us for the tenth installment of Conversations with America, a series of video discussions that enables you to watch and participate in a live discussion between a top State Department official and the leader of a nongovernment organization.

Today’s discussion will focus on U.S. efforts to promote disability rights around the globe. And as a reminder, I want everyone to know that they can follow us on captioning – they can follow us through captioning on; that is, that we will have this on caption on Our blog, DipNote, has received many questions and comments on today’s topic from all around the world. We have selected some of the questions for discussion during this broadcast.

Before we begin, I would briefly introduce you to our guest. Judy Heumann is the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. She is an internationally recognized leader in the disability community and a lifelong civil rights advocate for disadvantaged people. For more than 30 years, Judy has been involved on the international front working with disabled people’s organizations and governments around the world to advance the human rights of disabled people.

Let me now introduce you to David Morrissey. David is the executive director of the United States International Council on Disabilities. He has held management positions in several nonprofit organizations, served as a member of the board of directors of his local Center for Independent Living, and was the 2007 Disability Policy Leadership Fellow for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

And yesterday, Secretary Clinton held her first strategic dialogue with civil society, and it was such a thrill that both Judy and David were there. And I think it’s just a demonstration of the Secretary’s commitment that when the table was set, all voices will be there, including our disability partners.

Today, Judy and David will discuss their efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities around the world. Before we get started, I’d like to invite our guests to provide brief introductory remarks. David.

MR. MORRISSEY: Thank you very much for having me. It’s exciting to be here. And thank you, Judy, for joining us today. I just want to acknowledge that yesterday was an exciting dialogue with the Secretary of State about the commitment of the U.S. Government and the Obama Administration toward engaging civil society organizations in advancing rights and development around the world. And to have the disability community represented at that table was really an honor and an exciting sign of, I think, the progress ahead of us.

MS. BENTON: Absolutely. Thank you. Judy, can you give us some opening remarks?

MS. HEUMANN: Sure. My position was created, as you know, in June of last year. I filled the position at that time. It was created by President Obama as a part of his implementation of the commitment that he made during the campaign to be supportive of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to create a position in the State Department which is intended to help include issues affecting disabled people across the world in all aspects of our work. There is also a person who is newly appointed and working over at USAID, a woman named Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, and the two of us are working collaboratively to really help beef us what we’re doing in the area of disability as a mainstream issue.

MS. BENTON: Very good. Now, David, I’d like you to go ahead and begin the discussion and just lead us off in the path you want us to take initially.

MR. MORRISSEY: Oh, well, thank you. I think following on Judy’s remark about the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, this is an exciting time for U.S. disability organizations to be more engaged in global disability movement through advocacy for this treaty. And the Obama Administration’s – President Obama’s pledge to see the U.S. sign the treaty was an exciting event in 2009 on the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I wondered if, on that spirit of sort of the ADA and now today the CRPD, Judy, if you have any thoughts on this new era in disability rights.

MR. HEUMANN: Well, I believe what’s going on right now is we’ve, in the United States for the last – probably since the mid ‘60s, we’ve seen an increasing engagement of disabled people in the movement, very much following what was going on with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement at that time, the aging movement. Disabled people, really until that period of time, were not that engaged in what we would call rights-based organizations. A lot of the work that was going on until that time was really focused more on what we call the medical model, which is giving money to organizations to cure those of us who have disabilities.

So what we’ve seen in the U.S. and subsequently around the world is, as disabled people are basically saying we have disabilities, it’s our normal way of living; we shouldn’t be substituting medical research for human rights. And so in the States, what we’ve seen is a series of major pieces of legislation. The general public in the U.S. and around the world know a lot about a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is now a 20-year-old law. And that law is really one that’s been looked at and seen by disabled people and advocates around the world as a model, because it talks about ending discrimination both in the public and private sector.

So for somebody like myself who is now 63 years old, I grew up in New York City. I had polio when I was 18 months old, so I haven’t been able to walk since I was less than two years old. And I grew up in an environment where there were no ramps on streets, the buses weren’t accessible, the trains weren’t accessible, public accommodation like going shopping and having a bathroom that was accessible or having a fitting room that was big enough or a movie theater where I could sit, or for deaf people or blind people to get accommodations, none of those things were happening.

And I think at that point in time, we kind of looked at those changes as hopes that we weren’t sure could ever happen. But I think what we realized was by working together we were able to really address those barriers, which in the beginning as we were working on them, manufacturers, local governments, universities, schools were all opposing these kinds of changes: It couldn't be done; it would be too expensive; we wouldn't benefit.

In some way, I think this is very similar to what went on in the women’s community. Why should you educate girls? Why should you educate girls in Africa or Latin America or in Asia? The societies that they live in really keep women at home, so it’s not important. And what we’ve seen when we look at other agendas, like the gender one, that as girls went to school, as they grew up and become mothers and breadwinners, that it makes a dramatic change both in their family and in the community.

And likewise, that’s what we’re seeing in the area of disability. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which came out of the United Nations in 2006 was really a monumental international change. It was four to five years of very hard work from disabled people’s organizations who came to the United Nations and worked two to three times a year for two to three weeks at a time, with delegations of government officials and disabled people as a part of the formal governmental units at the UN. People became educated. Government leaders and representatives began to learn that it was the barriers that we were facing as disabled people that needed to be removed. And so when we look at the convention, it very much follows the principles that we have in the legislation that we’ve passed in the United States, like the Americans with Disabilities Act.

So I think disabled people and governments around the world and civil society in general can really now be looking 10 to 20 years down the road to really see some major changes in developing and middle-income countries, just like we’ve seen here in the States and in Europe and other Western countries.

MS. BENTON: Good. So with the initiation of ADA all the way to the United Nations, it’s been quite an explosive journey, because as you were saying, you were housebound. People with disabilities were housebound because there were no facilities to aid in their getting out and about. Have you found that in your work as well?

MR. MORRISSEY: Yes, that the disabled – or disability rights movement around the world has really exploded. And there’s a really renewed enthusiasm among civil society partners to look at disability not in that medical model, as maybe many nongovernmental organizations traditionally would have if they engaged with disability at all. It’s now a new framework to look at disability rights as human rights, and how inclusion and access for people with disabilities can be infused across-programs, not even those that are specifically regarding the disability community, which are important programs as well. But when we look at infrastructure development or promoting democracy or promoting gender equity, making sure that both our government’s efforts and the efforts of nongovernmental organizations are thinking about, is our program inclusive, is it accessible, is going to really expand the reach and impact of those efforts to reach populations that may not have been met before. And it’s exciting to see them now being brought to those efforts.

MS. BENTON: I can imagine. And, Judy, as you travel around – and you’ve done a lot of traveling since you came on board – what’s been your experience in other countries?

MS. HEUMANN: Well, I think we see variations of inclusion of disabled people. And I talk about physical barriers because I don’t walk, but it’s important really to look more broadly. So we’re talking about people who are blind and need materials in Braille when we’re using information technology to make sure that the developers of the technology are working to ensure that the technology is available for blind people and for deaf individuals.

We’re seeing that changes are happening, but there’s really still a need for helping to support the growth of civil society in many of the countries we work in. Like the work of the Secretary is very much focused on giving support and recognition and helping to empower leaders in civil society in general. What we’ve seen – and it’s not atypical to what we’ve seen here in the United States – is that the voices of disabled individuals are really one of the last groups that are emerging.

And because of the stigma attached to disability in many countries, one of the things we’re really trying to do is to get, for example, the broader human rights community to embrace issues of human rights for disabled people, the broader women’s community to understand the fact that disabled women are equally in jeopardy and in many cases more in jeopardy around issues like violence and exposure to AIDS, and how the healthcare systems are frequently presuming that if you are a disabled woman – and I hear this all the time – if you are a disabled woman and you believe you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease and you go for medical care, frequently healthcare providers will say oh, there’s no reason to test you, you have a disability, you’re not sexual. In reality, what we see because of issues of abuse, because of difficulty of disabled women getting married, that they definitely are at greater risk.

So I guess the approach that we’re taking here at State, talking about some of the issues that David was raising, we’re trying to take disability and not make it a stovepipe issue, which is not just look at programs that deal with disability, but look at how we can infuse disability into all of our work, including ensuring that when U.S. dollars are being used abroad for construction that they’re in compliance with our laws. And there’s still a problem with that.

MS. BENTON: So the issue of accessibility and all of the other issues that arise around disabilities, are we more advanced here? Are we more caring about the issue than other countries?

MS. HEUMANN: I would say that we are a country that is very – we are an advocacy-oriented country.


MS. HEUMANN: And the disability community, as I said earlier, really was learning from other movements that you kind of can’t wait for someone to step in and deal with issues of discrimination. If you don’t lead that effort, it isn’t going to be addressed appropriately. You may have people who are caring and concerned and understand that you’re facing problems you shouldn’t have to understand, but when the voices of women, African American, Latinos, Native Americans, whatever the group is, and add disabled people who are also African Americans, women, Latinos, et cetera – when those voices are the ones that come forward and people have to look us directly in the eye.

When I talk about not being able to get services that I need, one of the big issues around the world is the denial of educational opportunities for disabled children. The World Bank estimates that at least 40 million of children who are not in school are children with disabilities. And we have to realize in the U.S. that we didn’t have our educational laws until 1973 and 1975, and at that point there were at least one million children not in school. I mean, I didn’t get to go to school till the middle of the fourth grade, and then I was only in segregated classes. So education is critical for anyone in any community to be able to – it goes beyond just being learned. It’s the respect that you get in the community, or the lack of respect. If you’re not going to school, if you don’t have the education that you need to be able to get a job, then you’re continually waiting for others to have to help you. And that’s true in our country and any country. The U.S. still has a very high unemployment rate in the area of disabled people.

MS. BENTON: I see. Do you find that to be true as well, David?

MR. MORRISSEY: Yes. I want to also acknowledge what you were saying about the U.S. as an advocacy-oriented country. I am younger in my career, and so I was really inspired by Judy when I was learning about the movement and had seen what folks who had moved into the movement prior to me had accomplished, and so I wanted to acknowledge that inspiration that she and others have really pioneered in pushing things like the Americans With Disabilities Act forward onto the national dialogue.

And I think that there’s a national – or, I’m sorry – an international slogan now, “Nothing about us without us,” that is rallying the international disability community to do the same in their countries, to say to their governments and to nongovernmental development organizations as well: Bring us to the table. You’re working in education or development programs and wanting to be inclusive and accessible; bring us to the table to help you do that. This slogan, “Nothing about us without us” is one that increasingly now, our NGO colleagues are saying they’re hearing, and they’re getting that message from grassroots advocates in countries around the world. And it is changing the way business is being done.

MS. HEUMANN: I just want to say one other thing, and that is there are dramatic changes in countries going on around the world, and I think one of the most important changes is the development of organizations run by disabled people. I think --

MR. MORRISSEY: That’s happening, yeah.

MS. HEUMANN: -- that it’s – you’re seeing it in South Africa, in Uganda, in Ethiopia, and many countries in Africa. You’re seeing it in countries all over Asia. Latin America has been a leader in this regard for quite a number of years, Brazil being one of the strongest countries really leading the political movement in Costa Rica and others.

So as the voices of disabled people and parents – I think that’s another area – parents need – as they have in the United States – parents of children with disabilities need to fight for the rights of their children, because if they’re not going to fight for the rights – if my mother and father hadn’t fought for my rights, and I think the same thing is true for David because we both had our disabilities when we were younger, I never would have gone to school, I never would have gone to high school, I never would have gone to the university.

And I think the leaders all around the world with disabilities, for those of us who became disabled when we were younger, you very frequently hear people talk about their parents, not that their parents were necessarily advocates. Like, in the case of my parents, my parents were not advocates before I had polio. They were just immigrants that came to the United States and were learning about a new country. The other thing that I think is very important is disability is different in as much as people acquire their disabilities as they get older.

So in many countries like the United States, you have people as they get older who are acquiring disabilities because of age, but also when you look at the data, poverty is a very big link to disability. So there are about 650 million disabled people in the world, which we actually think is a low number, and about 80 percent of those people live in developing countries. So if they’re not getting education and they’re having difficulty getting jobs, or if they’re working and they acquire a disability and there is not the kind of support – in many cases, which is not a lot of money – but the stigma that then gets attached to the person having a disability who was a bread-earner and is no longer being allowed to participate in the economic environment, it doesn’t just have an effect on that person, but it has an effect on the entire family.

So you can see the economic drain that need not happen. I think that’s the big issue. It need not be that way, and if we can end discrimination and we can remove the barriers, we can move forward.

MR. MORRISSEY: You asked me about employment and –

MS. BENTON: Yes, yes.

MR. MORRISSEY: -- this touches exactly on that. For people with disabilities to find gainful employment that’s enriching is still a goal in this country. Twenty years after the Americans With Disabilities Act, our employment rates among people with disabilities are not where we’d like to see them yet. And so that vision for being able to support one’s family and oneself is just as alive in the disability community as in the nation at large.

MS. BENTON: The broader community.

MR. MORRISSEY: Yeah, absolutely.

MS. BENTON: Oh, I can imagine, and I also would – like you were saying, Judy, if you are poor, then the barriers are triple, quadruple, but that it’s incumbent upon societies around the world to be inclusive of the disabilities community so that we can lift everybody up.

MS. HEUMANN: Exactly.

MS. BENTON: Because if a family is burdened with having no food, no job, that impacts the community and impacts the neighborhood.


MS. BENTON: So many countries have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Why is this convention important and what impact can it have on the lives of persons with disabilities? I wanted to see, David, if you would give us our first answer on that.

MR. MORRISSEY: Sure. Well, I think we’ve touched on it a little already, that it’s really created a groundswell of enthusiasm and energy among disability rights advocates, and not only for disabled people themselves, but broader communities around them – their communities, their families see that a equitable and just society that does not marginalize people with disabilities by law, but rather is working to include them really is advancing society more broadly. And so to see support for this convention from outside the disability movement is really exciting, and so the commitment of world leaders particularly has further inspired the civil society movement around this.

And so today, I think we have – 97 countries have ratified this treaty and over 140 have signed the treaty. That is --

MS. BENTON: Amazing, isn’t it?

MR. MORRISSEY: -- huge in a very short period of time, and so I think really points to a global excitement.


MS. HEUMANN: And I think when I travel and I visit embassy offices and I – and here at the State Department also, and you sit down and you talk to people about what’s my job and what am I supposed to do and I talk about issues of inclusion, it’s very clear that there is a very strong interest in what needs to happen. But there’s also a need to really help develop the capacity. So when we look at the CRPD and we look at governments and civil society, we see this interest in what we can do next. One of the reasons why it’s so important, not just for the United States but for countries that have a history and a success in both supporting the development of civil society like in countries in Uganda, where they have a very strong disability rights movement and countries like Pakistan and Japan, and there’s great work going on in Asia that the Japanese are playing a very strong role in in helping to create something called Centers for Independent Living which really emerged from the United States –

MS. BENTON: From America. That’s right.

MS. HEUMANN: Exactly. It came from the States. This is enabling us to have a more serious discussion with governments and civil society about how to. How do you take the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has 40 some articles in it and talks about education, awareness, employment, healthcare, very specific broad statements that then have to be taken and really developed? Laws have to be developed and/or implemented. Many governments really have not effectively – not just in disability, but they haven’t done things like monitoring.

So in our country and other countries, we know that the law is going to work not just because it’s a well written document, but it means there are certain things that have to happen. Government workers have to be trained, teachers have to be trained, whatever the particular group that’s implementing it has to learn what to do. But there also has to be accountability. So the government in this case needs to really be saying, not only did we sign and ratify this convention, but we need to look at what we need to do to make this a reality. Lots of countries have laws that are great laws, and nothing happens with them.

And I think the issue that we’ve been discussing this whole hour is the role of civil society. So in our country, and – I mean, Pakistan – there’s been interesting things going on of late, many countries all over the world. As the disability community organizes, they do what other movements have done. They learn about the political process. They become more engaged in the political process. That’s another issue where it’s very important for us as the State Department and USAID to play a role, to help open doors.

When we invite disabled people to an embassy and say we want to hear from you what is going on, what are the issues, how should we be looking at it. Like, we have human rights reports that we do every year. There’s a section on disability. Since we came – this position was created and we started last June, we’ve really been working hard with the people that are doing the human rights reports. We’ve met with civil society, allow them to understand the importance, allow them to understand that all the embassies have a person on staff who wants to learn from them what human rights violations exist. We want to hear about good things too, but we all need to know what are some of the problems. It’s not just to show the problems; it’s also to give us guidance and direction, how we can possibly engage with government and civil society.

So it has to be a very robust, energetic, interactive. And I think in the states that we’ve seen for the last 40, 50 years, it’s – we’ve learned more. We’ve learned how to – in disability, one thing that’s very important and we’re seeing it happening with the Convention and other laws, previously, you had blind groups, the deaf groups, the parent groups, the polio group, and all these separate groups, and every group would go a legislator and say, I need this, I need that. And the legislator would say, well, when you can come together and tell us as a group what you need, then we’ll listen. And people are seeing that happen now.

MS. BENTON: Right, and, I mean, that’s the total strength of it.


MS. BENTON: Because the individual voices can only get you so far. It’s when you come together as a collective and then you advocate and push on a system that you begin to see the changes that can be made, and the changes benefit society.

MS. HEUMANN: Exactly.

MS. BENTON: Because if everyone is not at the table, then society suffers because the contributions of those positive voices will not be there. That’s very interesting.

MR. MORRISSEY: Sometimes we refer to – that is the cross disability movement of bringing together people across disabilities into a big tent. And the organization where I serve, the U.S. International Council on Disabilities is a cross-disability organization. Our governance and our staff are people with all sorts of backgrounds who come together to do this work. And there’s some wonderful international organizations as well, such as Disabled Peoples International, or the International Disability Alliance, that are bringing together folks again from a lot of different backgrounds and a really diverse community to advance this work globally.

MS. BENTON: That’s great.

MS. HEUMANN: And we learned about each other’s issues.


MS. HEUMANN: So you’ve got the groups (inaudible) the Federation for the Deaf, the Organization of Psychiatric Survivors. Mental health is a very big issues because particularly in countries where there’s been violence, there’s a great deal of need to help empower people who’ve experienced situations which are adverse to their ability to work effectively, to lead effective lives, and be promoters of themselves. So these self-help groups, working with people’s intellectual disabilities, it’s vibrant at this point. And it’s growing more vibrant around the world, so change is in the making.

MS. BENTON: And change, while it can be scary, is really a good thing. This has been a great conversation, and thank you so much for your comments on this very important human rights issue. Many interested viewers have submitted questions via DipNote, the State Department’s blog, and I’d like to take a moment and start asking some of those questions. But I also want to remind folks that we’re closed captioned on, so we are encouraging you to go in and tune in on that medium.

We’ve got a question from Ron in New York. He writes: Removing all obstacles for disabled peoples will enhance the life functions of all humanity. Isn’t this goal beneficial for economies, political and social systems alike?

I mean, probably a no-brainer, right?

MR. MORRISSEY: Yes. I’d like to say yes, and I’ll even reference Secretary of State Clinton yesterday tied together that advancing economies and advancing society are hand-in-hand, and those are integrally related.

MS. BENTON: And the Secretary often says human – women’s rights are human rights, disability rights are human rights. I mean, it’s the same strain.

Bob R. in Ethiopia writes: United States now has a rich experience in guaranteeing equality of access and opportunity for Americans with disabilities, thanks to the ADA and other progressive legislation. Now that an increasing number of developing countries are ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, how can the U.S. Government, the U.S. ICD and other U.S. organizations share experience and expertise to assist countries, governments, and civil society to implement the Convention?

MS. HEUMANN: So one of the things that we’re doing through the State Department and USAID is making it none both to our staffs that disability is now part of the agenda, to make sure that we are learning about what’s going on in the disability communities and also learning what governments are doing. When I’m traveling, for example, I’m meeting with governments in every country with meetings that are being set up by the embassies to basically say, if you’re interested, we’re willing to talk with you to see how we can be of assistance to help you learn about how to implement the Convention.

So for State, for example, our visitor’s program has, for many years – but the numbers are increasing – been bringing over disabled individuals and parents who are coming in visitor’s programs to learn about what we’re doing here. They’re meeting with government officials. We have some interesting projects. There’s a project that started now between the Mayor’s Office in Amman and the Mayor’s Office in Chicago, through Sister Cities.

MS. BENTON: Oh, really? The Sister Cities? Yeah.

MS. HEUMANN: Yes. When we visited – when I was in Jordan, we met with the mayor, and we were talking. He has an office on disability and their issues that they’re dealing with. And he’s friends with Mayor Daley from Chicago. And so we’ve had a videoconference between the two offices in Chicago and Amman, and there’s going to be another one and possibly a visit where they can actually come and look and meet with government officials and civil society to see how they’re making their communities accessible – so engagement, knowledge.

We did a conference in December. It’s the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, so the State Department held a meeting here. We had over 200 people who participated. We had a panel on violence against disabled girls and women, which brought together U.S. and international bodies, both civil society and entities like the World Health Organization to talk about these issues, and we had a panel on HIV/AIDS, to really, as I was saying earlier, help people understand that disabled people are not angelic; they’re not protected by God, they’re not cursed by God. They need to have the same opportunities as others. So sharing information, allowing the – our embassies to speak directly with government and civil society on a country by country basis is what – is the role that we’re seeing for the U.S. to play.

MS. BENTON: All right, good. We have another question from Nicar B. in Jamaica: A challenge that many disabled people’s organizations face, especially in Jamaica, is pushing for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But in many countries, disability often takes a backseat to bigger issues, such as national security, disaster relief, and economic recovery. Others have suggested to mainstream disability in all projects. But then how we can effectively and properly advocate for mainstreaming without the public looking at it as a burden, an additional cost or a favor for persons with disabilities?

I mean, I think that is always a particularly – in this day and age and time, the bad economy, it’s going to maybe be portrayed that way.

MR. MORRISSEY: Well, Jamaica, where Nicar is writing from, I believe was the first country to sign the treaty. And yet, the change isn’t instantaneous for a country because they joined the treaty. It then will take time. Twenty years into the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have not fully realized its vision here in the U.S. And so we have to, I think, have fortitude to continue to advocate and move our own societies forward, and that requires collaboration, it means making partnerships with other sectors in society to help raise the understanding of the win-win that comes with education for all or a more inclusive workplace, that those are benefitting broader society. And I think also, if we continue to support civil society, particularly disability civil society, to lead these efforts, we’ll be advancing the effort in a greater way.

MS. BENTON: To you.

MS. HEUMANN: I mean, I think in the disability community, we kind of joke about the economy. I mean, I’m old enough that I’ve been in strong economies, weak economies, strong economies, now we’re in a weak economy. The truth of the matter is barriers that disabled people have faced, we’ve faced in strong economies and in weak economies.

What I think is important here is, in the U.S. and other countries that have been moving forward, in fact, what we know is that the cost of, for example, making our bus system accessible, new construction – new construction, as an example, is no more than 1 percent cost. Governments don’t understand this, or I frequently think it’s – it gets back to what I said earlier. People don’t see the benefit. Why should we do this?

We never – I mean, really, in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, when the big push was going on here in the States, you had major transit authorities saying,

“We’re not keeping people off a bus.” Of course, how could I get on a bus in a wheelchair? They were saying, “Well, wouldn’t it be better to have someone pick us up at the door of our house and take us to where we need to go?” And we said, “Well, everybody would like to get picked up at their house and take them to where they want to go.” (Laughter.) If you had a choice of getting a car to come to your house or going out on a bus or a train, what are you going to take?

But what have we seen in countries around the world that have really stuck to this? You see disabled people out in the community, you see scooters and older people going around using walkers and things. In the States, we see baby carriages with parents pushing those baby carriages and using the elevators in our public transportation system.

MS. BENTON: That’s right, that’s right.

MS. HEUMANN: So I think what we need to be doing is working with people like the gentleman who just wrote from Jamaica, and allow us to help – or come onto our websites. We’ve got – if you have access to the internet, U.S. Government has great websites. You can go onto the Transportation website, Education websites, Justice Department websites, and they’ll not only give you information about our laws, but they’ll give you information about organizations that are getting funded and the work that’s being done.

So I think the first thing is we have to dispel – and I wouldn’t allow a long debate to go on with this; this is the advocacy-related issue – every building that is built that is not accessible is denying us an opportunity into that building, which is either for education or employment or the ability to spend our money. What we’re seeing in the U.S. is that businesses who might not have loved the Americans with Disabilities Act in the beginning are getting more business as a result of it. And you can see it in advertising in our country and Brazil and England and other places, where disabled people are now a part of ads – deaf people signing, blind people, people in wheelchairs, people with developmental disabilities, they’re a part of the ads. And to nowhere near the degree that we should be, but it’s happening at a more rapid rate.

So cost is really not an issue. It’s, in my view, ignorance, and we can accept a degree of it. The U.S., in my view, has a very strong responsibility to make sure that we are following our laws correctly, so that when we are building overseas, no one can turn around and say, “Why is this building not the same as you would have built it at home?” And when we’re wrong, we have to advance it.

MS. BENTON: That’s right. That’s right. But we have to lead.

MS. HEUMANN: Absolutely.

MS. BENTON: We have to lead on this. I want to get to another question, Don W. in Massachusetts. His question is: What do you see as the gaps and opportunities facing us as we take on the challenge of ensuring that children with disabilities are beneficiaries of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Part two: How can we engage and rally the multiple stakeholders across the sectors of child and youth development – social and legal protection, nutrition, health, and education for these catalytic and timely opportunities?

So I’m going to give that one to you.

MR. MORRISSEY: Sure. I believe 60 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30. So when we’re talking about addressing young people, we’re really talking about our own future. And so again, to be supporting education for all, opportunity for all, gainful employment, we’re building our shared future. I think that the efforts to combat terrorism by, again, creating opportunity for young people is helping to combat that.

I’m going to let Judy --

MS. HEUMANN: I think also, in the area of – we’re looking at youth and then we’re looking at children.

MS. BENTON: Yes, and children, two different things, right.

MS. HEUMANN: Yeah. Well, they’re on a continuum, really.


MS. HEUMANN: So it’s very important, and it’s not just a disability issue. So we know that if a child is born and is not at the appropriate weight that that child should be, that that child is at risk for all types of disabilities. So looking at programs that are being developed in developing countries, middle income countries, and First World countries, looking at ways that we can identify mothers that are at risk, children that are at risk, and trying to provide them with appropriate nutritional supports as an example.

But we also do know that some of these children have disabilities. Between the ages of zero and three, we begin to see it. They’re not beginning to crawl or walk or speech is being delayed. So ways of helping to ensure that parents can get information – so there’s anything, from the more sophisticated getting people who are appropriately trained to help out, and then there are books like from a gentleman named David Werner, where there are no doctors, real simple things that have been translated into many, many languages. And the World Health Organization has just come out with a whole set of materials on community-based rehabilitation, which is really focusing in rural areas and areas that are not developed – or developing is the more appropriate way, I think, to say it – and to give families simple tools.

The removal of stigma is important, and I think the other issue that’s very important is civil society pushing on their governments, donors like the United States and the EU and others making sure that in the work that they’re doing, they’re not stove-piping disability. They need to be looking, when they’re doing early childhood work, at what are we doing to ensure that at this age, kids that you could call at-risk, some of them will have clearly defined disabilities that will last their whole lives. But some of them, you can intervene, and so kids who might have had a more significant disability may not.

And basic healthcare; like in Brazil, I used to work at the World Bank, and there was a project that they started where they went in and made sure that all kids who needed glasses got them. Because if you think about it, a child or an adult who needs glasses who doesn’t have them has a disability. If you get those children glasses, just like here, a kid no longer – or an adult – no longer has a disability. Now some people will because their vision can’t be corrected. That’s fine. But it’s the simple sharing of information, making sure that we’re working collaboratively together, and recognizing that the benefit is these people will grow up to be contributors.

MS. BENTON: That’s right. That’s absolutely right. We’re getting close to our final out, but I did want to ask one – to get one more question in from Wushea (ph) in Illinois. Wushea writes: I would like to see more effort to address obstacles faced by disabled refugees who are resettling in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Specifically, what is currently being done to help disabled refugees and what else needs to be done?

MS. HEUMANN: I’d like to thank the questioner for asking this question.

MS. BENTON: Yeah, good question.

MS. HEUMANN: So there are a number of things. One, when a person is granted the right to enter the United States as a refugee, the entity that is working with them is supposed to be providing them with information about what is available in the U.S. as far as programs that can benefit them as a disabled person. One thing that we are going to do as a result of this question is to really go back in and find out whether those organizations have sufficient information, at what impact it is available for disabled people.

But I would like to say for people that are listening to this program now, there is something called Centers for Independent Living. There is a website, or they can go onto Google and look up Centers for Independent Living. There’s also parent organizations, parent training information centers, and then organizations that work with blind people, deaf people, people with mental health disabilities and others. If the individual or a family or a friend can help do some searching to look for these organizations, many of these groups are very strong advocacy organizations, protection and advocacies and others. They can help people look for programs that exist in the communities. But it is the entity that is sponsoring them and supporting them that may also need some additional information and training.

MS. BENTON: Good deal. I hate that this is over. This has been fascinating and such an education even for me, but this does conclude this session of Conversations With America. I’d like to thank you, Judy Heumann, and David Morrissey, for sharing your work and knowledge on the issues that we just discussed.

I’d also like to thank you all for joining us. Please note the video and transcript will be available on very shortly. Please join us Friday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern time for a conversation on internet freedom with Assistant Secretary Mike Posner. Also, look for upcoming conversations on stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan on global water issues. We hope that the series will continue to inform citizens about the Administration’s efforts to address the challenges of the 21st century. We look forward to engaging with you again very soon, and thank you so much. This was great. I appreciate it.