International Day of Persons With Disabilities 2014
Secretary of State
In too many countries, what we take for granted here in the United States has never been granted at all.
Just a couple years ago, I met Dan Berschinski, a retired U.S. Army captain, Afghanistan War veteran, and double amputee. Dan shared that when he travels overseas, he has to worry about questions most of us never think to ask: Will my wheelchair fit through the hotel doorway? Will the bathrooms be accessible? Will the buildings have ramps?
In too many countries, what we did here at home through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – whose 25th anniversary we celebrate next year – still hasn’t been remotely realized. We need to change that – and we can. But it requires American leadership at home to make that difference in the world.
It wasn’t easy to get where we are today in the United States. I remember the early days of the fight to make our country more accessible, whether it was in Massachusetts where it took great effort to help open the path for the Wheelchair Division of the Boston Marathon, or nationally to open up Little League opportunities for kids with disabilities. I will never forget the impact it had when President Bush signed the ADA into law.
That historic, bipartisan legislation has played a huge role in making our country more accessible. It raised the expectations of people with disabilities about what they can hope to achieve at work and in life. It inspired the world to view disability issues through the lens of equality and opportunity. And thanks to the ADA and other laws, nearly one in five Americans are now protected from disability-based discrimination.
Having traveled to a great number of countries as Secretary of State, I’ve seen firsthand that disability rights are not abstract concepts. They are about things you can see and touch that make a difference. They are about sidewalks with curb cuts; public buildings with accessible bathrooms; restaurants, stores, hotels, and universities with ramps and elevator access; buses with lifts; and train platforms with tactile strips.
The way we treat people of all backgrounds demonstrates our values and defines who we are. That’s our greatest export, and on this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we renew our determination to make sure that we leave no one behind -- anywhere.