Today, USAID commemorates International Day of Persons with Disabilities and joins our partners in recognizing the dignity, achievements, and essential contributions of the world’s one billion persons with disabilities. With an estimated 15 percent of the global population living with some form of disability, USAID has a particularly important role to play in empowering them to be the drivers of development and leaders in tackling the range of challenges our Agency is addressing around the world.
It has been more than three decades since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which made the United States the first country in the world to legislate comprehensive protections that banned discrimination on the basis of disability. As President Biden said earlier this year, “for our nation, the ADA is more than a law—it’s testament to our character as a people, our character as Americans. It’s a triumph of American values.” As an Agency, we have an opportunity to represent these values every day as we work to make our global development efforts more inclusive, accessible, and equitable—from our commitment at COP26 to supporting persons with disabilities in responding to climate change to our new initiative focused on engaging workers with disabilities on advancing labor rights to our recently announced partnership for providing hundreds of millions of people with assistive products like wheelchairs, prosthetic devices, or hearing aids.
Today, I am also pleased to recognize that USAID and the U.S. Department of State are hosting an event on disability-inclusive democracy as part of President Biden’s upcoming Summit for Democracy, in which governments, civil society, the private sector, and other stakeholders will commit to taking tangible steps to support the accessible and inclusive participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of political and public life as part of a “Year of Action.” This event will build on efforts the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities around the world, including the recent appointment of Sara Minkara as the U.S. Special Advisor on International Disability Rights.
None of this work would be possible without the dedication and ingenuity of our staff with disabilities and our disability champions around the world. Earlier this year, we lost a beloved colleague, Rebecca Rhodes, a longtime educator and advocate for equal access to education. Rebecca joined USAID as a Senior Education Specialist and worked to design education programming that was accessible to all learners, including those with disabilities. Among her many achievements, Rebecca contributed to disability-inclusive early-grade reading programming in Cambodia, Malawi, and Nepal; secured the removal of exclusionary language in classroom instruction; and helped launch the Global Book Alliance, which provides children with accessible books.
As we seek to make USAID an Agency for inclusive development, we should seek to uphold Rebecca’s legacy, not only by supporting efforts that benefit persons with disabilities, but also by inviting them to the table to be true partners in the design, implementation, and evaluation of our essential development programming.