December 3 is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Each year on this day the international community comes together to take stock of progress made in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities around the world and the work that remains in this effort. For the United States, the inclusion of and empowerment of people with disabilities and the imperative to oppose discrimination in all of its forms is a major pillar of our human rights work around the world.
In his 2016 International Day of Persons with Disabilities message, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Discrimination may create obstacles, but overcoming obstacles is often the truest measure of character and leadership. Any society that aspires to greatness will do all it can to harness the contributions of people with disabilities by creating a legal and physical environment where that is possible.”
As part of our foreign policy, the United States works to remove barriers and create a world in which disabled people enjoy dignity and full inclusion. One way the State Department does this is through the work of the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann, who coordinates the interagency process for the ratification of disabilities treaties, leads on disability human rights issues and conducts public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues. The Special Advisor also ensures that the United States’ foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities and the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies. As we join the world to commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we reaffirm that all disabled people deserve equal human rights, including access to education, employment, and the ability to participate fully as citizens in our respective societies. As Secretary Kerry said, “We believe in the fundamental rights and dignity of every human being. Only by living up to that principle, and by supporting the rights of disabled people, can we be true to ourselves.”