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Judy Heumann, Special Advisor on International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State

Judy Heumann spoke of her role as the Special Advisor on International Judy Heumann
Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, a new position created by the President in 2009, when he signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (“UNCRPD”, at http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=150 ). She stated that “the UNCRPD is a very important treaty that has now been ratified by more than 93 countries around the world and signed by 146 countries,” and that “the U.S. is a signatory to this Convention.” She stated that her purpose at the State Department “is to drive home the message that disabled people’s issues need to be part of every aspect of the agency’s work, such as within the international development area.” She mentioned three areas, such as in the U.S. AID program which has a policy on disability, and “to elevate the inclusion of disability into Foreign Service agenda.” Also, part of her job is to work on the ratification package for the UNCRPD, which is the next procedural step after signature. This involves the agencies across the federal government comparing U.S. law to what’s in the UNCRPD. This will result in a major review document or “package” that will then be widely circulated to various entities and then back to the White House for further action.

Advisor Heumann noted that the UNCRPD is very important as it raises up the U.S. community at the international level. While the ADA is seen by many around the world and copied by other countries, many of whom have adopted similar types of legislation, the UNCRPD can facilitate more meaningful adoption of the issues of people with disabilities in many countries. She said she was just back from a trip to Tunisia, Jordan, Algeria and Qatar where she had met with officials there to work collaboratively on UNCRPD topics. She said that the U.S. signing and ratification of the Convention had raised the topic of the education of children with disabilities to a higher level for such countries.

She noted that many if not most children with disabilities in developing countries are not attending school, or where attending, are in substandard or separate schools. Heumann also noted the importance of employment of people with disabilities as a critical issue raised by the UNCRPD and how discussions focus often on how to keep or return adults who become disabled in jobs. She also mentioned the connection between education and moving young people with disabilities into employment.

Heuman mentioned a December 3 conference being held at the State Department, “Keeping the Promise—Making Disability Rights Real,” on the anniversary of the International Day of Disability, which was started in 1991. The conference focuses on three issues with panels looking at the UNCRPD, at Violence against Disabled Girls and Women, and HIV-AIDS and disability. Heumann noted that “even though in the U.S. we have great laws, we are still working on implementation.” She stated, for instance, that “there is no meaningful discussion about problems of sexual abuse of people with disabilities [in the U.S.].”

Heumann also talked about the President’s commitment to bring more people with disabilities into the workforce, noting that the State department has a prominent program bringing interns into the organization, all year round, and that the agency is recruiting and hiring more people with disabilities. See State department website athttp://careers.state.gov/students/programs.html

The Teleconference Question and Answer period covered topics such as state independent living center advocacy, availability of attendants at gasoline pumps for drivers with disabilities, housing vouchers and further discussion on the UNCRPD.

AAPD encourages disability advocates to sign up for the notifications of these monthly phone calls as a way to know better who the federal appointees are, their roles and what their agencies do. It’s also a way to directly ask questions and see what is the federal government focus. To sign up, send email tosfeuerstein@who.eop.gov and in the email provide your name, the name of your organization, your title, your email address and phone number and then you will be added to distribution list.

Story by Jenifer Simpson, Senior Director of Government Affairs, AAPD.