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Legislation Establishes an Office of International Disability Rights Within U.S. State Department

Washington, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the Office of International Disability Rights Act, which would establish an Office of International Disability Rights within the U.S. Department of State, headed by an Ambassador-at-Large for Disability Rights, to ensure the United States is focused on advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities around the world. While the State Department has previously had Special Advisors on International Disability Rights, the position has not been consistently filled, and resources for programming on disability rights and inclusion have been scant. This legislation would aim to rectify that issue by requiring the State Department and other agencies that provide foreign assistance to integrate disability inclusion and policies into their programming. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Dina Titus (D-NV-1) and Don Young (R-AK).

“All too often, people with disabilities are excluded from the labor market, political participation and meaningful involvement in public life. And, during this global pandemic, people with disabilities have been victims of the crisis in much greater numbers than the rest of the public. As a global leader in disability rights, the United States has a responsibility to promote the rights of people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey. “This legislation would put policies in place to ensure that all foreign service agencies are responsive to the needs of people with disabilities and establish a much-needed permanent office to serve the international disability community.”

“US leadership in protecting the rights of people with disabilities around the world is now more important than ever. People with disabilities are uniquely at-risk during this global pandemic and in its aftermath — facing economic marginalization, denial of access to medical care and services, and placement in nursing homes and other institutions. The US disability rights community has much to offer in meeting those challenges,” said Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director of Disability Rights International.

"The State Department deserves to have a permanent, senior-level official devoted to meeting the needs of and advocating on behalf of people with disabilities worldwide, who compose more than one in every eight people on earth. When enacted, this bill will empower a commitment by our government to support the rights and incorporate the needs of the international disability community in our foreign policy. It would help bring the commitment the United States makes every day through the Americans with Disabilities Act alive across the globe," said Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion.

"Focusing on and giving emphasis to how the pandemic is affecting people with disabilities around the globe will be more likely if this legislation receives strong bipartisan support quickly,” said U.S. International Council on Disabilities President Dr. Patricia Morrissey. “It will give energy and catalytic leverage to our embassies to facilitate proactive, responsive efforts to include people with disabilities and their need in all recovery effort decision making.”

“Today, we are one step closer to advocating more effectively alongside the one billion persons with disabilities worldwide who seek to fully exercise their rights," said International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) President and CEO Anthony N. Banbury. “IFES believes the promise of democracy can only be fulfilled when all citizens can equally participate. IFES thanks Senator Casey and co-sponsors Senators Durbin, Duckworth and Coons for their leadership on disability rights and democracy."

The Office of International Disability Rights Act would also improve hiring, recruitment and overseas assignments for individuals with disabilities within the State Department. It would require U.S. embassies and consulates abroad to ensure accessibility and compliance with the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1973, as required by law. This legislation also would require all civil and foreign service personnel to undergo disability inclusion training, including requiring incoming Foreign Service Officers to learn to spot risks and vulnerabilities of individuals with disabilities in specific country contexts.

The Office of International Disability Rights Act has been endorsed by Disability Rights International, Humanity & Inclusion, the United States International Council on Disabilities and the International Foundation for Electoral systems.

Read the bill summary here.