ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks so much. And let me join others in thanking the Government of Norway, the Government of Ghana, and the International Disability Alliance for their leadership in convening this critically important Summit. It’s been a pleasure to listen to the other speakers and an inspiration.
During my time at the White House, I had the honor of advocating for the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2012, I worked closely with the late former Senator Bob Dole, disability champions from all over the United States, veterans groups, and others.
But despite our best efforts, U.S. ratification of the CRPD remains frustratingly elusive, nearly 13 years after President Obama signed the Convention. And I’m sad to say as well that, during the inaugural Global Disability Summit in 2018, the U.S. Government brought zero commitments to the table. But these facts alone offer only a partial picture.
The U.S. Government has in fact been a leader in taking action on disability rights for decades, working with partners to accomplish some foundational work. We’ve increased access to wheelchairs, hearing aids, and other assistive technologies in communities around the world. We’ve made education more accessible for children through braille books and TV programs with sign language. And we’ve developed information-sharing tools and advocacy resources with persons with disabilities seeking policy change on disability rights.
But in light of today’s unprecedented challenges, we know that we can and must do even better. As President Biden stated during last year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities: “As we continue to build back better and address the challenges of the 21st century, we will ensure that we deal everybody in and bring everyone along.” So today, the United States is not just bringing a commitment; we’re bringing 23.
Our 23 commitments—16 from USAID and seven from the State Department— will expand the reach of our development efforts and demonstrate that we’re serious about making global development accessible to all.
I won’t go through all of them here, but to highlight just a few: We’re committing $25 million over the next five years to the Global Partnership for Assistive Technology, or ATScale, and we hope others join us in supporting that effort, which makes such a tangible, concrete difference in people’s lives every day.
We’re committing to disability inclusion as a requirement in all of our humanitarian assistance, partnering with organizations of persons with disabilities who already have the expertise and relationships to make our aid more accessible.
And we’ll address the crucial role that persons with disabilities play in civic life. For far too long, activists with disabilities, especially women with disabilities, have been overlooked as change agents worth supporting. So we’ll expand partnerships with organizations led by persons with disabilities and empower underrepresented activists with the knowledge and connections needed to push for policy change at the ballot box and beyond.
And, although this isn’t a Summit commitment per se, we are currently updating USAID’s policy to reflect the CRPD’s principles. Though our current political gridlock may be preventing the ratification of the CRPD—and just about every human rights treaty—we can still embrace its principles in USAID’s work. Principles that support securing the right to vote, expanding social protection programs, and providing a quality education to children with disabilities.
That last point is especially meaningful. One of USAID’s strongest disability rights advocates was a woman named Rebecca Rhodes, who sadly passed away last year. Rebecca was a champion of distance learning through mediums like radio shows, television programs, and digital storybooks, long seen only as a means to reach a minority of children unable to enter classrooms due to conflict, gender discrimination, and disability.
But when the pandemic shut down schools for hundreds of millions of children worldwide, it became immediately clear just how universal and necessary her work actually was. Drawing from her experience with local education leaders across four continents, she created a distance learning toolkit that will help students continue their studies long after this pandemic is behind us.
Why do I raise this here and now? Because Rebecca’s efforts show us that when we approach our development goals with inclusion in mind, we often create solutions that can serve communities far beyond the ones we originally intended to reach. As we cherish Rebecca’s legacy, we resolve too that when we commit to changing systems so that they help realize the full potential of persons with disabilities, we improve the safety, prosperity, and freedom of all people.
Thank you so much.