About the Author: Judith Heumann serves as the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights.
Twenty years ago today, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation unequivocally banning discrimination against disabled people. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was remarkable not only because of its groundbreaking provisions, but because it was developed with the extensive participation of disability organizations, bipartisan champions from the House and Senate, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the business community, and widespread support from civil society. This was the first occasion that cross-disability organizations had worked collaboratively to advance a common cause. Since that time, the ADA has had a profound impact both at home and abroad. Here in the United States, the ADA, in tandem with other disability legislation, has been used to ensure the inclusion of disabled people in all areas of life.
Abroad, the success of the ADA has encouraged many other nations to adopt their own domestic non-discrimination legislation, moving away from more traditional charity or welfare approaches to disability, and empowering disabled people to claim their rightful place in society. Internationally, the ADA has been cited as one of the inspirations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) -- the first new human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century. In keeping with the drafting of the ADA, the CRPD was the first human rights treaty to be negotiated with the extensive involvement of civil society stakeholders, with disabled people's organizations from across the globe rallying behind the cry of "Nothing About Us Without Us."
At the State Department, we are drawing upon the vision and principles of the ADA and CRPD, which the United States signed on July 30, 2009, in our work to enhance the full inclusion and enjoyment of rights by disabled people worldwide. The State Department is seen as a leader on many issues, and it is our goal to ensure that the Department is also a leader on inclusion of people with disabilities. As the new Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, I will be working with colleagues across the Department to ensure that disability issues are incorporated into our policies and practices, and that outreach to, and involvement of, disabled people themselves and their families is the natural starting point in our deliberative processes. We have a strong commitment to diversity within the Department, and disability must be an integral element in this commitment. I hope you will join us in these efforts, and in celebrating this historic legislation that paved the way for the progress of the last twenty years, and -- with your help -- for the decades to come.