Addressing the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities has emerged as a significant foreign policy issue, and one that I’ve stood behind as an Olympian, a board member of the Special Olympics, and now, as a Senior Advisor for the State Department. As a former competitor, I know the difficulties that athletes with disabilities face when competing at the international level. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Google+ Hangout with four Paralympians, Emily Hoskins, Renee Tyler, Stephanie Wheeler, and Eric Hightower, who have represented the United States at various events around the world. Their experiences highlight not only the difficulties in competing, but also the obstacles people have overcome in their daily lives.
During our conversation, Emily shared with us a time when she travelled overseas, and was followed by a stranger in awe of perhaps seeing for the first time a wheelchair user navigate the streets! All countries should recognize the need to provide access, opportunity, inclusion, and full participation of people with disabilities on an equal basis with others.
Through watching the Paralympics and Special Olympics World Games, I’ve seen first-hand the power of sports to change people’s perceptions of the capacity and contributions of athletes with disabilities.
Protecting and promoting the rights of people with disabilities is a core part of America’s foreign policy. Disability inclusion promotes social stability, economic development, and democratic principles. As you view the Hangout or read through the transcript, you see that these athletes have become leaders in their fields. At the State Department, we are committed to the inclusion of disabled people in all of our exchange programs, to ensure that participants have the opportunity to learn from each other and from our experience here in the United States. State Department exchanges pair disability advocates from around the world with U.S. organizations and experts, to create lasting relationships and real solutions to improve access and inclusion of persons with disabilities.
By working together with disability advocates from every region of the world, all of us will be stronger and more knowledgeable.
About the Author: Michelle Kwan serves as a senior advisor in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.