Demonstrating Our Commitment to ‘Access for All’

Posted by Evan Ryan
July 26, 2015
Young Women on an Exchange Program Participate in Wheelchair Basketball

At the State Department, we are excited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and continue to promote, sponsor, and endorse opportunities for people with disabilities. The benefits of people-to-people exchanges should be available to everyone, and we will continue our commitment to lead by example as we demonstrate fairness, equity, and inclusion in our programs.

Twenty-five years ago today, the United States passed historic national civil rights legislation, guaranteeing that U.S. citizens with disabilities would have equal employment opportunity and accessibility to buildings and transportation.  Yet long before the ADA, State Department exchange programs were making a difference in the lives of people around the world. In our new video, we share the history of disability programs, looking back to the days when Senator Fulbright stood up for the rights of exchange participants with disabilities.

In 1995, ECA launched the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE) through a grant to Mobility International USA to increase the participation of people with disabilities in international exchange programs. The Clearinghouse is a key element in our efforts to build bridges of understanding and cooperation between Americans and the people of other countries regarding international exchange and disability.

One of the remarkable stories that the Clearinghouse helped to promote is that of Azat Toroev, a Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) participant with a physical disability, whose U.S. experience allowed him to pursue his interest in film, volunteering, and journalism. Seeing how the rights of the disabled are protected in the United States inspired him to battle injustice around the world through the implementation of international law. Upon his return to Kyrgyzstan, Azat immediately started organizing activities for young people in his community and sharing with them the knowledge and skills that he had gained in America. He also created a social club for children with Down’s syndrome in Kyrgyzstan.

A participant on an exchange program for Mongolian parliament members and NGO representatives holds WMATA's accessibility documents, during a visit to Washington, D.C., February 27, 2015. [State Department photo]

This year alone, we will host dozens of disability rights focused programs and events, including hosting a Fulbright Seminar on U.S. Disability Rights; sending Sports Envoys with disabilities to Brazil, Romania, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Russia, and Egypt; and conducting two IVLP programs in July specifically focused on disability issues in the United States and how the ADA has given accessibility to countless people. We are promoting how exchange participants advance the rights of those with disabilities -- advocates like Erin Moriarty Harrelson, a deaf woman who studied Cambodia’s deaf community.

Every day, the State Department demonstrates its commitment to “access for all” and to advancing disability rights in the United States and abroad. As Secretary Kerry said in his recent op-ed, “As an international community, we must do everything in our power to pursue the policies of inclusivity so that we leave no one behind -- anywhere.”

About the Author: Evan Ryan serve as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

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