This Wednesday, July 26, we celebrate the progress the United States has made to ensure the rights of people with disabilities; it is the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This anniversary also serves as a reminder that there is still much work to do to make our global society truly inclusive.
The ADA was passed in 1990 after years of grassroots organizing. The movement for disability rights began to flourish in the early 1970s, using tactics similar to those used in the civil rights movement a decade earlier. In 1977, a group of disability rights activists shut down a federal building in San Francisco, demanding implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
That persistence and activism paved the way for passage of the ADA. The ADA is a groundbreaking human rights law with five titles, delineating what accessibility and non-discrimination means in employment, state and local governments including public transportation, and telecommunications.
Last week, Ann Cody, Senior Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, conducted a webinar with citizens of Botswana who are disability rights advocates. One participant was Moffat Louis, a Mandela Washington Fellow, who spearheaded a project in partnership with several disability organizations, including the South East Sports Association for the Disabled. He aims to build the first accessible sports and recreational park in Botswana. Cody discussed the history of the ADA with participants of the webinar, hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Gaborone, Botswana, and explained how this piece of legislation has transformed public spaces and attitudes in the United States.
The Batswana were excited to discuss advocacy techniques and learn about resources and best practices in accessible parks and recreation. Cody noted that access to “recreation is important to the health and wellbeing of people with disabilities” but sport also serves to “bring visibility to the lives of people with disabilities.” She shared personal examples of discrimination she faced as an athlete to demonstrate how to address negative attitudinal barriers at the root of discrimination.
In addition to building an accessible park, these disability rights advocates are campaigning for legislation that is analogous to the ADA. Cody emphasized that any legislation must include funding for awareness, monitoring, and enforcement components if it is to be effective. Notably, Botswana is not yet a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) that was adopted in 2006.
The Batswana advocates hope to use this accessible park as a model for what fully inclusive spaces look like. Through the park’s construction and their lobbying efforts, they aim to inspire the government to construct more accessible public spaces. Cody recommended that they develop allies and champions in Parliament, leaders who will introduce disability rights legislation and policies into the mainstream political discussion.
To conclude the discussion, Cody and Louis discussed potential resources for affordable sport wheelchairs to make basketball wheelchairs more affordable and to increase opportunities for people with disabilities in Botswana. Participants in the webinar plan to work with the U.S. Embassy and the International Disability Rights team in DRL to further their advocacy efforts to secure legislation that would revolutionize public infrastructure, helping everyone – those with and without disabilities.
The State Department’s International Disability Rights team leads the Department’s efforts to make disability rights an integral – and integrated – part of U.S. foreign policy and foreign assistance.
About the Author: Allison Tucker, a student at Carleton College, serves as an intern at the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
Editor's Note: This blog is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.
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