December 3: International Day of Persons with Disabilities Observed by the National Council on Disability, an Independent Federal Agency

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Washington, DC - The National Council on Disability supports the 2014 United Nations (UN) International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on December 3. According to the UN, the official theme of this year's commemoration is “Sustainable Development: The Promise of Technology.”

In 2011, NCD published "The Power of Digital Inclusion: Technology's Impact on Employment and Opportunities for People with Disabilities.” Much of what we detailed then is, arguably, even more true now – if people are provided access and the opportunity, technology can enhance and improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities at home, at work and recreationally.  Just as the Industrial Revolution ushered in new standards for access to goods and services, modern technology is built in to almost every facet of daily living. Access to and use of communications technologies have dramatically increased connectivity between people and their access to information raising living standards even further.

Sadly, not all people benefit from the advances of technology and the higher standards of living that technology can bring. This is mainly because not all people have access to new technologies and not all people can afford them.  Add in the incidence of poverty, lack of educational and/or employment opportunities and the gap is considerably wider for many persons with disabilities than for their non-disabled peers.

In addition to supporting the advances in access and opportunity for people with disabilities that technology can enhance, NCD would also like to take this opportunity to restate our support for ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty that was inspired by our own Americans with Disabilities Act, in recognition of the need for strengthening the rights of people with disabilities around the world.

The United Nations adopted the CRPD in 2006 and it was signed by more countries on its opening day than any other treaty in the history of the UN. Today, 151 out of 192 countries have ratified it, but while the United States signed what is commonly called the Disability Treaty in 2009, the U.S. Senate has not yet ratified it.  This is somewhat shocking because support for the ratification of CRPD bridges both party affiliations and the political spectrum, including more than 500 disability organizations, 26 leading faith organizations, 22 veteran’s service organizations and key leaders from the business community including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Business Leadership Network and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI).

Without laws like the ADA abroad, millions of children and adults are housed in institutions without enrichment of a family life, community resources or access to the most basic civil rights like a birth certificate or even a name. Until the United States ratifies the CRPD, our nation will remain little more than a bystander on these critical matters. Ratification of the CRPD brings us one step closer to the world as we know it can be – making sure that people with disabilities and people without disabilities are treated equally.

With this in mind, and in recognition of the 22nd observance of the annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities, NCD reaffirms our support for CRPD and reiterates the following recommendations from our own 2013 report, “Toward the Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities: Examining the Accessibility of Overseas Facilities and Programs Funded by the United States”:

  • Apply Federal Disability Standards to Overseas Programs and Employment.Congress should instruct USAID, DOS, DOD, and other U.S. Government agencies operating overseas that Sections 501, 503, and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 apply to overseas programs and employment opportunities operated by the U.S. Government. This will ensure that Americans with disabilities working for the U.S. Government are afforded the same protections abroad as U.S. residents. It will also foster disability inclusion in overseas development programs funded by the United States.
  • Limit Accessibility Waivers and Exceptions in Infrastructure to Avoid Costly Redevelopment Costs. NCD recommends that DOD limit the number of waivers and exceptions permitted under its newly adopted ABA Accessibility Standards for DOD Facilities. Waivers and exceptions have been used throughout the world to build inaccessible infrastructure that later must be retrofitted to provide accessibility at a very high cost to American taxpayers. DOD should closely review waivers and exceptions prior to authorizing them to ensure they are used only in narrowly defined circumstances and only where necessary.
  • Provide Clear Accessibility Guidelines for New Infrastructure in Developing Countries. NCD recommends that DOD provide clear guidance to contractors on the application of the ABA Accessibility Standards in developing countries. At present, the standards state they apply “worldwide,” but there is a gap in the standards that allows for contractors to apply for waivers or argue for an exception in developing countries. These standards must clearly indicate that DOD infrastructure projects in developing countries are subject to the same provisions as other DOD infrastructure projects.

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience. An estimated 57.8 million Americans have disabilities; including nearly 40 percent of Americans over the age of 65 – about 16 million people – and roughly 5.5 million disabled American veterans. Around the world, there are approximately 1 billion people with disabilities, with 80% living in developing countries,” said Jeff Rosen, NCD chair. “As technology increases engagement among the global community of 1 billion individuals with disabilities, NCD marks this occasion by shining a spotlight on the worldwide community of persons with disabilities who deserve, but far too often still lack, equal access to quality education and work opportunities, to the children with disabilities languishing in orphanages, and to our own disabled veterans who are routinely denied the same kinds of access laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act affords them here at home.”

About the International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Since 1992, the United Nations has sponsored the International Day of Disabled Persons to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. The event also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.

About the National Council on Disability (NCD): First established as a small advisory Council within the Department of Education in 1978, NCD became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the ADA in 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting policy solutions, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices.