May 23, 2014
Secretary of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400
Dear Secretary Hagel:
As the United States considers humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine during this vital time of need, the National Council on Disability (NCD) respectfully requests that such aid take into account the urgent needs of children with disabilities in institutions. At least 85,000 children, many of whom are children with disabilities, are segregated from society in Ukraine’s orphanages and disability institutions. This represents a serious human rights concern on a large scale deserving of U.S. attention.
We recognize that U.S. assistance to Ukraine, during a time of crisis, must address the country’s most immediate needs. In times of political turmoil, please be aware that people with disabilities are especially at-risk. Without taking the concerns of people with disabilities into account, there is a risk that well-meaning assistance can inadvertently perpetuate segregation.
NCD’s 2013 report Toward the Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities: Examining the Accessibility of Overseas Facilities and Programs Funded by the United States documented that Department of Defense (DoD) funds have been used in other post-conflict countries to build, rebuild, or renovate segregated orphanages and other institutions for persons with disabilities. A 2013 report by Disability Rights International (DRI), Left Behind: The Exclusion of Children and Adults with Disabilities from Reform and Rights Protection in the Republic of Georgia found that the DoD financed the construction of two new long-term segregated institutions for persons with disabilities at a time when the Georgian government had committed to transitioning from institutional to community-based care. NCD urges the DoD to take a more inclusive approach in the future – and avoid rebuilding segregated facilities which prevent persons with disabilities from participating fully in community life.
The United States has a long history and commitment to community integration of persons with disabilities as a matter of policy and civil rights law. As noted in NCD’s 2012 report Deinstitutionalization: Unfinished Business, United States law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), mandate that community living should be the rule, rather than the exception. NCD recommends that in implementing any new programs that affect persons with disabilities in Ukraine, the DoD incorporate disability rights principles about full inclusion in society that are fundamental to U.S. law and practice.
We urge that DoD adopt a policy to ensure that humanitarian assistance programs do not discriminate against people with disabilities – and that funds not be used to perpetuate segregation by supporting or rebuilding orphanages or other institutions for people with disabilities. NCD’s 2013 report Toward the Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities:Examining the Accessibility of Overseas Facilities and Programs Funded by the United States recommended that the DoD should “adopt a specific policy that recognizes the need to end institutional bias and related forms of isolation and exclusion and create meaningful and affordable opportunities to receive community-based long-term services.”NCD reiterates the need for such a policy—and urges the DoD to ensure that assistance in Ukraine is reflective of the values of disability inclusion, equality and accessibility that we are proud of at home.
NCD’s 2012 Deinstitutionalization Toolkit provides information, strategies, state data, and case studies that can facilitate closure and build community capacity to serve more people in the community. Additionally, DRI has international best practices for bringing an end to the segregation of children with disabilities. We hope these suggestions are useful to you in planning DoD’s assistance to Ukraine and around the world.
 National Council on Disability, Toward the Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities: Examining the Accessibility of Overseas Facilities and Programs Funded by the United States, 139-143 (2013)/publications/2013/032013/.
 Disability Rights International, Left Behind: The Exclusion of Children and Adults with Disabilities from Reform and Rights Protection in the Republic of Georgia, 15-18 (2013) http://www.disabilityrightsintl.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Left-Behind-final-report.pdf.
 National Council on Disability, Deinstitutionalization: Unfinished Business (Companion Paper to Policy Toolkit), 15-16(October 23, 2012) /publications/2012/Sept192012/.
 National Council on Disability, Deinstitutionalization Toolkit (2012) /publications/2012/DIToolkit/.
 Eric Rosenthal and Eric Mathews, Disability Rights International to U.S. and other donors to Ukraine, memorandum, “Urgent need to address humanitarian concerns of 85,000 children in Ukraine’s institutions,” April 8, 2014 http://www.disabilityrightsintl.org/?p=2075.