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Remarks by Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor on International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the U.S. Mission
November 28, 2008

Remarks by Ambassador Warren W. Tichenor
at the U.S. Mission Celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to you to the US Mission Geneva – the U.S.’s largest multilateral overseas diplomatic post. We’re glad you’re here and I’m honored to be with you.

I know that many of you have just completed your work at the 48th Session of the International Conference on Education, and so I appreciate your presence here this afternoon after what I am sure was a busy and demanding schedule. Among us today we have some of the more than 100 ministers of education who participated in this week’s conference, whose countries together represent over 90 % of the world’s children.

Your work this week, therefore, is all the more important, and I salute your efforts to improve the educational systems of your countries for the benefit of us all.

This afternoon I would like to address one community whose educational support you have discussed this week – persons with disabilities. In all countries this group represents a large minority of our fellow citizens, and in all of our countries we face a similar challenge to maximize the life experience and opportunities of this important minority. For all of us, we risk the loss of valuable human resources, talent, and productivity for our economies and societies when we sideline our fellow citizens.

Like many of your own countries, my country in its early years spent decades marginalizing some of its citizenry because of their color, or because of their gender, or because of their physical or mental disabilities. It has taken us many years to overcome the prejudices behind these policies, and while there remains work to be done, we continue to reap the benefits of a more inclusionary society – one in which the talents and productivity of all of our citizenry can contribute to the vibrancy and prosperity of our society.

In the United States, I am happy and proud to say that we have – after many decades of ignorance, misunderstanding and lack of attention – come to view disability rights as a civil right. It is true that we addressed the challenges of racial discrimination and gender discrimination in the United States first, but as our program this afternoon will discuss, we have, in the last two decades, made significant progress on the last of these challenges – that of disabilities rights.

Eighteen years ago, on July 26, 1990, in the largest signing ceremony in the history of White House, 3000 people witnessed the signing into law by President George Herbert Walker Bush of the Americans with Disabilities Act as one of the hallmark achievements of his Presidency. This landmark civil rights legislation was the culmination of the work of thousands of disabilities activists, civil rights leaders, Congressmen and Senators from both parties, representatives of the private sector, and citizens from all walks of life who supported the same goals you all have discussed and debated this week, the full and meaningful inclusion of a key segment of the general population into society.

Last year on the anniversary of the Americans and disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrated our progress towards an America where individuals with disabilities are recognized for their talents and contributions to our society. We also underscored our commitment to extend the full liberties and freedoms of our great country to all Americans.

18 years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. This legislation became one of the most successful and compassionate reforms in our Nation’s history, helping to ensure that individuals with disabilities are better able to develop meaningful skills, engage in productive work, and participate fully in the life of our Nation. President Bush 43’s Administration continue our work to build on this landmark legislation.

Since becoming law in 1990, the ADA has proven its worth in American society. More importantly, it has become a model for other countries seeking to develop a legislative structure to maximize the engagement of disabled citizens into their societies.

Our guest speaker this afternoon, Mr. Victor Pineda, is living proof of the effectiveness of the ADA in American society. If I have my facts correct, he was 12 years old when President Bush 41 signed the ADA into law, and through hard work and personal drive has taken advantage of the opportunities that law provides to become one of the most recognized young leaders of the disabilities community in the United States. Victor has served on the President’s Council for Disabilities, has worked as a consultant for the U.S. government and has testified before Congress, has advised the United Nations and other governments, and is the author of two books on disabilities. Victor has received numerous awards and fellowships for his work in promoting disability rights and integration policies, and is the founding director of the Victor Pineda Foundation, which works to support education and disabilities programs worldwide.

Thank you for coming.