Place des Nations, Geneva
December 3, 2015
Ambassador Harper Speaking at the Geneva Place des Nations Commemoration
Colleagues and Friends, Good afternoon.
On behalf of the United States, I am proud to participate in commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities along with such a distinguished group. A special note of appreciation and thanks to Catalina Devandas Aguilar for organizing this important celebration on behalf of all UN organizations in Geneva and civil society groups.
Thank you and the many others here for your tireless efforts to promote the rights of persons with disabilities.
It is a core objective of United States foreign policy take action to remove barriers and create a world in which disabled people enjoy dignity and full inclusion. Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it is unwise. Such discrimination hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
Today is a day for the international community to reflect on our efforts globally and locally. What are we doing to make our intentions reality. For that reason, I would like to highlight progress we have made domestically in the United States.
Twenty-five years ago, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation banning discrimination against disabled people. Since then, the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, has had a profound impact both at home and abroad.
In the United States, the ADA, has led to the inclusion of disabled people in all areas of life. Internationally, the ADA has long been regarded as the gold standard for disability rights. As a result of this legislation, we have achieved significant improvements in:
- access to public services
- education and employment
- the built environment.
For example: crosswalks with curb cuts and accessible pedestrian signals; and understanding of the abilities of people with disabilities. Such access has demonstrated with great clarity the profound and valuable contributions which people with disabilities can make to our society and the economy.
The ADA has done much to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. However, President Obama continues to push for more consistent and effective enforcement of the ADA, which can do more to prevent discrimination in employment, public services, and public accommodations. 19 percent of Americans live with disabilities.
The United States is dedicated to ensuring that people with disabilities have the same access to the American Dream as every other citizen. That they have the same opportunity to our nation, as every other citizen.
Finally, we continue to work with our partners here in Geneva, through the United Nations and other avenues, to combat discrimination of peoples with disabilities in all its forms.