The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) invites you to join in on our yearlong Access for All campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ECA is committed to including persons with disabilities as exchange program participants and to advancing the rights of people with disabilities around the world.
The ADA was signed into law July 26, 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, education, transportation, and other public and private places open to the general public. The ADA galvanized a global movement that shifted focus from viewing persons with disabilities as receivers of charity and medical treatment, towards viewing them as individuals with full rights and dignity, capable of making their own decisions.
ECA’s Access for All campaign highlights the State Department’s commitment to promoting equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and showcases the efforts of ECA alumni, throughout the world, to improve access for and inclusion of persons with disabilities.
When discussing and advocating for disability rights, it is vital to have a “person first” view, and not displace people’s identities with their disabilities. Each person with a disability is worthy of the full dignity and respect that we as Americans know we must offer all human beings. Of course, each person with a disability is an individual coming from a unique background, culture, and upbringing. In support of disability empowerment, it is important to take a holistic approach. Providing accessibility for everyone to engage, allows each individual to present themselves and their experiences. This is a cornerstone of understanding, and helps cultivate an environment where everyone feels welcome, heard, and respected.
ECA is proud of the work and efforts of its alumni who support the rights of persons with disabilities in their countries.
For example, Krishneer Sen, alumnus of the Young Pacific Leaders Program, interpreted the Fiji Prime Ministers COVID-19 message in sign language for the Deaf community to make this important information accessible for a wider audience.
Amidst this pandemic, #ExchangeAlumni work to make global health guidance accessible to all. #YoungPacificLeaders alumnus Krishneer Sen uses sign language to translate the #Fiji Prime Minister's #COVID19 messaging for the deaf community. #AccessForAll
— Marie Royce (@ECA_AS) March 30, 2020
International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Alumnus Naureel Abbas is another example of someone who is assisting others during COVID by distributing resources to people with physical disabilities (like himself) in his community in Pakistan, especially people that have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic.
Learning from his @StateIVLP on “Strengthening Country Readiness for Health-Related Emergencies”, #ExchangeAlumni Naureel Abbas supports his community by distributing food rations & other essential items to people with disabilities in #Pakistan 🇵🇰. #AccessForAll https://t.co/Td2JKNwi5J
— Exchange Programs (@ECAatState) April 2, 2020
Selected IVLP alumni are reconnecting with their U.S. counterparts in a novel way through the special Gold Stars program to discuss their work to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities. For example, Indian IVLP alumnus Arman Ali is currently on a two-week virtual exchange, collaborating online with his contacts in California and Iowa. He will discuss his experience and efforts to empower persons with disabilities in a public presentation later this month.
Disability rights is still an oft-ignored topic, which is why the Access for All campaign is dedicated to elevating the voices of persons with disabilities. We achieve this goal by highlighting individuals who are advancing the cause of disability rights and bringing awareness through sharing stories of their own challenges and triumphs.
For example, in 2015, a Ghanaian airline denied boarding to Mandela Fellow Ndifreke Andrew-Essien because of her wheelchair. She stayed in Accra and dedicated herself to changing that transportation policy. In December 2019 Ghana revised its regulations to ensure accessible airline travel for all passengers.
In 2015, Nigerian #MandelaFellow Ndifreke Andrew-Essien was denied boarding a plane in Ghana because she uses a wheelchair. She stayed in Accra to challenge transportation policy. In Dec 2019, Ghana updated regulations to ensure airline travel! #AccessForAll #ADA30 #YALI10 pic.twitter.com/JLxxdFweI7
— Exchange Programs (@ECAatState) January 26, 2020
ECA is proud of its tradition and strong record of including persons with disabilities in its exchange programs, including its flagship Fulbright Programs, FLEX and YES exchanges for foreign high school students, the Gilman International Scholarship Program for U.S. undergraduate study abroad, professional exchanges such as IVLP, as well as culture, arts, and sports diplomacy programs, and many more. Beyond that, ECA works with each individual disabled participant to accommodate their needs to ensure they have as successful and comprehensive an exchange experience as possible.
Finally, in 1995, ECA launched the National Clearinghouse and Disability Exchange (NCDE) and funds it annually through a grant to Mobility International USA. The NCDE promotes international exchange opportunities for persons with disabilities worldwide and guides exchange program practitioners in increasing the number of disabled participants in their exchange programs as well as providing support for success.
ECA continues to build bridges between the disability and international exchange communities, a key component of its long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion. The global efforts of our alumni show that while much progress has been made, the fight for accessibility continues.
For more information, you can:
- Follow the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs on Twitter at @ECAatState.
- Continue to follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #AccessforAll.
- Learn more about the National Clearinghouse and Disability Exchange (NCDE)
- Learn more about the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
About the Author: Varya Bazalev serves as an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.