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MODERATOR:  Greetings from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub.  I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Sara Minkara, the U.S. State Department’s Special Advisor on International Disability Rights.  Special Advisor Minkara is traveling to Jakarta and Makassar from October 6th to 11th to participate in the first High-Level ASEAN Disability Dialogue.  She will provide a readout of the dialogue before taking questions.

With that, let’s get started.  Special Advisor Minkara, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.

SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Thank you, Catherine, and hello, everyone.  Hello from Makassar, Indonesia.  It’s great to be with you all here today virtually.  As Catherine mentioned, we just wrapped up the first day of the High-Level ASEAN Disability Forum.  It’s the first-ever High-Level ASEAN Disability Forum that’s hosted by Indonesia, by the Ministry of Social Affairs, and then where we also co-hosted with Indonesia the first-ever ASEAN-U.S. Dialogue on Disability.

And this forum and this dialogue really illustrates the importance of disability in our engagement with ASEAN, our 46-year relationship, partnership with ASEAN, and understanding that when we think about and talk about peace, prosperity, and security, we can’t achieve full peace, prosperity, and security without including the 17 percent of the world’s population which is persons with disabilities.  And if you think about that 17 percent, applying that to the ASEAN region, that’s over 100 million individuals in ASEAN with disabilities – 100 million, over 100 million.

And in the forum and the dialogue, we talked about how ASEAN and the U.S. and the global community were all discussing issues that are important to us, whether it’s around AI and technology and how that’s influencing health care, agriculture, economic development, education, transportation; or also we are engaging in care economy, care reform post-COVID; or climate disaster and response to climate disaster across the board; or even trade.

With all of these different issue sets, we need to make sure disability’s voices and perspectives are at the table for three layers and three reasons.

One is when we exclude persons with disabilities, that creates – that leads to us being vulnerable.  We’re not vulnerable because we’re disabled, we’re vulnerable because the system and society is not accessible.  Let’s change that.  Let’s bring disability to the table to make sure we include them and to make sure we’re not excluding them, resulting in impacting our economy and beyond.

The second layer is when we include persons with disability, it helps our GDP.  Actually, it’s estimated it helps us up to 7 percent, and also it brings the value and the contributions of persons with disability.

And then a third layer is when we make a system accessible for persons with disability, it benefits everyone.

So these are kind of the three layers we’re going to look at in inclusion of persons with disability.  It’s not just the right thing to do.  It’s not just a human rights issue – which it is a human rights issue – but it’s a value issue, it’s an economic benefit issue, it’s an issue that should matter to all of us.

Now, ASEAN has adopted the Enabling Master Plan, which is a disability strategy which the U.S. has supported.  And this master plan is cross-sectoral; this master plan goes across three pillars of ASEAN, which is political security, economics, and social-cultural.  And we are engaging with ASEAN on how – what are the gaps, what are the challenges, how can we support in their journey and the implementation of the Enabling Master Plan.

A few things that we talked about is that, one, we need to continue having difficult conversations around disability exclusion and disability rights.  The difficult conversation is that there’s still a narrative everywhere in the world that disability is still seen from a point of charity, pity, less than, burden, favor, you need to be fixed, you’re incapable, et cetera.  Until that narrative is changed and disrupted, we’ll still see gaps in the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Second is how do we create more shared responsibility so disability is not just within the Ministry of Social Affairs, but disability is across all leaders within government, all ministries – for instance, the minister of energy and climate should be thinking about disability.  How do we have more political will, more leaders take disability forward so it’s not just a social issue?  And how do we make sure there’s budget and funding behind the implementation of disability policy.

Then the third is building capacity.  There’s best, good, and promising practices of disability inclusion across the ASEAN region.  How do we share those practices?  And how do we share U.S.’s 50 years of journey and our best practices and technical expertise to the ASEAN region, whether it’s around community inclusion, whether it’s around inclusive transportation, climate resiliency, inclusive education, et cetera?

And then lastly is ASEAN has a lot to share with the world; how do we bring that forward to APEC, how do we bring that forward to the G20 and beyond?  And how do we continue this dialogue and the amplification of disability in the ASEAN context beyond this year into Laos’s presidency next year and beyond?

Ultimately, I want to end with a phrase that we say in the disability community:  Nothing without us.  Nothing without the disability community.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you so much, Special Advisor Minkara.  We will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.  Our first question was submitted in advance by Preeyapa Khunsong of Sky News, based in Bangkok, Thailand.  Preeyapa asks:  “Over the past decade, we could see that many ASEAN countries are more aware of disability rights by creating more job opportunities and providing accessible environments.  In what areas could ASEAN do more to promote disability rights and inclusivity?  What is your advice?”

Over to our speaker.

SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Thank you, Catherine.  It’s a really good question, Preeya.  And I go back to this narrative change and I go back to the question:  Who is not at the table that should be at the table?  We need – you can have all the policies, legislations, and laws in this world, but who implements the policies?  It’s the people, it’s society.  And we need to get society to come to a point where it’s demanding the inclusion of persons with disability.  We need to get society to a point where they – where society sees the value of our inclusion.

How do we change that narrative?  I think we should be engaging with sectors like the media here, and like, for instance, engaging with you all journalists; the media world have a lot to – has a lot of influence to really shape that narrative.  The entertainment industry is another industry we should be engaging.  The influencers.  The private sector.  Investment – how do we ensure that when we’re investing in a certain region, in a certain sector, that disability and accessibility is a given criteria; it’s not just an add-on but it’s a standard criteria.  So those are a few ways that we can really be disrupting the narrative.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Our next question, we have two questions that came in from Tan Hui Yee of The Straits Times, who’s based in Bangkok, Thailand.  Hui Yee asks:  “In terms of rights for people with disabilities, are there some parts of Southeast Asia which you think are doing better than others?  How so?  And how can the United States help make Southeast Asia more inclusive for people with disabilities?”

Over to our speaker.

SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Awesome.  Two really good questions.  The first one, I would say every single country is on a journey, and it’s not linear.  And in my trips and my visits to different countries in the ASEAN region, I have seen amazing different practices – from Malaysia with the Maybank Foundation and their program training persons with disability to be entrepreneurs, to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I met an organization that was training persons with disabilities to be farmers and using AI and technology.  I’ve seen a lot of different great practices.

So it’s a journey and I think what would be – what’s really important for every single country is to really understand it’s not a switch of a button.  It’s adaptive work.  It’s engaging all stakeholders within society, engaging with all the different perspectives, moving towards a value-based perspective and continuing to build on the capacity and building more capacity and more shared responsibility.

Now, connecting that to the second question, the way the U.S. can continue supporting is through providing technical expertise through our own experience, our 50-year journey experience.  Whether that’s through HHS, which is the Health and Human Services agency, through the ACL bureau helping the institutionalization of persons with disabilities and moving toward community independent living, or our Office of Disability Employment Program in the Department of Labor and with regards to inclusive employment, or FEMA that can help with inclusive disaster response.  All of these different agencies and technical expertise we can share to help build out capacity as countries are implementing their disability policies.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Our next question comes from Chayanit Itthipongmaetee from AFP, based in Bangkok, Thailand, who asks:  “In Thailand, the Buddhist concept of karma is deeply ingrained, leading some to believe that individuals with disabilities are experiencing the consequences of past actions.  How do you think this belief system influences societal perceptions and treatment of people living with disabilities?  Additionally, what steps can we take to foster a more inclusive society and change these perceptions?”

Over to our —

SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Good question.  Really good question.  Actually, yesterday in Makassar, we had in the morning an interfaith dialogue with faith leaders from the Buddhist community, the Christian community, and the Muslim community.  And it was – this is a community – these communities are communities that we tend to engage in any country that we visit, whether it was Nigeria with faith-based leaders, or Egypt, or here in Makassar.  And ultimately, it’s because faith-based communities is where a lot of people find refuge, find connection, find a community.

And it’s important that for spiritual leaders and leaders in the faith-based community to understand that it’s so important how we bring forward our teaching and how do we make sure our narrative is inclusive.  And actually, the individual from the Buddhist community was talking about that there needs to be kind of a way for us to be more inclusive across these different spaces.  So really good question, and I think it goes back to narrative change.

So ultimately, the concept is how do we create these communities inclusive.  It’s not physical.  It’s the teaching; it’s the communication; it’s the technological accessibility that we use; it’s where families can feel like they can come with their kids to the spaces to find spiritual connection – all of these different things.  And then how do these faith-based communities actually become partners and allies to other issue sets, like inclusive education in schools and beyond.

MODERATOR:  Wonderful.  Next we have a question from Nhu Nguyen of OEC, based in Da Nang, Vietnam, who asks:  “Your personal success and contribution to the Empowerment Through Integration organization’s mission of promoting equality for people with visible disabilities greatly inspired me.  Could you kindly share your vision and future action plans for supporting the underserved community of visible people in the upcoming era of AI technology, as the special advisor on international disability rights?”


SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Really good question.  And my – the world of Empowerment Through Integration and my nonprofit, that was before my time in government, and we focused a lot on the inclusion of persons with disabilities and youth with disabilities in a very holistic way, whether it’s with the youth – youth women without disabilities or family members, the educators, et cetera.

Now, when it comes to the question of AI, and in my role as special advisor, actually a couple weeks ago I was in Thessaloniki, Greece, where I spoke at an AI forum.  And ultimately the AI conversations are on ethics and leadership.  A lot of times, disability and accessibility is not even at the table.  And during that forum they even acknowledged that.  Which is really harmful, because number one, when we exclude disability and accessibility from AI, in the development and the design and implementation of AI, this further marginalizes us.  This further puts us aside.  This hurts us.  Because AI is now influencing how we access health care, transportation, agriculture, all these different – and education, all these different things.  So when AI is not inclusive and accessible, that’s going to further marginalize us.  And then when it’s – when we’re further marginalized, it’s going to further hurt the economy.

On the other hand, when we bring the disability perspective and voices to the AI conversations, we’re able to bring more ways of navigating the AI world, which will benefit everyone.  And I’ll give you guys a specific example.

Jennifer Lay-Flurrie, the chief accessibility officer for Microsoft, mentioned that during COVID, when we all went virtual, and we all started using these different tools – whether it’s Teams, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom, et cetera – her – Microsoft employees all went – they started using Microsoft Teams.  Now, she had a deaf employee, and it was not accessible.  So what he did is he designed the captioning feature for Teams, automatic captioning feature for Teams.  And who uses that now?  Everyone.  That captioning helps everyone.

So again, when we people with disabilities innovate in AI, this will help everyone.  So this is a topic that we want to continue building on and engaging on, and I encourage all of you here, journalists, to really take that forward and talk about AI accessibility and disability.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, Special Advisor Minkara.  Now I was wondering if maybe as we go into your closing remarks, if you’d be willing to maybe incorporate a little bit about what you are going to take back to the United States from your experience in Indonesia and working with ASEAN.  I’m sure everyone would really like to hear it.  And anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up.

SPECIAL ADVISOR MINKARA:  Really good question.  So taking – these past couple of days and tomorrow as well – I mean, these past days have been amazing.  And today we really saw the commitment of Indonesia with their presidency of ASEAN in hosting this forum and the dialogue, and also hearing the interventions from all the different ASEAN member states on their commitment towards disability and on their commitment towards the Enabling Master Plan, and hearing the different amazing best practices that they’re sharing so we can all learn from each other.

And our goal after this week is to really – how do we continue disability be further mainstreamed in the societies across ASEAN, how can disability be further mainstreamed in the ASEAN mechanism, how can Laos with their chairmanship next year with ASEAN be able to take this work forward, and how can we take ASEAN’s leadership forward in the APEC and G20 conversations as well.

MODERATOR:  Well, thank you so much for that, Special Advisor Minkara.  And thank you to all who joined us, who submitted questions.  And of course, very big thanks to the special advisor for joining us today on a very busy and action-packed trip.

We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it is available.  And we’d also love to hear your feedback.  You can contact us at any time at  Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.

U.S. Department of State

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