Hello everyone, and welcome to the Sign@State Symposium.
I’m glad you’re with us today to celebrate the contributions of Deaf and hard of hearing employees of the State Department.
And I’m honored that you’re interested in joining our team. At State we grapple with big challenges every day, like how to resolve and prevent conflict, how to ensure everyone has access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines, how to stand with human rights defenders and journalists in the countries where they’re under attack.
For generations, Deaf and hard of hearing diplomats have helped us tackle global challenges like these.
They served domestically and abroad, in embassies and consulates around the world, and worked on every region of the globe.
They’ve negotiated treaties, worked in intelligence, strengthened our public diplomacy. They’ve also made our internal teams more effective and inclusive, from providing human resources support to communicating with more than 75,000 employees worldwide.
Everywhere they’ve worked, they’ve advanced U.S. foreign policy.
They’ve made our Department better and helped make progress toward a future that’s more stable, secure, and equitable — for Americans and people everywhere. To build that better future, this Department needs people from diverse backgrounds working in every field. That includes Deaf and hard of hearing diplomats.
America’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths. And to fully represent the United States, our teams have to be as diverse as our country, including on the front lines of diplomacy.
Time and again, we’ve seen how diversity makes our teams smarter, more innovative — and, just as important for diplomacy, better at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. Deaf and hard of hearing diplomats represent Americans of every race, religion, background — and from every part of our country. People who use American Sign Language make up an important linguistic minority that enriches our country, our government, and our Department. And our Deaf and hard of hearing colleagues bring Deaf Gain to U.S. foreign policy by sharing their unique skills, experiences, and perspectives.
Later today, you’ll meet Doug Surette. He’s a Foreign Service Information Management Specialist and an expert in cybersecurity who helps protect our posts overseas.
His career has taken him from Europe to Asia. And everywhere he’s gone, he’s made friends in the signing community. In Moldova, he helped advocate for the rights of the Deaf and hard of hearing, working with a Deaf school, engaging university students, challenging stereotypes — things he was able to do because he’s a Deaf diplomat, not in spite of it.
Our Department — and our country — are more secure because of outstanding public servants like Doug. And our foreign policy is stronger because diplomats like him build meaningful relationships and help represent America’s strength in diversity abroad. But too often, the State Department hasn’t been as inclusive as it needs to be.
We’re committed to changing that. That’s why, last year, I appointed Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley to be our first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Together, we’re working hard to make sure that the State Department is more equitable and accessible, including for deaf and hard of hearing employees. We’re providing sign language interpreters for employees and applicants alike.
When we hold workforce events, including my town halls and roundtables, we include ASL interpretation and live captioning.
We’re exploring ways to incorporate sign languages into our policies for language training and testing. And it was a Deaf employee – Angela Cannella – who worked with her colleagues to propose and create a new, dedicated Departmental working group for Deaf Inclusion. We’re also committed to bringing these values into our foreign policy and supporting Deaf, hard of hearing, and signing communities around the world. We work closely with advocates and governments to help improve accessibility abroad, from supporting efforts to create legal accessibility standards, to offering financial assistance for organizations empowering Deaf and hard of hearing communities.
Today, you’ll get a chance to learn about these topics and more, and to meet several Deaf and hard of hearing diplomats. We’ll also explain the different application processes, including new paid internships that we’re launching this fall.
And by the end, if we succeeded in our mission, you’ll see a place for yourself at the State Department. We’d be lucky to have you. And so, thank you, and I hope to welcome you to the State Department.