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A Message From USICD President Dr. Patricia Morrissey

USICD President Dr. Patricia Morrissey

USICD President Patricia Morrissey, Ph.D

This is an exciting time for the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD). Our new group of interns has arrived and will begin working at their placements right after orientation. They are being mentored by Andrea Shettle, our director for the internship program. Details about them and where they will be working can be found elsewhere on our website.

USICD developed its policy priorities for 2015. Here they are:

In this year recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the membership of USICD wishes to remember the positive global influence that United States disability law, disabled people’s empowerment has had, including the empowerment, of people with disabilities and the ADA in particular have had.  USICD asserts that American disability rights principles should apply to our nation’s foreign assistance as a matter of enforceable law, policy and practice, ensuring that all foreign assistance and international development efforts funded by the American people are inclusive of people with disabilities. 

USICD calls on Congress to work with us in a bipartisan manner toward ensuring that:


1.      All foreign operations and initiatives utilizing United States Government funding (including through grants, contracts, cooperative agreements, and other arrangements) be accessible to and inclusive of people with disabilities;
2.      No United States Government funds be spent overseas to pay for institutions that segregate people with disabilities from society;
3.      All U.S. Government departments with overseas programs, including the U.S. Department of Defense, adhere to the standards of accessibility found in the ADA and adopt broad disability inclusion policies, specifically for both U.S. citizens and those citizens of host countries being served by U.S. government agencies and officials;
4.      United States Government funding be made available for U.S. disability experts to work with counterparts abroad to share American values of equality, accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities;
5.      Permanent disability rights and inclusion leadership roles are established within the U.S. Department of State, USAID, and other departments and agencies with significant international portfolios;
6.      United States Senate and House of Representatives Disability Caucuses actively engage in foreign policy and disability intersection exploration, monitoring of U.S. foreign operations for disability inclusion, and the promotion of American values and disability empowerment efforts abroad.

We have sent six letters between February and May 2015 to key leaders who can help with our policy priorities – letters went to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Chairmen of four congressional committees – the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) and Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker (TN), and the House Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. John Kline (MN) and the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (CA). The letters and responses to them will be placed on our website within the month of June 2015, so you can read them.

David Morrissey is now a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities International Task Force with David Hutt and Rebecca Sheffield, with Esme Grant's move from the National Association of Developmental Disabilities Councils to ANCHOR. If you read our last newsletter, you saw David's story on his recent trip to Myanmar.

Recently, with John Wodatch another USICD board member, I have been sharing information about the substantial benefits that would be derived if we amended section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to extend its reach to federal funds awarded and federal programs conducted overseas. Since the political will to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in Congress is not likely to emerge in this Congress, amending section 504 – which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability to any entity which receives federal financial assistance or any federally conducted program or activity in the U.S., to all federal financial assistance, wherever it is awarded or spent. This is a practical option for which we can generate bipartisan support.

I hope you will help us promote this simple but powerful amendment. Here are some talking points:

 Introduction.

 We welcome opportunities to work with this Congress. We recognize that now U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is not a viable option. Therefore, we would like to propose an amendment that could strengthen the U.S. in a leadership role in disability rights in another way. Fifty plus million Americans with disabilities would be pleased and endorse the option we propose – extending protections of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to federal dollars awarded/spent overseas. One billion persons with disabilities across the globe could, and many would, benefit.

 Background.

 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability when federal financial assistance is given to an entity in the U.S. It is the foundation upon which the ADA was built.

 Section 504 protections do not extend to federal financial assistance awarded/spent overseas.

 If Section 504 protections were extended to cover U.S. dollars spent/awarded overseas, people with disabilities overseas, on the basis of disability, could not be denied participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any federal agency.

 Example.

 Here are some examples of the benefits that would be triggered if Section 504 were amended to cover federal dollars spent/awarded overseas:

 1.       Construction undertaken overseas with federal funds would be required to incorporate accessibility standards and not result in the segregation of individuals with disabilities.

 2.       Educational training programs funded with federal dollars would be required to allow people with disabilities to participate.

3.       Hospitals funded with federal dollars would be required to allow people with disabilities to have access to services.

4.       Activities and services provided or sponsored by U.S. embassies, grantees, and contractors would be required to allow for access and participation by people with disabilities.

 Benefits.

 Export potential of U.S. disability expertise would skyrocket.  Over 150 countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They are seeking expertise and technical assistance to draft policies and implement practices that are consistent with the convention. Extending Section 504 to federal funds spent/awarded overseas would mean the U.S. could directly and indirectly impact what happens in other countries in the area of disability rights. Any federal dollar spent/awarded overseas could contribute to greater access and more opportunities for people with disabilities.

 U.S. companies would see disability rights as an integral part of doing business. Many U.S. corporations are multi-national. If they saw the U.S. Government applying Section 504 principles in its business, companies would be inspired to do the same. 

 Multi-national companies will be under increasing pressure to comply with existing and emerging disability rights laws in foreign countries. If Section 504 were amended to apply overseas, and companies doing business with U.S. had to comply with Section 504, this would equip them to successfully deal with conditions placed on them by foreign laws.

 Congress could demonstrate bipartisan cooperation. There is no opposition to extending the reach of Section 504 protection to federal dollars awarded/spent overseas. Historically, the U.S. Congress has been bipartisan on disability legislation and with the 25th anniversary of the ADA approaching (July 26th) it would be great to have interest/action on this proposed Section 504 amendment.

 We need a uniform standard on disability rights to apply to federally sponsored/undertaken activities overseas. There is no one federal standard like Section 504 applying to overseas federal dollars. Some federal agencies have adopted their own requirements for selected initiatives (State, USAID), but do not have a law to back them up.

 The U.S. needs to reaffirm its commitment to/leadership on disability rights in the international arena. We need to educate Congress broadly and quickly on this simple amendment with profound and substantial payoffs. If enacted it would reaffirm the U.S. as the leader on disability rights, increase the likelihood that new bilateral international agreements always will consider and address such rights, and give Americans who travel abroad greater, quicker, and broader access to what foreign lands have to offer.

 There will be no challenge to national security. With the extension of Section 504 protections to federal funds awarded/spent overseas, we do not need to compromise national security. Section 504 already provides exemptions for national security.

 There will no need to create new enforcement options. With the extension of Section 504 protections to federal funds awarded/spent overseas, we do not need to create new enforcement mechanisms or remedies. Section 504 already includes enforcement requirements and remedies that could be exercised in overseas contexts.

 This is a singular, limited proposal. Our interest is limited solely to amending Section 504 to extend its protections to federal funds awarded/spent overseas. We would oppose any other amendments to Section 504 or Title V of the Rehabilitation Act.

 People have had 42 years of experience working with Section 504. Extending Section 504 protections overseas is not a novel or radical idea. The U.S. Government and its grantees and contractors have had many years of experience complying with/enforcing Title V requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. Everyone knows what to do.

 We want to work with this Congress on this and other legislation that will benefit people with disabilities. We urge you to see the extension of Section 504 protections to overseas federal grants, contracts, and activities as something important, something worth doing now, that we all should embrace with enthusiasm. It should not replace or interfere with other legislation we need to work on together, which will benefit persons with disabilities.

 Lastly, USICD is pursuing an initiative to encourage young people to join the organization. Several board members are providing funds to make first-year membership dues available as a gift to deserving students in some universities. If you would like to be donor to this initiative, let us know.

I look forward to sharing more information with you over the next months. USICD is energized and welcomes your help as we pursue our policy priorities, expands our membership, and connects people around the world to strengthen disability rights. And of course, please send us your thoughts and suggestions!