WASHINGTON, D.C. — This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). While many will celebrate its effectiveness in the U.S., perhaps lesser known is the fact that it is the cornerstone legislation influencing our disability policy abroad.
As it stands, the ADA applies to U.S. citizens overseas, but its authority ends there. In 1997, USAID developed their own Disability Policy to “extend the spirit of the ADA in areas beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. law.”
Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability is defined as, “a physical or cognitive impairment that affects a major life function.” This includes conditions such as blindness, fetal alcohol syndrome and polio. It is estimated that more than one billion people around the world, including 93 to 150 million children, live with these conditions.
Having a disability impedes people from reaching their full potential and can be a significant factor in a life of poverty. The three main obstacles that people with a disability often face are a lack of education, exclusion from the job market and general discrimination.
Many countries also simply do not have the resources to accommodate people with disabilities. According to UNESCO, only 130,000 out of the eight million disabled children in China are receiving the services they need.
USAID’s Disability Policy draws on the principles in the ADA that have led to successful empowerment for those with disabilities in the U.S.
The policy aims to provide access and inclusion for all people with disabilities. The framework to meet this goal includes assistance to implement equal opportunity programs, increased advocacy and awareness, and engagement with others to shatter the stigma that surrounds disabilities.
Through consultation, assistance grants, and creating and supporting local programs, USAID has enabled thousands of adults and children around the world to live better with their disability.
Southeast Asia is one region that has benefited greatly from USAID’s Disability Policy.
In Laos, the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre received a grant from the Senator Patrick Leahy War Victims Fund. The fund was disbursed through World Education Laos and provides assistance to people with disabilities in conflict zones.
The Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre was established in 1990 by Madam Chanhpheng Sivila. When she was three years old Sivila contracted polio, but despite her family’s discouragement Sivila put herself through school. Since then she has been a champion for disabled women and children in Laos.
Sivila’s program provides young women with basic education, job and life skills needed to combat disability. Since 2002, more than 500 women have been empowered through the centre.
In Vietnam, USAID collaborated with Catholic Relief Services to create a program to teach computer skills to disabled college students. Since its inception in 2007, the Hanoi College of Information Technology has trained more than 700 students in advanced computer literacy. About 70 percent of the program’s graduates have gone on to find jobs.
On a global scale, in 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was created in order to ensure, “that persons with disabilities should be guaranteed the right to inclusive education at all levels, regardless of age, without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity.” The Convention was ratified by 145 countries.
In 2010, UNICEF and UNESCO launched the global Out-of-School Children Initiative (OOSCI). A major tenant of OOSCI is to provide children with disabilities access to education. To achieve this, OOSCI develops specialized curricula and teacher training for those with disabilities. OOSCI also campaigns to change the social stigmas and conduct better research in the field.
In 2015, USAID’s All Children Reading Grand Challenge for Development provided grants to five international organizations. These organizations create technologies to improve literacy among children with disabilities.
The benefits of the ADA have spread far since its creation 25 years ago, improving the lives of people with disabilities throughout the world.