Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
The Americans with Disabilities Act served as the model for an international treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It’s a framework for legislation and policies around rights and accessibility for the billion people around the world living with disabilities. But while 138 countries have ratified the treaty, the United States has not. As the Senate debates the issue again, two State Department officials join us to discuss the leadership role they hope the United States can continue to play on the issue.
- Shaun Casey Special Advisor, Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives, US Department of State
- Judith Heumann Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, U.S. Department of State
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Globally, there are a billion people with disabilities, including sight or hearing impairment or limited mobility. Eighty percent of them live in developing countries.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe International Disabilities Treaty provides a framework for legislation on policies around rights and accessibility for those with disabilities. It's been ratified by 138 countries, but not by the U.S., despite the fact that the treaty was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Though it failed to make it through Congress late last year, the Senate is debating the treaty again.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining us in studio to discuss it is Shaun Casey. He is the director of the Office of Religious Engagement. (sic) He is an ethicist and theology professor and the author of "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy v. Nixon 1960." He was an advisor to President Barack Obama on religious issues during the 2008 presidential campaign. Shaun Casey joins us in studio. Welcome.
MR. SHAUN CASEYIt's great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Judith Heumann. She is the special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. State Department. She previously served in the Clinton Administration as assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. She joins us in studio. Judith Heumann, good to see you again.
MS. JUDITH HEUMANNThank you. Nice to see you, too, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou can join the conversation by calling us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the U.S. should ratify the International Disability Treaty? You can also send us email to email@example.com. Judy, tell us about the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, also known informally as the International Disability Treaty? What does it call for?
HEUMANNA hundred and 38 countries, as you mentioned, have ratified. And the treaty is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much of the principles are based on the ADA, which focuses on equality for disabled individuals. It's an anti-discrimination provision -- set of provisions that countries are obligating themselves to conform to develop legislation to enable disabled people around the world to have opportunities for education, employment, access to healthcare, transportation.
HEUMANNFor the United States, we're in a unique situation because the ADA, and many other pieces of disability rights legislation, have been enforced in the United States for more than 20 years. So ratification for us will not result in any new legislation being required or any new fiscal new obligations but rather enable us as a states' party to work more directly with other governments in civil society to help them learn about how to develop good laws and implement them effectively.
NNAMDIShaun Casey, before we talk specifically about the relationship of the Office of Religious Engagement to the Disability Treaty, I'd like you talk in more general terms about this newly-created office and what its mission is.
CASEYKojo, I tell people I have three basic missions in the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives. The first is to advise the secretary's office as religion cuts across the major issues that they deal with. There's been a growing awareness in the last 10, 15 years that we need to understand the power of religion in our foreign policy.
CASEYIf you ignore the role of religion in international politics, then you don't fully understand what's going on. The second job is to increase the capacity for the various bureaus in the State Department that do religious engagement. You think about dozens of our offices use forms of religious engagement already. We're trying to get better.
CASEYWe're trying to expand our capacity to interpret and understand the power of religion on the ground in the countries we deal with. And the third mission is to be the external point of contact with interested stakeholders who want to come in, maybe partner with us or learn more about what we do. In my first four months on the job, I've met with over 300 religious leaders or faith groups from around the world, so there's an astonishing amount of pent-up demand for folks to come in and, frankly, make us smarter about the things we do and the things that they do.
NNAMDIWhere does the International Disability Treaty fit into this work?
CASEYWell, the -- if you think about the work of the State Department, I tell people -- and I'm drawing on my vast four months of experience now in the State Department.
NNAMDIWell, you've met more than 300 religious...
CASEYWell, that's right, so I -- there's sort of three large areas. There's aid and development. There's the promotion of human rights, and there's the mitigating of conflict. And so it's in that middle space, the promotion of human rights, where my work on the Disabilities Treaty really fits in. I spend a lot of time trying to raise awareness among faith groups about what the treaty's about, what it will do, and I'm finding that faith groups are keenly interested in the expansion of human rights globally, particularly in the disabilities community.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, Shaun Casey is the director of the Office of Religious Engagement. He's an ethicist and theology professor. He's author of the book "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960." Shaun Casey was an advisor to President Barack Obama on religious issues during the 2008 presidential campaign.
NNAMDIHe is joined in studio by Judith Heumann, special advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department. She previously served in the Clinton Administration as assistant secretary of the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services that was in the U.S. Department of Education. But this is a conversation that you can join.
NNAMDIJust give us a call, 800-433-8850. Are you an American living with disabilities? Have you traveled abroad? What was your experience when it came to accessibility and other issue? 800-433-8850. Judy Heumann, it's also something that might be hard for us to grasp. But in many places, basic rights that we had fought for here are still nonexistent. What are some of the issues faced by those living with disabilities around the world?
HEUMANNWell, I think it's important for people in the United States to reflect on where we were 60, 80 years ago, maybe even further back in some cases, to get an understanding of a combination of problems -- one, stigma against individuals with disabilities, which is a very big issue around the world, where people who have disabilities are in some cases considered to be cursed by God or by their families, did something that has brought shame on their family by having a disabled person in the family.
HEUMANNOne of the reasons why we've been working closely with Shaun is because religious communities around the world, as he's been saying, play a critical role in helping to advance the rights not just of disabled individuals but others. And so in this case, religious leaders who are both within the United States and other countries, talking about the equality of disabled people, that we should have the same opportunities as others within our country and within other countries, really does play a very important role, particularly in some countries where the religious communities are so powerful.
HEUMANNIn the United States, there's a group called the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, which a woman named Ginny Thornburgh has been operating for a good many years now. And that coalition has also been playing a very important role in learning about the treaty and talking about why the Disabilities Treaty is important for disabled people here in the U.S. and abroad.
NNAMDIHere in the U.S., we've got a number of laws addressing access and discrimination for those with disabilities, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These were all battles that you were instrumental in fighting. What does the legal picture look like around the world?
HEUMANNWell, it depends on the country where people are living in. But I would say the Americans with Disabilities Act is by far the most expansive piece of civil and human rights legislation in any country around the world because it addresses discrimination issues both in the public and private sector. And so in many countries, they may have laws that deal with the public sector and not with the private sector.
HEUMANNOur law, like the Americans with Disabilities Act, also has had great involvement with disability organizations and civil rights leadership organizations. So we see laws in the U.S. which have been very much formulated in a similar way to our civil rights laws that started in the 1960s in the era of race and gender, which means we also see much stronger enforcement.
HEUMANNSo U.S. government agencies play a much stronger role than in many countries around the world to ensure that if a disabled person feels that they've been discriminated against, they can file a complaint. Agencies will investigate, and penalties, where appropriate, will be adjudicated.
NNAMDIJudy, Shaun, critics of this treaty say ratifying a treaty isn't necessary because the U.S. already advances disability rights around the world through agencies like USAID. How would you respond?
CASEYWell, I -- on the face of it, that sort of fails the common sense test. I mean, this is an opportunity, as Secretary Kerry said this summer in an op-ed in a major newspaper, that the admonition behind this treaty is be more like us. I mean, here we have clear American leadership on the human rights, civil rights side that Judy talked about.
CASEYWhy would we want to stop -- when we promoted the human rights of disabled people here, why wouldn't we want to support that, you know, in a global fashion? In other words, if we believe that there are human rights that everybody should have access to, why would we stop simply at our borders? We've never done this before. We're trying to expand rights on a wide variety of issues. International religious freedom's one, for instance, where we're trying to take our own experience of religious freedom and trying to promote that globally.
CASEYSo in a similar fashion, why would we not want to export the great work we've done in the last 20, 30 years on disability rights to the rest of the world and invite them to come in and experience the same sort of evolution that our society has?
HEUMANNI think one of the other important points -- we clearly support comments that are being made by some of the opposition that says the USAID is doing very good work overseas. We agree with that. But the changes that the treaty will enable us to work on our systemic, and that's a critical issue because USAID and the European Union and others who provide foreign assistance to some countries, they are going in and working on individual projects. What the implementation of the Disabilities Treaty will enable is governments to look at systemic legislation that, over a period of time, like in the United States, will result in basic changes.
HEUMANNFor example, streets being built that will have ramps on the streets, buses that are being purchased that will be accessible because they have uniform standards, standards that are developed by governments that will help ensure that as new buildings, public or private, are being constructed that you can be assured that ramps will be the same slope, that bathrooms will have the same width, that, for people who are blind or deaf, there'll be appropriate kinds of markings. So the systemic issue is the big one that we're pushing.
NNAMDIDoes this become more important, Shaun Casey, as globalization continues to connect us to the rest of the world?
CASEYWell, I don't think there's any doubt about that. This summer, at the meeting Judy and I attended that the secretary hosted, there was a business leader there who talked about the opportunities this will open up in terms of global markets for American manufacturers to export our technology to developing countries that are trying to be on the cutting edge of accessibility, for instance.
CASEYAnd, frankly, I'd never heard that argument before. It made perfect sense that, as multinational corporations that are headquartered here begin to try and develop global markets and develop products, this treaty will enable that to grow quite quickly as a result. So globalization, I think, is a doorway through which, as the rights expand, there are going to be ways that American companies can actually take advantage of that in terms of their own work and their own sales.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We go to Gary in Sterling, Va. Gary, you are on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Gary.
GARY...and your guests, I love your program so much. But I have a short comment. When I was five years old I was -- I'm now 64 -- when I was five years old I was chasing a young lady -- a little girl around a stop sign and tripped and poke my eye out with a stick. When I went to join the military I was deemed disabled. When I wanted to join the police department I was also disabled. To drive a truck over the road, disabled, limousine, all these things that I really wanted to do with my life. Now I go to try to claim disability and I'm no longer disabled.
NNAMDIWhen you say now I go to try to claim disability, what's the procedure you're talking about here?
GARYWell, I -- people have told me -- my family members have said, maybe you can get some kind of disability because of your eye, like Medicaid or -- well, Medicaid says I have to be deemed disabled by Social Security. And, you know, I've lived with this all my life. I -- you know, I don't know. I'm asking if anybody has any ideas on this at all.
NNAMDIWell, you should know a little bit about Judy Heumann's history because she and her mother had to fight for her as a child to even be included in the public education system. Judy, what advice can you give to our caller, Gary?
HEUMANNSo I would suggest that you contact Social Security to get -- or go online and look at Social Security disability to see if that's something that you might qualify for, because at the State Department we don't do domestic work. I can't give you a specific answer but you might want to call, like, the Lighthouse for the Blind or one of the blind organizations. I understand that's only affected one of your eyes but they may be able to give you information. But I would definitely go on Social Security disability insurance website and get a better understanding of eligibility criteria.
NNAMDIAnd how does she know all this stuff? Not only because of personal experience but she also previously served as the director for the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia. So...
HEUMANNUnder Mayor Fenty.
NNAMDIYes, under Mayor Fenty. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on the International Disability Treaty. If you would like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Do you think the U.S. should be providing a leadership role when it comes to the rights of those with disabilities around the world or not, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on the International Disability Treaty. We're talking with Judith Heumann. She is special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. State department. Shaun Casey is the director of the Office of Religious Engagement and author of the book "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy Versus Nixon, 1960.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Colleen in St. Louis who says, "Ms. Heumann, can you please give us some examples from your travels that illuminate the discrimination that takes place against people with disabilities in other nations, especially in nations where disabled people are not valued as full citizens?" Full disclosure, Colleen is with the Starkloff Disability Institute.
HEUMANNThank you very much for that question. So the types of problems that U.S. citizens face when traveling overseas or for people who are coming to the U.S. and have disabilities -- we actually received a call the other day from an office within the Department of State about a disabled person who was flying through a country in the Middle East, needed to receive his wheelchair because he needed to go to the bathroom. And the airline was refusing to bring him his wheelchair.
HEUMANNSo a bunch of different offices got involved and this gentleman luckily was a strong advocate. But if he would've been in the United States when that happened, it would've been a clear violation of the Air Carrier Access Act. As it turns out he was not covered by the U.S. law because he had left the U.S. carrier in Germany. So that's a perfect example of how we have laws in the United States which could be of great benefit to other countries in very basic ways, giving someone their wheelchair so they can go to the bathroom when they're on the ground, because the bathrooms on the airplanes are not accessible.
HEUMANNThere are many other examples. You know, for us, ratification of the treaty is important to enable disabled individuals, veterans and civilians, to be able to study abroad, work abroad and travel abroad, based on a comment you made earlier, Kojo, of the globalization of the world. So disabled people in the U.S. are graduating more from high school and universities. They're wanting to participate in the same kinds of opportunities as nondisabled individuals but their opportunities are limited in many cases because countries don't have the laws that we have.
NNAMDIWe got this Tweet from Dara, Shaun Casey. It simply says, "Why hasn't the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities been ratified?"
CASEYWell, I can only speak for sort of the sector that I'm working in, in terms of promoting awareness among faith groups. I call it in vernacular sort of street theology. Sometimes faith communities don't encounter issues until somebody comes into their house of worship off the street who presents a new face to them. I think this was true in terms of disabilities. You think back to the early '90s, very few houses of worship in the United States were accessible. There are about 315,000 houses of worship in the United States now.
CASEYAnd increasingly you will see houses of worship, sanctuaries, synagogues, mosques that are now handicap accessible, disable accessible because someone has presented himself off of the street and has literally come in through their doors and wants to be a part of that community. And in response to that, faith communities almost one at a time began to realize, we have much more work to do to make our space hospitable to everybody in our area.
CASEYI think the same is true largely on this treaty. A lot of American faith groups are not aware that the treaty is, in fact, before the Senate today. So my job is to simply say, let me help you understand what's involved in this treaty, what it will mean and what its implications will be. And the response has been quite universally positive and quite strong. So I think sometimes faith communities are not always on the cutting edge of issues like this. But overtime as they encounter a much more diverse group of people coming to them and coming through their doors, we make progress. But we make that slowly.
NNAMDIJudith, can you give us a little context and background on the International Disability Act? How did this treaty come about?
HEUMANNSo the treaty came about because disabled people around the world -- similarly to what happened with the development of the Americans With Disabilities Act here in the United States. And I think for U.S. people it's best to think about the civil rights legislation in the '60s. This all came about because people basically were being discriminated against. And the discrimination that they were facing was significantly adversely affecting themselves and their families.
HEUMANNSo the disability community really learned from the civil rights movement and said, we need to organize. We need to come together. We need to more publicly explain the types of discrimination that we're facing. Part of the problem in the area of disability is we don't have one type of disability. We don't all become disabled at the same point in our lives. So we don't all go to the same places of worship or live in communities where we're all similar. We're pretty disbursed.
HEUMANNSo it's been a lot of work that's had to been done to address stigma, because many people have hidden disabilities like depression, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, things of that nature, lupus, etcetera. So having to get people with invisible disabilities to feel comfortable that they have a right to equality here in the U.S. So over a period of time in the U.S. we saw section 504 developed in 1973. Then the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990.
HEUMANNIn that same period of time, disabled people around the world were looking to the U.S. Remember, radio and television and computers are relatively new. But with the advance of radio and television and computers the world has become smaller and people have really learned. And so in 1980 when the UN had an international year on disabled people, the Japanese, the Canadians, the English came to the U.S. to do one-hour documentaries on our movement. How had we developed all of these pieces of legislation?
HEUMANNThey were very intrigued by a very strong disability rights movement that had built itself off of the model of the civil rights movement. Very similar to what happened with the disabilities treaty. For about 20 years, the disabled community around the world was saying, UN treaties are not addressing our issues. We’re either not specifically a part of them or we're being ignored in the rare cases where we are.
HEUMANNAnd so they began to organize in countries around the world. And there was a repertoire appointed in the 1990s, a blind man from Sweden who hired two disabled individuals. They did a study internationally, creating the record of the types of discrimination that disabled people are experiencing, similar to what we had done here in the U.S. And then in late 2001, 2002 was when the first discussions began happening at the UN.
HEUMANNAnd if I could say one of the very important parts of this, the UN acted as a convener. It was a building where member states who are members of the UN could come together two to three times a year for two to three weeks at a time, really get to talk to disabled people from their countries and really get a much better understanding that what disabled people around the world are wanting is equality and discrimination protection of dignity. They want respect. And those meetings really enabled the development of this treaty, which articulates in many different articles aspirationally what disabled people and governments have agreed they want to do.
NNAMDIHere is Anne in Alexandria, Va. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEHi. Thank you, Kojo. I'm sorry. Thank you, Kojo, and thank your guests. I really appreciate it. I'm 61, a disable woman. I've been fortunate -- very fortunate but it took a long time for me to understand I had to advocate for myself. I'm taken aback by the information you're giving us, but I'm also taken aback by the fact that other countries who have not found my well-used this as an excuse to not find themselves.
NNAMDIIs there a likelihood of that in your view, Shaun Casey?
CASEYI want to defer to Judy on that.
NNAMDIJudy, go ahead.
CASEYShe's the expert on that.
HEUMANNSo I would say 138 countries have ratified, so we've got a very substantial number that have ratified. But Anne's point is a really good one because the issue is going beyond signing a piece of paper and really implementing. So countries will either may not take their obligations seriously or they may not have the knowledge they need to be able to effectively develop laws within their countries.
HEUMANNThe U.S. joining and becoming a states party enables us in a much more direct way to reach out to other governments and civil societies within those countries to one, encourage them, cajole them, push them more forthrightly to develop legislation and effective implementation. And also to look at opportunities to share information with them about what we've done, how we've done it and the benefit that it has resulted in for people in this country.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Shaun.
CASEYWell, I would say this can be a classic example of smart American power where we're trying to introduce a moral norm into the international system. And it takes American leadership many times to move a human rights concern and make it a moral norm that's actually encapsulated in law in the various what, 200 countries we now have nation states. So this is an example where American leadership really can, I think, provide energy and impetus to the developing world and other countries that have not yet ratified the treaty to follow our leadership to do the same.
NNAMDIIt's one thing to ratify a treaty but there are a lot of other barriers in developing countries. We're talking about places that may lack basic infrastructure, electricity and resources. How can a treaty address those kinds of hurdles?
NNAMDIWhen a country ratifies the treaty, they are committing themselves to make reforms within their country. So looking at the issue of infrastructure, particularly in new and emerging countries, it becomes even more imperative that when they are developing, as I was saying earlier, new roads, new infrastructure, building new buildings, improving the rural communities, connecting communities to each other, this is the time that you really want to make sure it's being done the right way because there's limited money. If it's done incorrectly, the problem remains, creating new barriers.
HEUMANNSo this is what we are aiming to do is to really share information with others and help them be able to develop procedures that will enable them as emerging countries to construct things the right way.
NNAMDIShaun, you've got international development as a part of your portfolio.
CASEYAbsolutely. I was meeting with a global -- the global leadership of a religious group, which I won't name, but we were talking about the treaty. And they deliver 70,000 wheelchairs a year in something like 60 different countries. And I'm describing the treaty to them and what they immediately said was, this will allow us to go to the governments that we deal with, helping serve the disability community and say, you know, if you take our wheelchairs and you distribute them then you need to do sidewalk cuts. Then you need to make buildings accessible.
CASEYAnd we can use the fact that you have signed this treaty as a part of our argumentation in these countries to say, this is the right thing to do. We will come and help you build your infrastructure around this. But the treaty provides them an avenue to open up a discussion with a government in whose area they're doing work with. So they see it as a real advantage in their own international development efforts.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here's Arnold in Frederick, Md. Arnold, your turn.
ARNOLDThank you, Kojo. As usual, a terrific show. I wanted to briefly make a statement that I am a disabled veteran and a former law enforcement professional. And I've been to 20 countries.
NNAMDIOh, oh, we seem to be losing you, Arnold. Are you still there? Arnold, I'm going to put you on hold. I don't know why your call dropped off but hopefully when I come back you will be back there on the phone again. In the meantime, Judy, you can tell us what happened? The U.S. signed this treaty back in 2009 but in the time since then has failed to ratify it. What happened and where does it stand now?
HEUMANNSo every country has a different process in how it ratifies. The U.S. process for any treaty is that two-thirds of the Senate has to vote for the treaty. So we need 67 votes. The treaty last year was sent by President Obama to the Senate -- it goes to the Senate and then to the Senate foreign relations committee, which was at that point being chaired by now Secretary Kerry. Last year there were hearings that were held. There was a committee markup that was bipartisan and favorable.
HEUMANNThen there was the floor vote in December of 2012 where the vote was defeated 61 to 38. The process is ensuing again this year with Senator Menendez, who is now the chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I would say there have been some very positive efforts over the last year where communities from around the United States and the government itself also have been much more clearly articulating why the treaty is important.
HEUMANNSenator Menendez has held two hearings. There will, in the near future, be a business meeting where there'll be another markup. And then there'll be a vote on the floor hopefully in the beginning of next year.
NNAMDII think you may have answered the question that Pat in Alexandria, Va. has but allow me to have Pat speak for herself. Pat, was our question just answered?
PATIt was, but I have another one.
NNAMDIOkay. Go ahead. Pat wanted to know if there would be a markup -- another markup for the bill before there was a vote. But go ahead.
PATSure. My question is this, since 2014 is an election year and since there are a lot of issues that are unresolved connected to the budget and, you know, the potential shutdown of the government looming over us once again, I know there'll be a lot of priorities that will sort of surpass our intention to get the treaty ratified by the Senate. And right now there's a lot of interest among the disability community in this country for the treaty to be ratified. But to sustain that interest long term is going to be tough because in October everything came to a screeching halt while we had the government shutdown.
PATDo you anticipate there'll be any action before the Senate recess is on Friday of this week?
HEUMANNThank you, Pat. The Senate's going to recess on the 20th, so it's a week from this Friday. And I can't predict. Senator Menendez is the one who will make the determination as to whether or not they'll have a markup.
NNAMDIBut just for clarification, would this treaty involve any new obligations, financial or policy wise for the U.S.
HEUMANNNo. There'll be no new obligations to the United States. So I think that's very important. Now Pat's point is there's so many other issues which are being dealt with right now in the U.S. Senate. But what I would say is because there is serious discussions going on in the recess between members of the senate committee and the administration, there's serious discussions going on to try to address issues that some of the members wish to have addressed before this would come up for a vote.
HEUMANNAnd so I'm hopeful, because of the work that's been going on this year and last year, that there is a greater opportunity for us to see success in ratification.
CASEYWell, I just agree. I mean, anyone who tries to partake to what the Senate's going to do these days is probably not taking on a rational task. But certainly we remain hopeful. I think there's a lot of momentum. The discussions I've been having with faith-based groups, there's a lot of energy out there, a lot of communication. And I think a growing swell of support for getting the treaty ratified.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If you'd like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. We're discussing the International Disability Treaty. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you think the U.S. should provide a leadership role when it comes to the rights of those with disabilities? What do you think of the idea of the U.S. focusing more directly on issues of religion and foreign policy, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the International Disability Treaty with Shaun Casey. He is the director of the Office of Religious Engagement. He's an ethicist and theology professor, author of the book "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy Versus Nixon 1960." He was an advisor to President Barack Obama on religious issues during the 2008 presidential campaign.
NNAMDIJudith Heumann is the special advisor for international disability rights at the U.S. State Department. She previously served in the Clinton Administration as assistance secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education. She also served as director for the Department on Disability Services for the District of Columbia where she was responsible for the developmental disability administration and the rehabilitation services admission.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones now. Here is Arnold in Frederick, Md. Arnold, thank you for calling back. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ARNOLDThank you very much, Kojo. A terrific show again. So essentially I'm going to be brief. I'm a disabled veteran. I'm a former law enforcement person and I've traveled to 20 countries. And on my last trip with my 85-year-old mother and my family, we were in Israel. And my mother's in a wheelchair and we had a pretty positive experience. We flew to Germany where we had a very negative experience. In fact, I ended up being detained.
ARNOLDSo if the talk is of moral norm or international ADA acceptance, there are constitutional questions that we have here. In Israel they don't have the Bill of Rights. They can search anyone they want getting on an airplane. And they didn't search my 85-year-old mother or my wife or child. In Germany, a security agent, a woman, put her hands down my wife's underwear, which was an unusual experience having traveled extensively.
NNAMDIWhat was the problem with your mom in Germany?
ARNOLDWell, you know, we got through Germany. She could walk but she does better in a wheelchair. And the plane was delayed and they took us out and I was -- I don't speak very good German and I had made a comment about -- I honestly don't recall. Something to the effect of -- all right. I worked for Hillary Clinton at one time and I made some comment about Clinton. I don't know what I said. And the operator of the special shuttle taking us to the plane didn't react...
NNAMDIOh, this did not specifically have to do with your mother's disability, but the point that you raised about different standards in Israel and Germany I guess is the whole point of the treaty, Judy Heumann.
HEUMANNWell, countries will have their own standards so there's nothing in the treaty that obligates countries to have uniform standards across countries. Which is one of the reasons why we believe it's important for the U.S. to ratify so that we can help countries look at well-developed standards like the ones we have in the U.S. But I think one of the points that the speaker may have been addressing also is what happens to disabled people when we go to airports.
HEUMANNAnd I've certainly had many different types of experiences in many countries in Europe where airlines have -- as one employee at an airline in a country I won't identify, said when I asked to bring myself and my wheelchair to the door of the plane, which is a right we have in the U.S., she said, I've worked for this airline for 18 years. No one has ever done that and you will not be the first one to do it. And I called a friend of mine who was an activist in the country and I said, what's going on? And he said, well, if you can do something that would be great because we haven't been able to.
HEUMANNBut in the U.S. we developed the Air Carrier Access Act, which is now more than a 20-, 30-year-old law. So the airlines understand what their obligations are. And in the event that there's a problem getting through security because of discrimination based on disability, a complaint can be filed. Or if they break our wheelchair, other kinds of technology, the airlines have an obligation to address it, and that's because of our laws.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again. Here is Marie in Springfield, Va. Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARIEHi. Thank you for taking my call. We are a military family and we've been stationed overseas in several places. And I've seen firsthand these obstacles of, you know, no ramps to get wheel chairs up the steps of an ancient church in Italy for example. And I'm just wondering, I see the importance of getting this done in the U.S. What can an American do here to support ratification efforts of this treaty?
NNAMDIQuestion to both of you. First you, Judy Heumann.
HEUMANNSo let me just say, because we're both government officials, we're -- because of anti-lobbying provisions we're not able to talk about what a U.S. citizen can do. I guess what I would broadly say is, if you've been involved previously with advocating for legislation that you think is important, I'd follow similar approaches.
HEUMANNBut I -- on the specific issue around religious institutions and accessibility, Shaun was mentioning this earlier. And I think one of the important issues in the United States, as Shaun was saying, is as the constituents within religious institutions have changed. So for example younger people become older. And as they become older they have more need to be able to have an accessible religious institution to continue to participate.
HEUMANNWhile religious institutions in the United States are not covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act because of our separation of church and state, we have seen dramatic changes going on within religious institutions voluntarily because they recognize the importance of one, being able to maintain their religious participants, as well as to be able to expand the body that they can assist.
HEUMANNSo in looking at a church in Italy, I think the same thing would be beneficial. Sharing information about what we've been doing in the United States, for example, with groups like the Interfaith Advocacy Coalition. You can go on a website for the American Association of People With Disabilities and learn more about the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition and the work that they are doing.
NNAMDIShaun, which brings me back to you, in a way. Why did the State Department create the Office of Religious Engagement and why now?
CASEYI think people have been thinking about this for some time. And I know when Secretary Kerry was in the transition, he immediately grasped the idea that we need to understand lived religion across the globe. And as he said in his remarks at my rollout event, we ignore religion in our peril in our own diplomacy. I think in the last 20 years we had many examples at hand where had we had a better understanding of religion in certain spots around the world, perhaps our policy would've been better and not have been quite so bad.
CASEYSo I think we have a lot of common sense experience in the last decade or so that says if we're going to fully engage the world across aid in development and human rights and mitigating conflict, religion cuts across all those issues in every direction. So we need a capacity to understand that that doesn't involve the promotion of specific religious groups. That doesn't involved discrimination against specific groups. It's just simply saying we need to be smarter in understanding the very civil societies that our diplomats operate in.
NNAMDIDo you think the role of religion in policy have been neglected until recently, perhaps out of concern for maintaining that line between church and state?
CASEYOh, there's no doubt. If you look at the scholarly literature about international relations in religion, it really doesn't pop up as a topic even that's fit for conversation until about a decade ago. So even among the scholars there's been kind of this fear of dealing with religion. But now, as I said, we've had some experiences since then to say we need to get smarter on it.
CASEYSo I think the world is coming to an understanding that religion is a very powerful political force in the world. And if we're going to promote our values and our human rights agenda for instance, we need to be able to understand the impact that's going to have and who are the potential supporters of this across the globe. And religious groups are there.
NNAMDIYou note that religion and foreign policy is a field that's been growing in academia. What kinds of issues are being looked at?
CASEYWell, you think about development today in the developing world, faith groups are often the ones who are doing the development. If you go to Sub Saharan Africa for instance, I've seen estimates that say 40 percent of the health care that's delivered there is by faith-based groups on the ground. The same is true in terms of economic development. Human rights, we've looked at Nelson Mandela's life here in great depth. The church had a powerful force there in South Africa for human rights.
CASEYAnd you think about mitigating conflict. The great peacemakers of our world have often had some anchor in the faith world. So there's plenty of work to be done with faith groups at the heart or even the cutting edge of our foreign policy today.
NNAMDIOne issue of concern beyond our borders is the persecution of religious minorities. That's monitored by another State Department office with which you work as well. Can you talk a little bit about that?
CASEYYes. This is one of the single issues that Secretary Kerry has adopted, is the protection of religious minorities. You think about the conflicts that are going on around our world today and many times minority Christian groups and other faith groups are really in very precarious positions today. Since 1998 we have had an ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom. We've also had an independent U.S. commission on International Religious Freedom. So we now have a decade-and-a-half of robust engagement on protecting religious minorities, no matter what faith they are, around the globe.
CASEYBoth of those entities put out an annual global report, sort of a scorecard. Secretary Kerry is deeply committed to protecting religious minorities of whatever variety around the world. And this is a very dangerous time.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones and back to the issue of the treaty. Here is Role on the eastern shore in Maryland. Role, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROLEThank you for taking my call. I want to find out what agency you contact to get information about accessibility in colleges.
NNAMDIWhat agency would that be, Judy?
HEUMANNSo you could contact the department of justice. Go onto their website and look at the education provisions or you could go to the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. And universities are obligated to comply with the access standards which are also developed and overseen by the access board. And you can get information about access standards there.
NNAMDIHere is Shaun.
CASEYRole, I come from an academic background. Every institution of higher learning in the United States that is accredited today has an office whose responsibility it is to answer any questions a perspective student or current student might have. So I would encourage you, if you're looking at a particular institution, look for the student services office, look for the dean of students or the dean of student services. There should be a point of contact at any university or college in America who can answer any questions you might have about a particular location.
NNAMDIJudy, we only have about a minute left but it's my understanding that one of the ideas you hope the International Disabilities Treaty will help disseminate beyond the U.S. is inclusion. Can you talk a little bit about that?
HEUMANNSure. The United States has seen dramatic changes by the removal of barriers such as enabling disabled students to attend regular primary and secondary schools. Role's comment on accessibility of universities, we've seen more deaf individuals, people with intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, blindness, etcetera attending universities. That means that our entire educational experience has dramatically changed in the last 30, 40 years where children are going to school together. Adults are going to school together and learning that, you know, we are equal to each other regardless of our disability.
HEUMANNAnd I'd like to say one thing.
HEUMANNIf you'd like to get more information on the treaty, please go to www.state.gov G-O-V /disabilities treaty. We have a lot of information there that you can use.
NNAMDIAnd a lot of people have been asking about that. Judith Heumann, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIShaun Casey, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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