U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development
10th Year Anniversary
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa
(As prepared for delivery)
Your Excellency Ato Asmelesh
Members of Parliament
The Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development Team
Ladies and gentlemen
Indemen aderachu and good morning
It is an honor and a privilege to join all of you here today to celebrate the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development’s 10th anniversary and to honor them for all of their fantastic work. This is especially poignant as we commemorate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities tomorrow.
As a civil society organization established to facilitate and promote the needs of people with disabilities in Ethiopia, the Center has truly been at the forefront of the dialogue on how to end discrimination and increase opportunities for people living with disabilities. Additionally, it has become a respected representative of civil society on a number of wider platforms, including the Ethiopian Federal Charities and Societies Forum as well as the Civil Society Sector Working Group, which brings together donors, government and civil society to discuss common issues.
The Center has worked tirelessly to mainstream the inclusion of people with disabilities in institutions and businesses, both in the public and private sector. In the last year alone, with USAID assistance, the Center helped 220 people with disabilities to either secure an internship, gain formal employment, acquire new job-hunting skills, or access seed money to start their own businesses.
By increasing the number of youth and adults with disabilities in mainstream vocational and business enterprises, employers have demonstrated a greater willingness to provide employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Several of these employers were recognized Monday night for their inclusive hiring practices. I hope the Center awarded itself as well, because 50 percent of the center’s staff have disabilities. This number and the truly impressive achievements of the Center serve as shining examples to other organizations which are considering increasing the numbers of persons with disabilities on their staff.
These accomplishments would not be possible without the efforts of the center’s co-founders, Bob Ransom and my dear friend Yetnebersh Nigussie. As executive director of the center, Yetnebersh exemplifies what a person with a disability can accomplish. Her passion, excellence, leadership and able representation of the causes of the disabled have certainly contributed to the center’s success over the past 10 years.
Over one billion people, approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Eighty percent of them live in developing countries. In many of these countries, the issue of disabilities is often considered an issue of charity. However, the rights of those living with disabilities are human rights codified by the U.N.’s International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Ethiopia ratified in 2010. Ensuring that these rights are respected requires champions—champions who can advocate for the cause.
Some of you here today had the opportunity to meet Judy Heumann, the U.S State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights when she visited Ethiopia recently. As a person with a disability, she often talks of how her advocacy led to her participation in drafting the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States 25 years ago. In fact, we just celebrated that 25th anniversary throughout the United States and here at our Embassy. It is one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, prohibiting discrimination and guaranteeing that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in mainstream American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, access services, go to school, use public transportation, shop where they like, stay where they like when they travel throughout the United States, and have access to state and local government programs, services and activities.
Here in Ethiopia, the Center has been a champion for persons with disabilities, ensuring their access to mainstream service delivery as well as development programs. But I firmly believe that they could do so much more, if permitted. Like my colleague Judy in the State Department, they can advocate for providing education, training, rehabilitation, and equal access opportunities for people with disabilities—goals envisioned by the Government of Ethiopia in its original Growth and Transformation Plan and reiterated in GTP II, where the issue of disabilities is crosscutting across all sectors of development.
The United States encourages the Government of Ethiopia to consider allowing disabilities-focused advocacy efforts, not only by the Center, but by other organizations as well, including organizations that, at their core, promote the causes and inclusion of people with disabilities in the country’s development. The government and the people of Ethiopia will benefit greatly by consulting with and including these organizations as key partners in service delivery, as well as policy formulation, to reach the corners and small villages of Ethiopia where the majority of people with disabilities live.
For this to materialize, we encourage the government to look at the laws and regulations that govern disabilities-focused organizations. Specifically, this is in regard to reviewing their wish to conduct advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, in combination with services and creating the necessary enabling legal and programmatic platforms that will advance the work of these organizations.
All around the world, the U.S. Government actively recognizes the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities are included as capable contributors to their nation’s development. We believe that societies that are inclusive of their diverse populations are more likely to be democratic, participatory and equitable. They are also more likely to meet their development goals, because everyone participates toward its achievement. Mainstreaming disability as a key development component, and doing so, allows the government to assess and address the impact of any planned action on people with disabilities. Mainstreaming also enables the government to promote inclusion and address the barriers that exclude people with disabilities.
For a country such as Ethiopia, which is on an impressive development trajectory, sustaining the gains will require an inclusive development approach that leaves no one behind. The gains made in providing services to people with disabilities and including them in the workforce of the country needs to be sustained and increased. The right legal frameworks and enforcements need to be in place. This will ensure that Ethiopians with disabilities are equal partners in the development agenda. Empowering people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups builds freedom, human dignity, and self-worth for individuals and groups, while also strengthening the entire nation by building cohesion and mutual respect. At the same time, it allows people with disabilities to contribute to the economy.
The United States supports effort to build democracy and protect the rights of all citizens, regardless of gender, age, health status or disability. To this effect, the U.S. Embassy was pleased to work with the Ethiopian Railway Corporation on its Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit Project, providing technical input on making the rail system accessible for disabled people. This collaboration resulted in the first accessible, modern light rail transit system in sub-Saharan Africa.
Over the past 10 years, the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development has worked with more than 100 offices and organizations to promote and facilitate disability-inclusive development. Their partners include government departments and bureaus, faith-based and community-based development organizations, institutions of higher education, cooperatives and private-sector companies, as well as organizations serving people with disabilities. Together they all share the goal of achieving equality of opportunity, inclusion, and the empowerment of people with disabilities. Fifteen international partners also contributed to the growth and realization of the center’s vision. The power of the Center to pull so many entities together over a common cause is very commendable!
Allow me to close by reiterating something President Obama said during his historic visit to Ethiopia a few months ago. He said, “Every person has worth, every person matters. Every person deserves to be treated with decency and respect.”
I truly applaud the Center and its staff for the work they do to promote inclusive development while serving as a beacon of hope for people with disabilities, and I look forward to seeing further strides in promoting equality for the millions of Ethiopians living with disabilities.
Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this celebration, amasegenalehu.