Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for  World Congress for People with Disabilities

Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks for  World Congress for People with Disabilities, December 8, 2022

Speaker Konjufca, Deputy Prime Minister Gërvalla-Schwarz Ambassador Dietz, Goodwill Ambassador Shala, distinguished guests: it’s an honor to join you at the World Congress for People with Disabilities today.

This congress is taking place in the final month of 2022, declared by Kosovo as “the Year of Persons with Disability.”

And just last week, we celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2022. The theme for that day was: “transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world.”

I’m pleased that today and tomorrow, the people gathered in this room will share and exchange their experiences, and learn from each other.

We share the goal of helping people with disabilities in Kosovo live a life of dignity, with full integration and equal rights in society.

The Biden-Harris Administration has recommitted to the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which President Biden co-sponsored as a Senator more than 30 years ago.

One of the things President Biden has done to raise the profile of these issues was to appoint Sara Minkara as the Special Advisor on International Disability Rights. She leads the Department of State’s comprehensive strategy to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities worldwide.

She is working toward establishing a shared responsibility with global interlocutors, including governments, NGOs, civil society actors, and others, for advancing and mainstreaming disability rights, equity, accessibility, and inclusion.

In support of those efforts, the United States encourages governments to enact and uphold national laws and policies. We are committed to fostering accountability and capacity-building, both in our own country as well as around the world, to advance the rights of persons with disabilities in all their diversity.

We are also committed to advancing the human rights of persons with disabilities in countries experiencing crises through disability-inclusive crisis planning, response, and reform actions.

Today, I want to take a moment to recognize the inherent value of people with disabilities as individuals and acknowledge the collective value of their contributions and their participation in schools, workplaces, and communities everywhere.

We need to reject the narratives that marginalize persons with disabilities.

We promote a values-based approach to inclusion and are taking action to replace the all-too-common charity- or pity-based narratives that undervalue persons with disabilities and erase their agency.

With support from the U.S. Embassy, youth from Gjakova led an initiative to increase engagement of young people, including youth with disabilities.

They created a Peer Support Group that included youth with disabilities, developed an awareness-raising campaign on the rights of persons with disabilities, and organized a basketball tournament for those who use wheelchairs in their community.

Another focus of ours is accessibility to government services.  USAID has helped deaf people access the justice system in Kosovo.  All courts are now equipped with tablets which provide video remote sign language interpretation.

This is but one of the innovative solutions, which also include tactile pathways for the blind and parking spaces for persons with disabilities, that are new features for Kosovo courts.

We are also supporting Kosovo’s Free Legal Aid Agency to expand public awareness of the free legal services available through inclusive and specialized communication in sign language and in Braille.

When it comes to disability inclusion, there are many solutions out there.  I hope you will take advantage of this Congress to share success stories, best practices, and lessons learned.

I will highlight that my government can offer the legislative framework of the Americans with Disabilities Act as a model, as well as President Biden’s recent Executive Order 14035 on Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility within the U.S. Government workforce.

Both of these documents are publicly available resources that decision and policy-makers can use and adapt to their own contexts and for their own purposes, to further inclusive practices in their communities.

I’m pleased to see so many people here and engaged on this important set of issues.   I look forward to hearing about the productive discussions you will have over the next few days, because despite all the good work and progress that we’ve seen, we are far from done.

We are committed to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities and supporting communities in Kosovo and around the world in the quest for a more inclusive society.

Thank you.