U.S. Ambassador’s Remarks on 25th Anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome!  It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you!  Could you please take your seats and we’ll begin our program.

And I know it is very hot.  So if you want to get some water or beer or juice before you sit down so you’ll be hydrated for the performance, please, now is a good time to do so.

We have seats down here for those of you who’re standing in the back, please feel free to come down.

Wonderful!  Well, as I think all of you know, my name is Pamela Spratlen and I’m privileged to be the U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan.  And it is also my privilege to welcome our distinguished guests, members of the disabled community and their advocates, ladies and gentleman.

We have a diverse group here, and as I said, there are members of the government; we also have representatives from the diplomatic corps, the international and nonprofit communities, as well as disability advocates and the press.  We also have some special guests–members of the Visage Theatre.

Now, I just want to warn you that my remarks tonight take a little bit of time.  We have two interpreters: we have Saida Chorieva, who is going to be interpreting in Russian, and we have Manzura Eshmuradova and she is going to be doing Uzbek sign language interpretation.  So please relax and make yourselves comfortable.

We are gathered here tonight in the spirit of hope, equality and possibility in Uzbekistan, the United States, and in the world. Specifically, we are here to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the world’s first comprehensive legislation to ensure equal opportunity for persons with physical and other challenges.

Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has guaranteed that people in the United States with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of life.  The law has had tremendous success in removing barriers and empowering those with physical or mental challenges.

Before the ADA, persons with disabilities faced discrimination and exclusion.  Now, all American sidewalks have ramps, employers routinely install desks at wheel chair height or provide computers that can be used by the blind.

Buses can be lowered so that wheelchairs can be lifted aboard, and cars can be configured to allow some disabled drivers to steer their own vehicles.

The U.S. now has a nationwide internet and telephone system that allows those with hearing or speaking impediments to communicate easily.  And ninety nine percent of all television shows are subtitle-enabled.

Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, all Americans now have the same rights to enter a building, the right to live in a community, the right to work, the right to communicate and the right to travel.

Now, laws can set the stage for empowerment, but only human actors can make empowerment for all a reality.  Many of you represent governmental and non-governmental entities that work to create this empowerment.  And I want to give a round of applause for all you do and urge you to continue your efforts.

And I think progress is faster when human actors that I mentioned have a human face.  You, they are champions of change.  And I want first to recognize champions from Uzbekistan such as, the representatives of the Disabilities Advisory Council, advocates for more rights for the disabled in Uzbekistan.  They are aided by the international NGO, the National Democratic Institute, which is funded by USAID.

Another champion is Guli Makhmatkulova, whose Millennium Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled Youth provides legal support for young people in finding work, educational and social adaptation.  Guli is also a USAID and U.S. Government partner.

A third champion is Mukhabbat Rakhimova, who participated in a State Department-funded disability advocacy trip to the United States in 2013, and I believe is here this evening.

We also know that there are other ways to support those who have special needs.  For example, the MFA created awareness for all of us about disability by sending us information about an event that took place today that promoted the work of disabled craftsman.  And I am sure there are many other efforts that I could mention.

Next, I note that Uzbekistan also has American champions who have embraced this country and have been working for a very long time to secure more support and opportunities for people with disabilities.  So it is with great pride that I want to recognize two Americans who embody the spirit of the ADA here in Uzbekistan.  They have spent decades working with their Uzbek partners, to give Uzbek youth with special needs a real chance for fulfilling lives.  And I am talking about Cynthia and Franklin Michael Edson.  They have built what’s called the Limitless Opportunities Home for young adults with disabilities.  In this marvelous and lively place, young Uzbeks discover their possibilities, and learn marketable skills that can assure them independence.  And I would ask if they could just stand along with all other people that I’ve mentioned, if they’re here, so we can applaud their work.

Later this evening, when I hope you will join us for some refreshments that we’re going to have here in the garden, you will have the chance through videos to meet other Americans, both in the federal government and in local communities, who are working to empower the disabled.

Since the pioneering work of U.S. advocates began, disability rights have gone global.  Now a total of 157 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled.  Another 27 countries, including the United States and Uzbekistan have signed the treaty.  The UN’s goal is for every country to ratify the treaty so that people like Abdullo Abdukhalilov, a Senior Instructor of Sociology and Political Science at the Uzbek National University, who is visually impaired, and countless others here can enjoy its full benefits.

The person in the United States who represents the beginning of disability awareness for me was Helen Keller.  She lived from 1880 to 1968 and was blind, deaf and mute.  But she learned to read and write with the help of her famous teacher, Annie Sullivan.  Keller ultimately earned a college degree and spent her life inspiring others through her words and actions for equal rights.  The 1962 Hollywood movie “The Miracle Worker,” immortalized Keller’s story and began a journey for more disability rights.

Since then, many activists have lit the path to more opportunity for those with disabilities.  In their spirit, and in the spirit of hope, equality and possibility that I mentioned earlier at the beginning, I am especially pleased and honored to present to you a very special organization, the Visage Theater.  The Visage Theater is led by Lilia Sevastyanova.  And I would like her, hope she is here, to come up or she cannot come up right now because she is getting ready to….Ah there she is!  Ok, wonderful!  Thank you so much for coming!

The Visage Theater has truly brought light, life and movement to many people in Uzbekistan, both those with and without disabilities.  Since 2003, the Visage Theater has united young people with disabilities with their able bodied peers and professional dancers, to produce exquisitely lyrical productions of modern dance. Their work has been proclaimed in Moscow, Kiev and the Visage Theater is the recipient of the Ilkhom Prize for honor and dignity in art.  Tonight, in honor of the rights of the disabled everywhere, the Visage Theater and The Embassy of the United States of America are pleased to bring these inspiring performers to all of you.

So let me close by thanking you again for your attention and for joining us tonight, and just let you know that after the performance, I will be directing you to the screen where we have just a few more things we would like to show you.  But for now, please relax and enjoy the performance!

Thank you!