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The U.S. Department of State at the World Federation of the Deaf

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) was founded in Rome, Italy, in 1951 and now includes 133 member countries.  WFD holds consultative status within the United Nations, and its mission is to work “for the realization of deaf people’s human rights in partnership with the United Nations and its agencies, national organizations of deaf people, and relevant stakeholders.” 

From July 11-15, 2023, over 2000 Deaf leaders from 101 countries traveled to Jeju Island, South Korea for the 19th WFD World Congress.  Using a format similar to the United Nations, the World Congress takes place every four years, and the 2023 theme was “Securing Human Rights During Times of Crisis.” 

Four Deaf Department of State employees participated in the 2023 World Congress:  Angela Cannella, Traci Goodrich, and Kerry-Ann Young from the Office of Civil Rights, as well as Robb Dooling from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). In addition to his work in INR, Dooling is currently seconded part-time to the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.  

Cannella and Dooling presented “Including Persons with Disabilities in Diplomacy with the U.S. Department of State,” in which they discussed how the U.S. Government aims to engage in disability-inclusive foreign policy and assistance through the Department’s 163 embassies and 93 consulates.  Their presentation also addressed how the Department is integrating Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) more fully into its workforce and work culture. 

Cannella and Dooling’s presentation focused on how U.S. embassies and consulates advance accessible diplomacy, inclusive emergency planning, and international disability advocacy. They encouraged Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-Blind participants to connect, engage, and collaborate with the U.S. mission in their countries. 

The United States’ diplomacy is inspired by President Biden’s Executive Order 14035 on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.  Regarding accessible diplomacy, Cannella and Dooling noted that U.S. embassies and consulates want diverse workforces that include persons with disabilities and are designing embassy services with accessibility in mind.  They shared stories of how U.S. embassies and consulates that employ individuals with disabilities have inspired employers in host countries to hire individuals with disabilities for the first time, and they noted that U.S. diplomats are eager to learn how to better serve disabled populations worldwide. 

People with disabilities are 15%-25% of the worldwide population, yet they too often are left behind in humanitarian emergency and crisis response planning. When a humanitarian crisis occurs, persons with disabilities frequently are the last to know. Cannella and Dooling noted that too often countries are not inclusive of persons with disabilities in planning for natural disasters and other emergencies.  They stressed that governments save lives when they are proactive rather than reactive in emergency preparedness. 

Finally, Cannella and Dooling discussed how the State Department and U.S. diplomatic missions advocate alongside foreign governments and civil society organizations to increase commitments and capacity to remove barriers and create a world that embraces the full inclusion of persons with disabilities. During the World Congress, the Department’s Deaf employees also connected with two Deaf International Visitors’ Leadership Program (IVLP) alumni:  Juan Angel De Gouveia from Venezuela and Samuel Munana from Rwanda.  De Gouveia began a second four-year term on the board of the World Federation of the Deaf, and Munana presented “International Cooperation and Development: Rwanda National Union of the Deaf’s Experiences.”  According to Munana, disability leadership is key: national Deaf associations are the ideal strategic choice for investment in worldwide Deaf populations, and donors too often ignore these national Deaf associations in a hearing-centric world. 

All Department employees who participated in the WFD are deeply grateful to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Office of Civil Rights for their support and contributions leading to the event, and their engagement in international disability partnerships. These partnerships hold great potential for accessible diplomacy, inclusive emergency planning, and international disability advocacy to build a brighter future. 

Source : State.Gov