"Leave No One Behind"

Charge d'Affaires ad interim Kurt Tong
Sept. 23, 2013

This article appeared in Japanese in the Mainichi Shimbun of Sept. 23, 2013.

On September 23, representatives of the United States and Japan will join other nations at the U.N. General Assembly for a high-level meeting on the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. This is an important issue for every country in the world. Disabilities affect 15% of the world's population and cut across national, ethnic, racial, and class lines. People living with disabilities constitute humanity's largest minority.

The timing of this U.N. meeting is important. The mandate of the Millennium Development Goals, established in 2000, expires in two years. Post-2015 international development goals are now under review. The United States supports an agenda centered on the idea of "Leave No One Behind," and this includes persons with disabilities. Such an inclusive agenda can be achieved most effectively through U.N. member states' commitment to robust laws and standards implemented through strong enforcement mechanisms. Those laws and mechanisms would help ensure that disabled children and adults would have the opportunity to benefit from the original Millennium Development Goals. "Leaving no one behind" would help end extreme poverty and advance the quality of life for all.

Beyond making sure that the needs of the disabled are included in development objectives, the United States also recognizes the importance of enshrining the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons with disabilities. That is one of the reasons that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month stressed that ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a top priority for the Obama Administration.

Around the world, individuals living with disabilities often have greater problems than the impairment of the disability alone. Their disabilities are magnified by dozens of other factors including job discrimination, lack of legal protection, social stigma, and the cost of medical devices and assistance. Employers often labor under the erroneous belief that persons with disabilities are unable to perform their jobs. This is not borne out by the evidence, but a continuing commitment to education, legislation and enforcement is necessary.

Japan has taken great strides in promoting equality for those with disabilities and ensuring equal treatment in society. Japan's passage in June of the Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities was a landmark, creating an obligation of reasonable accommodation in the public sector and laying the groundwork for dispute resolution.

Japan and the United States have a strong history of working together on disability issues. For example, through the Duskin Ainowa Foundation, disabled Japanese were among the first trainees at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, and other similar centers in the United States.

Countries such as the United States and Japan have already taken crucial steps to address some of the most pressing issues facing individuals living with disabilities. Nevertheless, there is still much work left to do to ensure all individuals can live, work, and contribute to a prosperous society. Let us move forward with the idea that "Leave No One Behind" calls us to create ever more inclusive and just societies.