We are here today to celebrate the appointment of Stevie Wonder as the 11th UN Messenger of Peace; and we are here to simultaneously observe the seventeenth International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Throughout his career, Stevie Wonder has worked for a world in which all persons with disabilities can realize their full potential. He has served, as you have heard, on the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, he has worked with the Junior Blind of America, and founded the Wonder Vision Awards to encourage innovations to help the disabled. He has performed for countless charities working for justice and equal opportunity for all.
And this work is vital. Today, 650 million people—10 percent of the world's population—live with a disability. In developing countries, 90 percent of children with disabilities don't attend school. Far too often, people with disabilities lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; health care is too often out of reach; and too many children with disabilities are denied an education.
Discrimination against people with disabilities is not just simply unjust; it hinders economic development, it limits democracy, and corrodes societies. And it is holds us back from achieving a better, stronger, more equitable world.
Through songs of romance, of heartache, of injustice and heroism—through songs of soul, songs with funk, and songs of hope—Stevie Wonder has encouraged all of us never to lose sight of our dreams of a better world.
I think Stevie Wonders captures the significance of this day best with his words when he said: “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision.”
Stevie Wonder has a vision of a world in which every child can learn in their public school in the manner best for them; in which, upon graduation, they can apply for a job without fear of discrimination, and live and work independently in their communities if that's what they choose.
The United States is pleased to work with the United Nations towards that goal. In July of this year, I was deeply honored to be able to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first human rights convention of the 21st century, which urges equal protection and equal benefits under the law for all citizens, which rejects discrimination in all its forms, and calls for the full participation and inclusion in society of all persons with disabilities.
This was an important first step, but great challenges lie ahead. We have far more work to do. And we must never lose sight of our vision of a better world.
In this effort, we are extraordinarily fortunate to have as our 11th UN Messenger of Peace, one of the world’s greatest artists and a true visionary— Mr. Stevie Wonder.
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