Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The United States is pleased to address Article 29’s critical focus on ensuring effective and full participation in political and public life. We are committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal opportunities to participate in political and public affairs. We are working with members of civil society at home and internationally to empower individuals with disabilities to exercise their rights.
Multiple U.S. laws protect the rights to political participation for persons with disabilities. From the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984, through the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (known as the “Motor Voter Act”), the Help America Vote Act (“HAVA”) of 2002, and the foundational antidiscrimination protections offered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the U.S. has adopted a comprehensive approach to making political participation accessible. The U.S. government provides technical assistance to and monitors local governments to ensure the full realization of political rights of persons with disabilities and takes strong enforcement actions when individuals are denied their rights. The federal government also works collaboratively with civil society to provide training and tools so that consumers and advocates can monitor local governmental actions and ensure that local governmental entities fully recognize the rights of persons with disabilities.
U.S. laws require the physical accessibility of all venues for civic participation, including polling places. The process of casting ballots also must be accessible. Our laws require that public entities afford all persons effective communication, so that persons with disabilities can fully participate in public affairs without barriers. U.S. laws further mandate that election officials and other governmental workers should be trained in the electoral process and the rights of persons with disabilities so that they can assist individuals with all types of disabilities, including psycho-social, sensory, developmental, and physical, to participate in the electoral process. Since 1999, the Justice Department’s Project Civic Access has signed agreements with 193 local governments throughout the country to ensure full access to civic life for over 4 million persons with disabilities. These agreements, which were pursued after problems with compliance were raised, recognize that non-discriminatory access to public programs and facilities is a civil right, and that individuals with disabilities must have the opportunity to participate in local government programs, services and activities on an equal basis with their neighbors.
To assist state and local entities in meeting accessibility requirements, the Justice Department has created a number of guides, such as an ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments and a checklist for accessibility of voting places. All of these materials are available at the federal government’s key disability rights website, http://www.ADA.gov.
The effectiveness of the U.S. approach is highlighted by the number of persons with disabilities throughout the country who hold local, state, and federal public offices. Also, candidates in national elections routinely develop platforms on key disability issues, a practice that demonstrates the effectiveness of disability rights advocates in communicating their messages in the public sphere. In recognition of the political significance of voters with disabilities, many campaigns appoint staff that specifically focus on outreach to this voting community.
In sum, the United States is deeply committed to ensuring that all individuals with disabilities have the opportunity for effective and full participation in all aspects of political and public life. This commitment also is reflected in our cooperation with other countries. The Department of State and USAID are working as implementing partners in providing technical assistance to countries seeking to make their elections inclusive of disabled voters. We are happy to engage in informal discussions with States Parties throughout this Conference to provide additional information about our laws and programs to promote full participation in political and public life. We also look forward to hearing about the efforts that other States Parties and Signatories are making to ensure access to political and civic life.
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