2017 Fellow: Ruby Holmes, Handicap International

As the International Day of Persons with Disabilities approaches on Sunday, December 3, the Hilton Prize Coalition presents some reflections by Ruby Holmes, a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow based in Silver Spring, MD with Handicap International (HI), where she supported HI’s role in planning and executing the 2nd annual Harkin International Disability Employment Summit and co-authoring "Good for Business: Promoting Partnerships to Employ People with Disabilities." Ruby is currently working on her Master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution at American University and received her Bachelor’s degree in international/global studies from the University of Oregon. In this post, Ruby reflects on the discrimination and marginalization of people with disabilities during times of peace, conflict, and natural disasters.

International Disability Rights: Accessing Waged Employment
by Ruby Holmes

People with disabilities around the world face extreme levels of discrimination, marginalization, exclusion in societies and are often left out of government policies. Many countries lack legislation that address disability rights and when they do, these laws often fail to be implemented. Research during my time as a graduate student has revealed that a country’s economic, legislative, physical, and social environment may create or maintain barriers to the participation of people with disabilities in economic, civic, and community life. Even with existing legislation in the United States such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination and barriers exist. I’ve witnessed this throughout my life as close friends and family members with disabilities experience different levels of exclusion in various aspects of their lives. Barriers can include inaccessible buildings, lack of accessible transportation, inadequate health, education, and employment standards, lower levels of services and funding for those services, as well as inadequate data and analysis for evidence-based, efficient, and effective policies.

Additionally, members of a community often see people with disabilities as a burden and inadequate compared to non-disabled members of the community. These social attitudes add another level of discrimination that people with disabilities face; their communities do not support their ability to thrive and reach their full potential in society. This systemic marginalization means that people with disabilities face daily battles through direct violence, the inability to access buildings such as schools or places of employment and the absence of social services. All of these instances deny people with disabilities the ability to fully participate in society, to achieve their full potential and personal dreams.

While the marginalization of people with disabilities can be a reality in many communities during times of peace, this discrimination becomes compounded and especially true during times of conflict or natural disasters. It is a known fact that the instance of disability increases dramatically during times of conflict and disasters, increasing the population of people living with a disability. Perhaps most known is the instance of landmines and other explosive devises causing mobility and physical disabilities, as well as psychological traumas, loss of hearing and eyesight, and a vast array of other impairments. However, both natural disasters and situations of conflict have no limit on the types of disabilities that result and can cause hearing and visual disabilities as well. Just as important, non-apparent disabilities are caused during times of disaster and conflict. Post-traumatic stress, psychosocial, and other mental health disabilities affect individuals at alarming rates yet are often ignored or treated with less priority. Individuals and entire communities can be directly affected, experiencing all different disability types, needing support and services to recover in the short and long term.

The Harkin Summit

Given these realities and witnessing the hardships those close to me have gone through, I have found a deep passion to work towards the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout peacebuilding efforts. With the current, horrific global state of affairs, it is easy to feel discouraged and overwhelmed. However, I am optimistic and extremely fortunate that I have had the honor to meet and work with empowered individuals with disabilities around the world who are working hard to fight for their rights. Economic development and access to waged employment is just one of the many factors that contribute to successful peacebuilding, which organizations like Handicap International are working toward. I give many thanks to the Hilton Prize Coalition Fellows Program for providing me with the opportunity to contribute to this work. During my time as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow at HI, I sat on the planning committee for the Harkin International Disability Employment, where I supported the team on event logistics and was a co-author for Good for Business: Promoting Partnerships to Employ People with Disabilities, HI’s white paper that was showcased at the Summit. The paper provides practical information and lessons learned on how multinational corporations can fully include people with disabilities into the workplace. Building off of information provided in HI’s 2016 white paper, Situation of Wage Employment of People with Disabilities: Ten Developing Countries in Focus, this paper offers solutions.

The Harkin Summit convened high-level representatives and grassroots implementers from around the world, who are all working to increase the employment of people with disabilities. The Summit offered a space for representatives from business, disability advocacy, government, education, foundations, and civil society to identify and create strategies to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities. More than 300 experts from 40 countries shared knowledge on employment opportunities in various settings, and honored pioneers in disability employment.

I’m grateful for all that I learned and the people I got to meet at the Harkin Summit. I met individuals from multinational corporations who expressed a passion for and commitment to employing more people with disabilities around the world. I witnessed partnerships form between NGOs and corporations to collaborate so businesses can hire and retain more employees with disabilities. There is still much work to be done in the world of international disability rights and peacebuilding, but events like the Harkin Summit help to ensure we keep the momentum moving forward. In fact, Senator Harkin charged the audience with a new goal: to double the rate of employment of people with disabilities in the next decade.

(Photos courtesy of the author)

About The Hilton Prize Coalition
The Hilton Prize Coalition is an independent alliance of the 22 winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the Fellows Program, the Collaborative Models Program and the Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat, Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit prizecoalition.charity.org, or contact prizecoalition@charity.org. Follow the Hilton Prize Coalition on Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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