The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) was founded in Rome, Italy, in 1951 and now includes 133 member countries. The WFD holds consultative status within the United Nations, and its mission is to work “for the realization of the human rights of the deaf in collaboration with the United Nations and its agencies, national organizations of the deaf, and relevant stakeholders.”
From July 11-15, 2023, more than 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 is “Ensuring 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 her work at 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 US Department of State,” where they discussed how the US Government aims to engage in disability-inclusive foreign policy and assistance through 163 embassies. and 93 consulates in the Department. Their presentation also discussed how the Department can integrate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) more fully into its workforce and work culture.
Cannella and Dooling’s presentation focused on how US embassies and consulates are developing agile diplomacy, including emergency planning, and international disability advocacy. They encourage Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and Deaf-Blind participants to connect, participate, and collaborate with the US mission in their countries.
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 US embassies and consulates want a diverse workforce that includes people with disabilities and design embassy services with accessibility in mind. They shared stories of how US embassies and consulates that employ individuals with disabilities have encouraged employers in host countries to hire individuals with disabilities for the first time, and they noted that US diplomats were eager to learn how to serve the disabled around the world.
People with disabilities are 15%-25% of the global population, yet they are often left behind in humanitarian emergency and crisis response planning. When a humanitarian crisis occurs, people with disabilities are often the last to know. Cannella and Dooling noted that countries often do not include people with disabilities in planning for natural disasters and other emergencies. They emphasize that governments save lives when they are proactive rather than reactive in emergency preparedness.
Finally, Cannella and Dooling discuss how the State Department and US diplomatic missions are advocating with foreign governments and civil society organizations to increase commitments and capacity to remove barriers and create a world that has adopted the full inclusion of people with disabilities. During the World Congress, the Department’s Deaf employees also interacted 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 associations of the Deaf are the ideal strategic choice for investing in Deaf populations around the world, and donors often ignore these national associations of Deaf in a hearing-centered world.
All employees of the Department who participated in the WFD are very grateful to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Office of Civil Rights for their support and contributions that led to the event, and their engagement with international partnerships on disabilities. These partnerships hold great potential for accessible diplomacy, inclusive emergency planning, and international disability advocacy to create a brighter future.
About the Authors: Angela Cannella works in the Office of Civil Rights and Robb Dooling works in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research and is currently seconded part-time to the Secretary’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.