[AI] a speech

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Sat Apr 5 03:04:59 EDT 2008

>From Avraham Rabby, Tel Aviv, Israel:
After retiring from the Foreign Service at the end of June, I participated, 
in August, in the Department of State's famed Job

Search Program, which I confirm,
by the way, is one of the Department's very best program offerings and one 
which you youngsters in the audience can really

look forward to.

Perhaps the most important exercise required of participants in the Job 
Search Program is the writing of a resume, which, we

were instructed, should highlight
what we each considered to be the best accomplishments in our lives, in 
general, and in our careers, in particular. We all

then shared our resumes with
our fellow participants and publicly commented on each other's product, 
sometimes with brutal, though always useful, honesty.

The main thrust of some of the comments I received about my resume ran 
something like this: "Do you really want to mention

your disability discrimination
lawsuit against the Department of State? Don't you think a prospective 
employer might be just a tad concerned that you might

sue him, too?" "Absolutely
I want to mention it," I said. "Why on earth would I keep quiet about what I 
regard as probably the number one accomplishment

of my life?" The fact is
that what I did in the late 80's and early 90's, perhaps for the first time 
in my career, benefitted not only me personally

but made a difference to other
people's lives and brought dignity and a feeling of self-worth to other 
individuals with disabilities.

This reticence, this reluctance to talk out loud about our history and our 
struggle for equality as people with disabilities

I find very unfortunate; all
the more because I notice it in the very announcement of today's 
celebration, which was included in a Sept. 27 press release

from the Office of the Spokesman.
"Since 1945," says the spokesman, "October has been dedicated by Congress as 
the month to honor and to celebrate the

contributions of individuals with
disabilities in the workforce." True, indeed! Yet, nowhere in this release 
can we find a single reference to the 45-year

period from 1945 to 1990 when
the Department of State strenuously refused to acknowledge that people with 
disabilities had any useful role to play in the

Foreign Service, let alone
honor and celebrate their contributions!

Not a word in this release about then-Director General of the Foreign 
Service Ambassador George Vest, who shamelessly

declared exclusion of people with
disabilities to be the Department's policy in a debate with me on "Good 
Morning America." Not a word in this release about

the hearings Congress held,
with 200 members of the National Federation of the Blind looking on, 
regarding disability discrimination by the Foreign

Service. And, perhaps most importantly,
not a word in this release about the momentous decision which, to his 
everlasting credit, Ambassador Edward Perkins, who

succeeded George Vest, took to
once and for all do away with disability discrimination in the Foreign 
Service and begin accepting otherwise-qualified

disabled candidates who pass the
competitive Foreign Service examinations. Ambassador Perkins, a black man, 
knew a thing or two about prejudice and

discrimination, and his decision not
only made me the first beneficiary of that change in policy (since I had 
already passed the exams) but, in the intervening

17-year period, has given employment
to at least 170 other people with disabilities who are serving honorably 
both here in Washington, as well as elsewhere in the

United States and at U.S.
embassies and consulates all around the world.

For the Department of State to recall that, since 1945, Congress has 
dedicated October as National Disability Employment

Awareness month without, at the
same time, even mentioning the ultimately successful battle of the disabled 
community to break down the doors of the Foreign

Service is akin to celebrating
Black History month by recalling the equal protection clause of the 14th 
amendment but staying mum about the battle for de

facto racial justice and equality
which followed the 14th amendment, the 1963 March on Washington and the 
enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Please, let

us not forget our history!
Let us not sweep it under the rug! Because if we do not recognize where we 
have come from in the past, we likely will not be

able to chart an accurate
and effective course for ourselves in the future. So, let me, if I may, 
expand briefly on what I believe is the true

significance of today's celebration
for American society as a whole and for the Department of State in 

To say that we celebrate the contributions of individuals with disabilities 
in the workforce is much too trite and, frankly,

just a little paternalistic.

Black History Month and Women's History Month are celebrated not to 
highlight the contributions of blacks and women in the

American workforce; we take it
for granted that blacks and women contribute just like white males do. 
Rather, we celebrate Black History Month and Women's

History Month to highlight
our striving for equal status for blacks and women in American society and 
our yearning for that more perfect union.

Likewise with today's celebration. We are gathered here not because people 
with disabilities make a contribution (we know

that, thank you very much), but
because the Department's decision in 1990 to begin accepting candidates with 
disabilities into the Foreign Service

represented a triumph of American democracy
in the fullest sense of that term, and a magnificent illustration of how 
ordinary citizens can use the levers and mechanism

of a true representative democracy,
such as access to an elected legislature, a free and independent legal 
system, and a responsible and responsive media, to

bring about attitudinal and behavioral
change in their government.

The Department's change of heart represented a singular success in the 
struggle of our disabled minority for social justice

and a human rights achievement
of the highest order. And, given the vociferous protests of the disabled 
community at that time, the Department's change of

policy was a clear demonstration
of freedom of speech in a genuine democracy. In case you think I am 
overstating the case, let me remind you that, in certain

countries, outspoken protests
by people with disabilities does not go unpunished. In China and Cuba, to 
mention just two examples, there are disabled human

rights activists who are
today either in jail or under house arrest for publicly voicing their 
disapproval of their governments' policies; that is to

say, for doing exactly the
same as, or even much less than, what the disabled community did in the 
United States vis-a-vis the Department of State, in

the late 1980's.

Which brings me to my final and perhaps most important point. In her speech 
at Georgetown University, on Jan. 18, 2006,

Secretary of State Rice outlined
her doctrine of "transformational diplomacy." Referring to President Bush's 
second inaugural address in which he spoke of

promoting democracy around the
world, Secretary Rice said: "To achieve this bold mission, America needs 
equally bold diplomacy, a diplomacy that not only

reports about the world as it
is but seeks to change the world itself. We seek to use America's diplomatic 
power to help foreign citizens better their own

lives and to build their own
nations and to transform their own futures. In extraordinary times like 
those of today, when the very terrain of history is

shifting beneath our feet,
we must transform old diplomatic institutions to serve new diplomatic 
purposes. In a day and time when difference is still a

license to kill, America stands
as a tremendous example of what can happen with people of diverse 
backgrounds. In order for America to fully play its role in

the world, it must send out
into the world a diplomatic force, a diplomatic corps that reflects that 
great diversity."

Madame Secretary, people with disabilities are an integral part of that 
diversity, and as such, we bolster that diplomatic

power of which you speak. By
posting disabled Americans in our embassies and consulates abroad, we light 
a beacon for people with disabilities everywhere

to follow, and inspire them
to better their own lives and transform their own futures. But of even 
greater significance than that: when disabled

Americans in capitals abroad deliver
the U.S. foreign policy message to host country governments; when disabled 
Americans negotiate resolutions with delegates

from 191 other member states
at the United Nations; or when disabled Americans speak to civil society 
groups around the world about U.S. culture and

values, they are living proof,
more convincing than anything else could be, of the openness, pluralism and 
vibrancy of American society.

That is transformational diplomacy in action! That is transformational 
diplomacy at its very best, and that is what we are

celebrating today.

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