Handicap International's Director General, Manuel Patrouillard, delivered the following remarks at the closing of the first annual Harkin International Disability Employment Summit, which took place Dec. 8 and 9, in Washington, DC. The Summit gathered more than 180 government officials, professionals with disabilities, business and civil society leaders, and activists from 30 countries to shine light on effective laws, policies and programs, and to find ways to create more job opportunities for people with disabilities. With inclusive livelihood jobs in dozens of countries, Handicap International is a committed member of the Summit planning committee.
Senator Harkin, distinguished guests, partners and friends: it is a privilege and honor to attend the Harkin Summit, and for Handicap International to have helped plan this gathering of minds for a shared purpose: bridging the chasm between people with disabilities and decent jobs.
I want to tell you two brief stories.
In 2014, I traveled to Togo. Not to the capital. But way, way out into the rural area. I met a family that included an eight-year-old boy with a disability.
The father abandoned the family shortly after the child was born. The mother had no help, so she stopped working. This family was truly the poorest of the poor.
The Togo staff measured the boy, and gave him a wheelchair. He gained mobility. Autonomy. And his mother was liberated from carrying him.
They enrolled the child in school. He gained the opportunity to be a child. To make friends. To learn. And his mother gained the freedom to work. To earn.
Two, seemingly simple things: A chair. A place in a classroom. These paved the way for one family to escape a cruel fate of poverty.
On a trip to Colombia, I met a man injured by a landmine. Now disabled, little more was expected from him. Not from his family. Not from his community. Not from himself.
But, we had high expectations. And eventually, he did too. He chose to farm again. Our donors gave him pigs to raise, and covered his startup costs.
Two seemingly simple things: High expectations. Pigs. And another individual and his family broke the vicious cycle of poverty and disability.
My accent will lead you to believe that we are a French organization. Yes, our roots and headquarters sit in the southern city of Lyon, France. But, the outrage that fueled our beginning was along the Thai Cambodian border.
It was in Cambodia, in 1982, that two young French doctors (OB-GYNs, as it happens) realized the limitations of a humanitarian effort that could save lives, but could not provide quality of life.
You see, more than 6,000 people living in the camps had been injured by landmines. They had no access to crutches or wheelchairs. To physical therapy. To artificial limbs. This group of refugees with disabilities was invisible.
So, these two young French doctors decided to disrupt the system. First they retrained, and opened a rehabilitation center. They made what would seem today to be rather basic prosthetic limbs. Their outrage evolved to the international stage, to where we brought victims of landmines to tell their story, and to demand a ban.
The Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty – a life and limb-saving treaty – was the result. It is a treaty for which we are joint-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
But… fighting landmines, the root of this acquired disability, wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to help the survivors “stand tall.” You see, their communities saw them as untouchables. For their disability, they were shunned. For their difference, they were forgotten.
So, a new body of work developed at Handicap International: inclusion.
This unit works tirelessly in nearly 40 countries – like Togo. Colombia. Cambodia. Nepal. Kenya. Ethiopia – to inform parents and teachers about the rights of children with disabilities to attend school.
We make sports inclusive. We make voting inclusive. We support disabled persons organizations to advocate for their rights, and to build their capacity to affect local and national policy improvements.
We are here today, because the team works with tens of thousands of individuals with disabilities to realize decent, fair work in 30 countries.
We also work with multinational companies to help them assess how welcoming their workplace is… or is not… for employees with disabilities. To help other staff learn about disability. To mentor employees with disabilities as they settle into their jobs. And more.
It took about $21 million to operate this growing inclusion portfolio in 2015. Like most things in the world of development – that’s not enough.
But, like a lot of things in development – in good development – it works really well. Here’s why.
We help managers to model the behavior they want to achieve in their companies. We coach them to be good at inclusion.
We find role models for job-seekers. We measure – as best we can, with disaggregated data – the outcomes. We partner with groups like the International Disability Alliance, with training and placement centers, with funders, and with policy makers.
And we train stakeholders to ensure it’s clear that we are not talking about rocket science. We are talking about shifting mindsets, setting high expectations, and finally opening doors.
We know that a good job helps to graduate people with disabilities and their families out of poverty. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
As the Senator has said: the world is at a tipping point for people with disabilities. Yesterday’s excuses are no longer valid.
Technology is tearing down barriers. Handicap international is developing a digital platform that will connect people with needs to people that have solutions, people who have solutions with people who can produce them, and people who can produce them with people who can finance them.
Thanks to the ten-year-old Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a document that Handicap International helped create, people with disabilities have more attention than ever before. In the countries that have ratified the CRPD – not the country we’re meeting in, but in two-thirds of the world – people with disabilities have a document that protects their human rights. And employment is a right, thanks to Article 27.
Yesterday afternoon, we talked about big ideas. About disrupting the system.
At Handicap International, rebellion is in our DNA. The outrage that fueled our start in Cambodia is today at work in 60 countries. People with disabilities are ready to go. So we need everyone in this room to hit the gas. We simply must accelerate the pace of change.
In big cities in low-income countries, large multinational companies have the opportunity to set a high bar for inclusion to model for other companies. Why not model your inclusion and diversity policies outside of your northern headquarters in the first quarter of 2017 by hiring people with disabilities?
Why not begin each meeting with one question: who’s missing? Why not demand the same of your supply chain partners?
The speakers at this conference have put forward several suggestions over the duration of the Summit. We agree with several of them.
We would like to see more innovation, more scale, more disruption and increased inclusion.
We would like to see people with disabilities pursuing the careers that are interesting to them, following their career aspirations and leapfrogging career stereotypes. And like Senator Harkin, we would like to accelerate the inclusion of persons with disabilities into the workplace.
Difference matters. Diversity is an asset when solving complex problems. Ladies and Gentlemen: it’s clear that we have a problem.
That’s why we are grateful to have so many partners and friends of Handicap International from all over the globe with us today. Thank you for traveling to DC. The generous support of the Harkin Summit’s inaugural funders made each journey possible. Thank you to the donors who join us today.
We look forward to continuing this partnership and would love to host the Harkin Summit in France in the future.
Thank you for your attendance and attention.