“The motto of the disability community - “Nothing about us, without us” - has always struck me as powerful, as the voices of people with disabilities are crucial to creating real social, political, and economic change. Yet, never have I seen the phrase reflect reality until my experience at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.” Allie Cannington tells us more about her journey to the head of the UN in New York.
By Allie Cannington (2/9/12)
“Nothing about us, without us” is a phrase that I have constantly heard since my life turned upside down. Born with a disability called Brittle Bones, I never identified with it until I found myself head first into the disability rights community only three years ago. Suddenly impassioned by the need for equality, specifically for those with disabilities, I have not looked back since.
The motto of the disability community - “Nothing about us, without us” - has always struck me as powerful, as the voices of people with disabilities are crucial to creating real social, political, and economic change. Yet, never have I seen the phrase reflect reality until my experience at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
As an undergraduate student in the School of Public Affairs at American University, some of my major topics of interest include social justice and international affairs. My studies and my passion for disability rights intersect with my position as a Research Assistant at the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) for the ASEAN region / Center for Research on Collaboratories and Technology Enhanced Learning Communities (COTELO) at the School of International Service. Working for the institute and watching it grow has been an incredible learning experience as I continuously witness organizational growth, international cooperation, and the power of virtual learning.
My work at the IDPP / COTELCO allowed me to join the delegation at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Fourth Session of the Conference of State Parties. Representing American University and the IDPP, three colleagues and I were to serve as official rapporteurs to the Secretariat of the CRPD. As it has been my dream to witness and participate in disability rights on a global stage, I was beyond honored to attend.
Soon enough, I was wheeling through the doors of the United Nations, chills running down my spine and holding back tears of excitement. Under the leadership of Dr. Derrick L. Cogburn, IDPP / COTELCO Executive Director and Associate Professor at the School of International Service, my colleagues and I recorded and summarized all main events and specific side events of the entire conference.
Combining my pride for disability rights, I took in all components of the conference. International cooperation, leadership, civil rights advocacy, and diplomacy radiated throughout every minister, ambassador, state dignitary, and civil society representative present. The values that American University has instilled in me, particularly as a participant in the School of Public Affairs Leadership Program, shined through as I appreciated every moment and opportunity to witness history in the making. The CRPD is the first human rights convention of the 21st century; a milestone for disability rights to be seen as human rights.
Throughout the week, I met outstanding global leaders. While hearing their stories of continuous work towards equality, it dawned on me that I would not have the rights I have now without them. This reality struck me with intense emotion, and I was reminded that I want to be this same kind of leader for the generations after me. Although the CRPD exists, discrimination and stigma against those with disabilities continues across every corner of the world and there is much to be done.
Once I returned to American University, I was and still am overwhelmed by my inspiration to reflect this experience unto all aspects of my life. Whether it is inclusive education, women’s rights, or youth engagement, I cannot wait to venture into this next stage of my own disability and human rights advocacy. Whether or not I attend the 5th Conference of State Parties this year, 2012, I am committed to always to advocating for progressive change: to engage the community to honor all parts of diversity and to emphasize the importance of dignity for all, especially those with disabilities. To say it simply, “Nothing about us, without us” will continue on.