Honorable Minister Denaj and Deputy Minister Kospiri, honorable guests:
I am delighted to be here today to celebrate the achievements of ADRF’s nine-year-long, “Economic Empowerment of People with Disabilities” project – EEPD.
The United States Government, through USAID, supported the EEPD project because America is committed to helping Albania strengthen its rule of law and governance, and America is determined to help create conditions in Albania for inclusive economic growth.
This commitment to Albania reflects several U.S. laws that mandate people with disabilities be able to work on an equal basis with other members of society, in an environment that is open and inclusive. These are also fundamental human rights, embraced and championed by America, and shared by Albania. To paraphrase former U.S. vice-president Hubert Humphrey, “the moral test of a government is how it treats those who are in the shadow of life, people with disabilities.” Let us look to what has been done to enable people with disabilities to fully-participate in Albanian society? What has been done to bring people with disabilities out from the shadows?
Since 2010, ADRF, with USAID support, has worked tirelessly to help this cause. And today we are here to celebrate ADRF’s work. While we do that, we also recognize that their achievements were forged through their excellent partnership with the Government of Albania, and via their collaboration with Regional Labor Offices and the National Employment Service. These relationships have helped the EEPD project achieve tangible improvements in the way Albania treats people with disabilities.
Their achievements are numerous! At the legal and policy levels, for example, ADRF has supported work to advocate for inclusive policies in Albania’s health, education, employment and social services, infrastructure, and electoral access sectors. This has helped ensure compliance with EU, UN, and other international standards. On a local level, ADRF has helped more than 267 people with disabilities find employment; a further 40 have obtained internship opportunities, and an additional 226 attending vocational training courses. The true numbers who benefited are higher – these jobs and opportunities also positively affected the families of the direct beneficiaries. And these aren’t just numbers, these are individuals’ whose lives changed…their families changed.
To create important societal momentum, ADRF has also provided training to more than 120 companies and their staff on how to modify their workplaces in order to accommodate people with disabilities. They have also developed constructive partnerships among NGOs, the business community, and government bodies. This has translated into transformational change at the institutional level.
I would like to commend and thank the ADRF Executive Director Ms. Blerta Cani and the whole ADRF team for their commitment and dedication to the disability cause.
And while much as been accomplished, there is still much room for further progress. The law must bridge the gap between existing on paper and existing in and affecting peoples’ lives. Put bluntly: none of this matters unless policy matches practice so that the daily reality of people with disabilities is permanently changed. This event then, is not only a celebration of progress made, but a call to action that I urge everyone in this room to answer.
First, I urge the Government of Albania to ensure adequate legislation is both written and enforced. Protecting the rights of persons with disabilities is an effort that should cross party lines and unify officials in a common cause. Disability does not discriminate based on political affiliation, and neither should makers and enforcers of law: this is an issue that affects everyone.
Secondly, I urge you as individuals to ensure that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities – in work or in leisure – as the rest of society. Be proactive – investigate how you can make your businesses and workplaces more accessible to people with disabilities. Think about how your hiring practices can be adapted to give people with disabilities equal chances of employment and equal opportunities to train, to learn, and to contribute to Albania’s progress.
Thank you for this opportunity to speak today.