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Ambassador Leonard’s Keynote Speech at the International Albinism Awareness Day Celebration
June 17, 2021

Good afternoon!

Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency Professor Yemi Osinbajo;
Governor of Plateau State, His Excellency Simon Lalong;
Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Right Honorable Abok Izam;
Chief Judge of Plateau State, Honorable Justice Yakubu Dakwak;
Honorable Commissioners;
heads of government agencies;
civil societies; members of the diplomatic community;
ladies and gentlemen,

It is a delight to be with you on this special day—International Albinism Awareness Day.  Standing in defense of human rights for all, including those with albinism, is one of our most important shared priorities—not just for policymakers in Washington and Abuja, but for everyday Americans and Nigerians seeking to shape a better and more inclusive future for themselves and their families.

Nigeria is home to many persons with albinism, who overcome significant obstacles in their daily lives.  You have shown strength in confronting health challenges, particularly skin cancer and low vision.  You have defied cultural myths and practices and come out stronger.  You have risen above the stigmatization and unfair stereotypes which society has knowingly and sometimes unknowingly labeled you.  I commend your perseverance and commitment.

For the United States, defending the inherent value of every individual is a top priority.  We have fought to uphold human rights by promoting a culture of respect for the immutable worth and potential of each human being.  No one should be denied the opportunity to experience the fullness of life, receive care, or have a chance at economic success because of a disability.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to honoring the potential of all human beings.

The United States celebrates the inherent dignity and contributions of persons with disabilities.  Our families and communities are enriched by their presence in our lives, and we are inspired by how they teach us to accept challenges with grace and humility.  We honor them and their tremendous strength, resilience, and skills, and we remain steadfast in our work to remove societal barriers to their success so they may pursue their full potential.

Thirty-one years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, became law in the United States.  The ADA broke down barriers to access and opportunity, enabling millions of Americans with disabilities to utilize their talents and skills and contribute to strengthening the country.  Now, Americans with disabilities have the right to access the same schools, hospitals, jobs, transportation, stores, and recreational facilities as their non-disabled families and friends.  We know from our experience with the ADA that responses to issues of access and inclusion must be driven by the innovation and leadership of persons with disabilities and their representative organizations.

We are delighted that USAID recently signed a $2 million dollar grant with Gallaudet University to implement activities that address the educational disparities and marginalization faced by many deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf-blind children and youth in Nigeria.  The program will include support for civic advocacy on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing Nigerians, an extensive program of training Nigerian Sign Language interpreters, and sensitization of parents and community members about how to interact with deaf people effectively.  This program represents a true partnership between our nations.  It is implemented by Gallaudet University, the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf, and Wesley University.  And the U.S. government continues its support to Nigeria through our partnership with INEC and NGOs to empower persons with disabilities through improved access at polling units.

Support for these sorts of programs is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.  Local, state, and federal government, non-governmental organizations, media establishments, the private sector, and all citizens, need to join together to promote awareness of albinism, provide support for those living with disabilities, and respect the provisions of Nigeria’s own Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act of 2018.  When we each lend our voice to support and employ persons with disabilities, we give them the needed opportunity to demonstrate their talent, which makes our communities stronger.

In closing, I want to reiterate that the U.S. government stands as your partner and will continue to vehemently advocate for freedom of expression and basic human rights for all citizens.  And we do this fully acknowledging that we, as a nation, have flaws.  But we do not shy away from conversations about these flaws.  We work to address them.  And we press on, in hopes that we can leave the country better than we found it.  It is why we feel the need to express our disappointment and deep concern over the recent decision of the Nigerian government to suspend Twitter.  It is why we invest in supporting people with disabilities.  And it is why we seek to give a voice to those who have none.  As President Biden has stated, our need for individual expression, open public conversation, and accountability has never been greater.  The path to a more secure and inclusive Nigeria lies in more, not less communication, and I encourage each of you to continue this dialogue to raise awareness of fundamental human rights and issues affecting persons with disabilities.  Each individual must have an equal opportunity to develop his or her unique talents and be free to pursue their dreams.

I’d like to commend The Albino Foundation for putting together today’s event and applaud each of you for your advocacy for the rights of persons with albinism.  I urge you to keep up the good work and to continue to help raise awareness and lend support to those living with disabilities.  Your efforts today serve as a basis to build a better and more inclusive future together.  This is a fitting occasion to reflect on the firm belief that all members of the human family are, as in the words of my country’s Declaration of Independence, “created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thank you for taking time out of your weekend to stand with us in defense of human rights.