Biden appoints Sara Minkara as US special advisor on international disability rights


President Biden announced on Thursday that he has appointed Sara Minkara to serve as U.S. special advisor on international disability rights.

The senior-level position, which is housed within the State Department, is meant to lead the U.S.’s strategy when it comes to promoting and protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities throughout the world and in the department, according to a statement from the White House.

Minkara, who lost her eyesight when she was seven years old, is a board member of Empowerment Through Integration, a nonprofit organization she founded when she was still an undergraduate student.

The group, according to the White House, works to “disrupt the narrative surrounding disability through both empowering youth with disabilities individually and accelerating authentic inclusion globally.”

Former President Obama created the position of special adviser on international disability rights, elevating Judith Heumann to the post in 2010. The role was not filled during the Trump administration, according to CNN.

The White House said Minkara’s appointment to the State Department post is “more necessary than ever,” pointing to the fact that COVID-19, climate change and “political unrest disproportionately impact persons with disabilities.”

“Discrimination against persons with disabilities hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies. With Sara’s leadership, the United States can play an important role in meeting these challenges and mitigating their harmful impacts on persons with disabilities globally,” the White House added.

Minkara is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Harvard Kennedy School. She previously advised a number of academic, government and policy groups on matters relating to disability, gender, interpersonal dynamics, inclusion and entrepreneurship, including the United Nations and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program, according to the White House.

She told The Hill in a statement that she is “thrilled and honored” to join the Biden administration, underscoring the importance of disability inclusion.

“As a blind person, disability inclusion is important to me personally and professionally; disability inclusion benefits everyone. Disability rights are not merely human rights, rather an imperative for a fully realized society. When we are all included, we all benefit. I truly believe the inclusion of all is a value for all,” Minkara said.

“The inclusion of persons with disabilities is a value for all. I am so excited to start this new chapter at the State Department, bringing my experience and vision to serve the administration and empower PWDs around the world,” she added.

Minkara, in an interview with CNN, emphasized the importance of thinking about the people with disabilities, which is one-seventh of the world population.

“One-seventh of our world’s population — 1 billion people — are people with disabilities. And if we are not thinking about that community when we’re talking about foreign policy and policy in general, that means we’re really ignoring 1/7th of our world population,” Minkara said.

She told the network that she is optimistic that her entrepreneurial experience will give her an opportunity to “shake things up” at the State Department and offer a new outlook.

“When you think about disability, what’s the first thing that comes to our mind? It’s oh, I guess, poor you — people suffer, struggle, burden, incapable, less than, an add on, costly. All these different things, right?” Minkara said.

“The second layer of that narrative could be, oh, we have to educate and we have to employ, we have to include people because it’s the right thing to do,” she added. “I want to get to a point where our society says disability is a value for us as a society, and when we don’t include them we lose out on their value. When we don’t include people with disabilities it’s a loss to us.”

Minkara’s appointment was made during National Disability Employment Month.

— Updated Oct. 29 at 5:19 p.m.

Tags Barack Obama Disability Disability rights Joe Biden Sara Minkara

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