October 28, 2021
President Joe Biden on Thursday announced the appointment of Sara Minkara as the US special adviser on international disability rights, filling a role that was created by former President Barack Obama and left vacant during the Trump administration.
“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 told CNN in an interview.
Minkara will be positioned at the State Department and will be tasked with leading the US strategy to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities internationally and across the department, the White House said in a news release.
Minkara, who lost her eyesight at the age of 7, founded a nonprofit organization called Empowerment Through Integration through a Clinton Global Initiative grant as an undergraduate student. The nonprofit’s mission is to “disrupt the narrative surrounding disability,” according to the White House release, and empower young people with disabilities.
Minkara told CNN she hopes her background as an entrepreneur will allow her to “shake things up” at the State Department and bring a fresh perspective.
“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?” she said.
She continued: “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.”
“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 said.
She has advised a number of academic, government and policy groups on issues related to disability and inclusion, including the United Nations and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Executive Education program. She is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School.
In 2010, Obama appointed disability rights advocate Judith Heumann as the first special adviser for international disability rights at the State Department. Heumann had served as the World Bank’s first adviser on disability and development and in the Clinton administration’s Department of Education. Last year, she was featured in the Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”
Minkara praised Heumann’s leadership and advocacy and told CNN that Heumann has been an “amazing mentor and friend,” and she was honored to be following in her footsteps.