ABILITY Event Conference

  • Senator Harkin
  • two women
  • sygall
  • steve
  • Joseph Jones

The ABILITY Event

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability

Fall 2021 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted on Dec. 13, 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The CRPD is the only international treaty addressing human rights for persons with disabilities.

This year the ABILITY Event will celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the CRPD by hosting a series of international speakers discussing the impact of the CRPD locally, nationally and globally. This seven-series event will be offered both virtually and in-person with the last session culminating in a symposium broadcast from Dubai at the World Expo on Dec. 3.

This is a student-led event that the St. Cloud State University Rehabilitation Studies Program hosts every year in partnership with Hamline University, Metropolitan State, Normandale Community College and Global Minnesota.


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Importance of the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

  1. This is the only fully comprehensive international convention that countries can use to ensure people with disabilities have the same human rights as everyone else.
  2. In a time where diversity, equity and inclusion are at the forefront of multiple conversations and actions, we must include: ACCESSIBILIITY. Too often disability and accessibility are not discussed in the larger concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The CRPD helps to shed light on the importance of accessibility for all regardless of where you live in the world.
  3. People with disabilities are the most marginalized population in the world. It is estimated that 20% of the population has a disability, intersecting every racial, ethnic, and economic group.
  4. The CRPD opens doors for education, employment, political participation, and accessibility. This framework empowers everyone, individuals with and without disabilities, to learn more about justice for people with disabilities.
  5. Anyone who works with individuals with a disability or has a disability should take this opportunity to learn more about the CRPD and its promotion of human rights for individuals with disabilities.

The in-person event will be at St. Cloud State in Atwood in Voyageurs. The on-campus event is inclusive of lunch at 11:30 a.m. prior to the ABILITY Event speaker. Each lunch will be inclusive of mini-presentations by St. Cloud State faculty and visiting scholars from China from 11:45 a.m.-12 p.m.

American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and captioning provided for in person and via zoom.

Calendar and Schedule

All webinars will be streamed live at 12 p.m. CST United States time zone

Location: Atwood Memorial Center, Voyageurs Room

  • Sept. 8, 2021 / Jose Viera and Vladimir Cuk: International Disability Alliance
    • An overview of what the CRPD
    • The mission and work of the International Disability Alliance
    • Implementation and monitoring of the CRPD and Optional Protocols
  • Sept. 22, 2011 / Andrés J. Gallegos, Esq.: National Council on Disability
    • Overview of the National Council on Disabilities
    • Current NCD initiatives with the CRPD
    • Working with the U.S. Congress to ratify the CRPD
  • Oct. 6, 2021 / Isabel Hodge: United States International Council on Disabilities
    • Overview of US International Council on Disability
    • The U.S. CRPD campaign and how attendees can be involved
    • The USICD's work with assisting countries with implementation of the CRPD
  • Oct. 20, 2021 / Gerard Quinn: UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    • The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities role
    • Implementation of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy
  • Nov. 3, 2021 / Yang Jia: Professor, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China
    • An overview of the committee work in the development of the CRPD
    • The perspective of the CRPD from a China lens
  • Nov 17, 2021 / Dr. Patricia Morrissey: Center for Disability Studies, University of Hawaii
    • Book overview, A Moral Imperative: U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
    • Discussion of current efforts to advance the rights of people with disabilities and disability policy
  • Dec. 3, 2021 / Un International Day for Persons with Disabilities, Dubai Expo 2020

Jose Viera and Vladimir Cuk Bios

Jose Viera photoMr. Viera has more than 18 years of experience working nationally and internationally in the field of human rights and inclusive development. As a person with a disability, Mr. Viera has a personal commitment to improving the lives of persons with disabilities and advocating for their human rights.

Currently, Mr. Viera is the Chief Executive Officer for the World Blind Union. The World Blind Union, a global organization, has broad international membership with 300 organizations at the sub-national and regional levels and in over 196 countries. In addition, Mr. Viera is the Permanent Representative of the UN Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities as well as the former President of the Federation of the Blind of Argentina.
Since January 2021 Mr Viera is the IDA Global Disability Summit Senior Manager leading the work around the implementation the GDS 2018 commitments and the preparations for the next GDS 2022.

Mr. Viera has previously served as Human Rights Policy Advisor for the World Blind Union as well as an international consultant for several UN agencies and global entities in the field of inclusive development and disability rights.

Before joining WBU, Mr. Viera was director of the Latin American Regional Center for Disability Rights Promotion International, which is a global monitoring rights system were, he led different regional and global initiatives to promote the ratification and implementation of the UN CRPD and the agenda 2030.

In addition, Mr. Viera, has more than 10 years of experience as associate professor at the international studies department of Siglo 21 University in Argentina, lecturing on issues related to sustainable development, international cooperation etc.

Mr. Viera holds a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a master’s degree in Management of Development. Mr. Viera has contributed to various publications and research projects on disability and development with a special focus on the Global South. Moreover, Mr. Viera has supported many national and international organizations of persons with disabilities in their advocacy work.


Vladimir Cuk photoDr. Vladimir Cuk has 20 years of a progressive and diverse career in implementing the rights of persons with disabilities and international development as well as personal experience of disability. Vladimir started his career in war-torn Yugoslavia by establishing a grassroot organization of young people with disabilities. He continued at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a researcher, and finally serves as the Executive Director of the International Disability Alliance. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in Disability Studies, together with seven awards in recognition for his academic achievements. Vladimir has published a book, several articles and encyclopedia entries. Vladimir lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

As Executive Director, Vladimir is responsible for managing the Secretariat of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), a team of 40 staff Members based all around the world. In addition, he is responsible for IDA’s advocacy towards the UN System as well as for co-chairing the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) – the donor coordination mechanism which promotes disability inclusive development. Vladimir has extensive experience in managing multi-stakeholder partnerships and networks, serving on Policy Boards of United Nations Groups, and sitting on expert groups. He also has experience in external relations, including the coordination of the first-ever Global Disability Summit, resource mobilization and management at the global and national level. Vladimir has managed relationships with more than 80 United Nations UN) missions across all pillars of the UN’s work, and engagement with UN Country Teams, as well as managed disability related programs for results at global and country level.

Andrés J. Gallegos Bio

Andres Gallegos photoAndrés J. Gallegos, Esq. is the Chairman of the National Council on Disability. He is a shareholder with the law firm of Robbins, Salomon and Patt, Ltd., in Chicago, Illinois, where he focuses his practice on disability rights and healthcare law. He founded and directs the law firm’s national disability rights practice, which has as its emphasis improving access to healthcare and wellness programs for persons across all types of disabilities. He is the immediate past Chairman of the Board of Directors of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, Chicago’s Center for Independent Living, and is a two-term past-member of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Illinois, having been appointed by the governor. He is also a board member of ADA 25 Advancing Leadership Institute, a Chicago-based non-for profit whose mission is to increase civic engagement and diverse leadership in the Chicago region by developing and building a network of leaders with disabilities. He is the 2015 recipient of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award from the American Association of People with Disabilities. He has written numerous articles for national and state professional healthcare and legal organizations on matters relating to the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to healthcare providers, and is a highly-sought out lecturer on accessible healthcare and disability rights. He graduated with Honors from the University of Southern Mississippi, with a B.S. in Business Administration, and he attained a Juris Doctorate from the St. Louis University School of Law. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force, serving honorably for 14 years.

Isabel Hodge Bio

Isabel HOdge photoIsabel Hodge is a distinguished leader and advocate in the international disability rights movement. As Executive Director of the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD), she manages a 30-year global networking and consulting hub with relationships with organizations of persons with disabilities in countries around the world. Isabel’s advocacy work involves striving for the US’ ratification of and promoting and assisting countries with their implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). She is guided by a commitment to the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by people with disabilities.

Isabel is a native of Glasgow, Scotland and a US Marine Corps veteran. Prior to joining USICD, Isabel was a Senior Analyst for the US Department of Defense Office of Special Needs. Isabel was also an Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) specialist at Headquarters Marine Corps and an installation EFMP program manager. In 2000, she received the Commander-in-Chief’s Special Recognition for Installation Excellence Award from President Bill Clinton.

Isabel currently serves as the Vice President of Disabled Peoples International North America and the Caribbean and on the Board of Directors for Wheelchairs for Kids International. She is an advisor to the Enabled Children’s Initiative, which is a non-profit working to improve the quality of life for Afghans with disabilities.

Isabel’s middle child, Allistair, is an adult who has autism and an intellectual disability. Isabel is also a person with a disability and is the spouse of a disabled Marine Corps veteran.

Gerard Quinn Bio

Mr. Gerard Quinn was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities byGerard Quinn photo the Human Rights Council at its 45th session, in October 2020.

Mr. Quinn holds two research chairs at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute on Human Rights in the University of Lund (Sweden) and Leeds University (UK).

A graduate of Harvard Law School, the King's Inns (Dublin) and the National University of Ireland, he formerly held a chair at the National University of Ireland where he founded and directed the Centre on Disability Law & Policy.

In Ireland, he served as a member of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities (1992-1996) which was composed of a majority of persons with disabilities. This Commission produced an early blueprint for change in Ireland based on equality. He was Director of Research at the Government's Law Reform Commission (1997-1998). He was a member of the Irish Government Taskforce on the individualization of budgets and services (2017-2018). He served two terms on Irelands’ Human Rights Commission. At the invitation of the President of Ireland, he served on the Council of State (Ireland) from January 2012-2018.

Mr. Quinn was the lead ‘focal point’ for the global network of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) during much of the negotiation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and was head of delegation for Rehabilitation International during the UN Working Group (2004). He has served as First Vice-President of the European Committee on Social Rights (a human rights monitoring body on economic and social rights in the Council of Europe) where he helped develop its jurisprudence on the rights of persons with disabilities and older persons.

He has received three awards for his work on international disability Law - from Rehabilitation International (RI), the US International Council on Disability (USICD) and the European Association of Service Providers (EASPD). He served as a temporary civil servant in the European Commission (agent auxiliaire) in the mid-1990s and helped develop its policy on disability based on equality (1996). He served as a member of the Scientific Committee (research advisory board) of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (2013-2018) with responsibility for disability and elder rights.

He has served in the past on several other advisory boards on disability issues including Human Rights Watch (NYC), Open Society Foundations (Washington DC), Interights (London) and the European Foundation Centre (Brussels).

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