A Disability Inclusive Response to COVID-19

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01:00 pm


Zoom Webinar



In December, the UN recognizes the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. UNA-USA will facilitate an interactive discussion with high-level UN officials and U.S. activists to discuss how the UN is working to create a disability-inclusive response to COVID-19. Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is central to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – to leave no one behind. Speakers will discuss how we can achieve transformative and lasting change on disability inclusion in this time of crisis and beyond, using the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy framework and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Sadie Luke and Shruthisri Ravisankar, SDG 10 Global Goals Ambassadors


María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility

Appointed as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Disability and Accessibility since June, Ms. María Soledad Cisternas Reyes has been promoting the rights of persons with disabilities at regional and global levels. Prior to the current appointment, Ms. Cisternas was the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the United Nations and recipient of the National Prize of Human Rights (2014-2015). She has been working closely with the United Nations on disability issues for the past two decades, including serving as an expert before the ad hoc committee that developed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for which she is also the rapporteur for individual complaints.

As a human rights lawyer by training, she also serves as the director of the Legal Programme on Disability in the faculty of law of Diego Portales University, and contributes to the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities at national, regional and international levels. Ms. Cisternas trained municipal judges, civil servants and members of civil society in various regions of Chile in different aspects of the rights of persons with disabilities, drawing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; co-produced the documentary “Six Women in America” dealing with the process of the implementation of the Convention from a gender perspective; and advised the Human Rights Secretariat of the Latin American Union of Blind Persons (ULAC) and members of the Advisory Group of the Ibero-American Network of Non-Governmental Organizations of Persons with Disabilities and their Families (RIADIS).

She graduated from the Universidad Catolica de Chile with a law degree, and was awarded the title of Supreme Court attorney. Ms. Cisternas has also completed her Master’s studies in political science at the same university with a focus on political institutions and processes.

Kristin Duquette, U.S. Disability Rights Advocate

Kristin is a globally-recognized disability rights advocate, former world-class athlete, and political appointee in the Obama Administration. She is a five-time American Paralympic Record Holder, three-time Junior National Record Holder, and the former Captain of the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team for the 2010 Greek Open.

In 2014, Kristin was named the global mentor for disability inclusion initiatives under the Clinton Global Initiative University and her analysis of United Nations disability policies has been archived in the Academic Council on the United Nations System. From December 2015 to March 2017, Kristin was the Confidential Assistant to the Chief of Staff for the National Endowment for the Arts under the Obama Administration. From December 2017 to July 2019 Kristin was appointed by D.C. Mayor Bowser as the Chair to the city’s first Multimodal Accessibility Advisory Council. Kristin has been featured in Forbes for disabled women and the right to sexual health and shared innovative perspectives on disability sport and civic engagement at the United Nations, the World Bank, the Parsons School of Design.

In 2019, Kristin received the FEMA Administrator Award in Diversity Management and Inclusion for her contributions to the FEMA Women’s Forum Leadership Team. She holds a B.A. in Human Rights from Trinity College, a Graduate Certification from Harvard University, and is a One Young World Ambassador for the United States. As an undergraduate, her honors senior thesis argued whether disability rights are viewed as human rights with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Clinton Foundation listed Kristin as 1 of 12 people “who will inspire you to make a difference” along with Supreme Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Chelsea Clinton interviewed Kristin on stage about her life’s work and story. In 2020, to celebrate 50 years of coeducation, Trinity College selected Kristin as 1 of 50 women in the school’s history who will have a lasting impact on the institution over the next 50 years.

Kristin is currently a Preparedness Officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Transportation Security Grant Program inside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She resides in Washington, D.C., and is a student at the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security Program.

Dr. Ola Abu Alghaib, Director of the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), moderates a panel discussion at "The Missing Billion in UHC: Children and Persons with Developmental Delays and Disabilities", a UNGA74 event at the New York Public Library on 24 September 2019. "The Missing Billion" — attended by dignitaries from around the world — deliberated on the billion people with disabilities who lack access to Universal Health Care (UHC), a reality that not only violates the rights of people with disabilities under international law, but keeps true UHC and SDG 3 unattainable.

Dr. Ola Abualghaib, Manager of the Technical Secretariat, UN Partnership on Persons with Disabilities Fund at UNDP 

Ola has over twenty years of experience working on gender and disability in development including in fragile and crisis affected settings in the Arab States, Africa and Asia. Ola was  recently featured in the Gender Equality Top 100 list of most influential people in global policy in 2019.

Ruth Fernandez, Inclusion and Human Rights Advisor at UNDP Dominican Republic

Ruth Fernández has a degree in Philosophy and in Social and Cultural Anthropology, with a Master’s degree in International Cooperation for Development. She has been working in the Dominican Republic UNDP Country Office for more than 10 years and is currently Advisor on Inclusion and Human Rights, promoting public policies for People Living with HIV, LGBTI People and People with Disabilities, among others.

Participant Worksheet: Attendees can complete this action worksheet.

Additional Readings: 

COVID-19 Outbreak and Persons with Disabilities

UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities