Disabled People’s Association (DPA) was invited to attend the inaugural Harkin Summit in Washington, DC. Held over two days on 8-9 December 2016, the Harkin International Disability Employment Summit brought together stakeholders from many sectors including businesses, ranging from smaller to larger companies, civil society, social enterprises, institutions of higher learning, Government and disability advocates. The Summit brought together over 180 stakeholders from 31 countries to focus on employment for persons with disabilities because it is the key to independence and economic sustainability.
The Harkin Summit is the passion project of retired Senator Tom Harkin, who has a long history of driving the disability movement in the United States of America. He was a key to the realisation of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.
What made this Summit different from other international disability conferences and workshops is that it was managed to balance having a good mix of stakeholders, with being a small enough gathering that you could speak to and learn from almost every participant. In addition, it is rare for disabled people’s organisations to have the opportunity to hear from and engage with high level representatives from the business sector, legislators and social enterprises. The break-out sessions allowed for there to be substantive and thought-provoking discussions about how to move the needle on inclusive employment across different cultures and industries. It was interesting to hear about case studies from across Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas to help DPA develop strategies to increase the employment opportunities for people with disabilities in Singapore.
From the very start of the Summit the organisers were clear that they did not want the participants to merely talk about increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, instead that they wanted us to identify strategies that we could take away with us and start working on. They wanted the Summit to be the start of a process and not just be a meeting of like-minded people.
Dr Marissa Medjeral-Mills, DPA’s Executive Director was given the opportunity to speak on the opening panel of the Summit representing civil society. It was an honour to have DPA be represented on a panel that included Sue Swenson, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, Steve Pemberton, Global Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo, Disability Advisor for the World Bank and Lizzie Kiama, Founder & CEO, This Ability Consulting, Kenya. During that panel discussion participants shared lessons they learnt whilst trying to bring more people with disabilities in to the labour force. There was also a candid discussion about what each representative would like to see their sector doing more of, what they thought they needed from the other sectors and what those sectors were doing that was not helpful. Panelists spoke about where they believed the big opportunities were for their sector to have an impact and how they proposed to accelerate change in employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.
DPA is thankful for the both the opportunity to attend this Summit and the generous sponsorship that enabled DPA to make the over twenty hour journey there. DPA is excited to see what comes from the Harkin Summit in the years to come. The Summit was sponsored and supported by Jay Ruderman and The Ruderman Family Foundation, Kessler Foundation, Ford Foundation, Microsoft, SAP, Walgreens, The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement, Association of University Centers on Disabilities and Handicap International United States.