Ambassador Chris Lu
US Representative for UN Management and Reform
New York, New York
June 14, 2022
Thank you to the co-chairs for your leadership on this issue. The United States welcomes the opportunity to address the important topics of pandemic preparedness and accessibility for people with disabilities, and we appreciate the briefings today on efforts already underway.
Over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, much work remains on incorporating lessons learned from the UN’s response. This includes changes to ensure strong leadership, the implementation of science-based mitigation measures, and the development of critical continuity mechanisms.
To that end, the United States reaffirms the authority of the Secretary General to lead and respond to public health emergencies at UN facilities here in New York and around the world. For the benefit of future responses to public health emergencies, the Secretary General must continue working with member states and host countries on the reasonable application of public health regulations consistent with applicable WHO or host country guidance.
We also join the EU in their comments on incorporating lessons learned regarding alternative operating environments. As we emerge from the pandemic, the UN should continue adopting technology to facilitate the greater use of hybrid and virtual meetings and conferences, which can promote efficiency and workplace flexibility. We believe this can be done in a way that fulfills the UN’s multilingualism mandate and is accessible to all.
We have also heard updates today on efforts to improve the accessibility of UN meetings and conferences. As the co-chair of the General Assembly Accessibility Steering Committee, the United States is disappointed by the pace of progress. The current requirement for delegations to submit requests for accessible seats for individual meetings is inefficient at best and inhospitable at worst. This needs to change. Delegates with disabilities are expected to cover meetings across bodies, often at the last minute. When these delegates can’t do their work, that diminishes all of our work.
We also call on the Secretary General to establish one reasonable accommodation mechanism for delegates to register a request from a standardized list of accommodations, including physical accessibility, modification of equipment or devices, and the provision of qualified readers or interpreters.
This single accommodation mechanism should be used for all official meetings, as well as informal meetings where there is assigned seating, regardless of what intergovernmental body is agreeing to the meeting. The failure of one meeting to ensure full accessibility is failure for all of us.
Just as critical to participation in meetings is access to UN documents, materials, websites and other digital interfaces. Like many of our national governments, the Secretariat should use the principles of universal design to ensure full digital accessibility. It is disappointing that the most basic tools like eDelegate are still not fully accessible to everyone because of poor web design. Accessibility standards are widely available – we just need to implement them.
None of these basic reforms mean anything if our people cannot physically access UN facilities. Once and for all, the Secretariat must make all necessary arrangements to ensure the equal access of individuals with disabilities to UN facilities, including entry and egress to and from UN buildings and compounds. In particular, we request a timeline for the completion of a fully functional, accessible front gate and the General Assembly podium lift. Both of these changes are overdue and are especially important as more meetings are returning to in-person.
We thank the co-chairs for their leadership, and we look forward to working with all member states to implement these critical reforms. Thank you.