Summer 2015: The Role of Transnational Disability Rights in US-Russia Relations

June and July of 2015 will find me in Washington DC, as a Summer Fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. I’m excited to be a part of this vibrant community of scholar working on global, policy-relevant research.

This marks a new phase of my research and the development of my manuscript, as I develop the ways in which the ethnographic research I’ve conducted with adults with disabilities in Russia holds relevance for transnational disability advocacy and for policymakers concerned with US-Russia relations and global human rights.

This phase of the project will focus on qualitative interviews with DC area experts including disability rights advocates, policymakers, and international relations practitioners. Interviews will focus on the recent history of transnational disability rights advocacy, on US foreign policy strategy concerning disability rights, and on how disability rights advocacy compares to other minority rights issues, e.g. gender and LGBTQ rights in these arenas.

A little background:

In 2012, the Russian Federation ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

As of 2014, the United States has not ratified the same Convention. In policy briefs and news articles, disability advocates cite the fact that Russia has ratified the CRPD as a manner of shaming US lawmakers, implying that a country often considered to be backwards on human rights is ahead of the United States on this issue.

What’s going on here? Why do Americans assume that Russia is always worse on human rights than the US? What is the recent history of the efforts of US disability advocates to lobby for a ratification of the UNCRPD? What are the political factors that have led to its repeated shelving in US Congress? When do US foreign relations practitioners bring up disability rights in transnational conversations?

In part this project will function as an oral history of the transnational disability advocacy movement. At the same time, it will document recent developments in both US-Russia foreign policy in regard to human rights, and offer a sustained investigation of how disability rights come into play (or don’t) when Americans talk about Russia.

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