Award Presentation was made at Annual AAPD Leadership Gala March 5, 2008, National Building Museum, Washington, DC
WASHINGTON, DC - The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) announces that the prestigious 2008 Henry B. Betts Award will be presented to Eric Rosenthal for pioneering the field of international human rights advocacy for people with disabilities and bringing unprecedented international awareness to their concerns. He established and is Executive Director of Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI). Through MDRI, Rosenthal has investigated human rights conditions in 23 countries. He has trained and supported the work of disability activists around the world to fight these abuses.
The Henry B. Betts Award is named in honor of Henry B. Betts, M.D., a pioneer in the field of rehabilitation medicine who started his career with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago in 1964, making it the base for his career as an advocate for people with physical disabilities and leader in the field of rehabilitation medicine, and who has devoted himself to improving the quality of life for people with disabilities. The award program was created in 1989 and is funded by the Prince Charitable Trusts.
"Eric Rosenthal has helped to galvanize international attention to the human rights violations that people with significant disabilities are subjected to every day," says AAPD President and CEO Andrew J. Imparato. "His vision, passion, strategic advocacy, and belief in self-determination and human dignity are changing policies and changing lives in a disability movement that is increasingly connected across the globe."
Rosenthal grew up with manic depression in his family. He was interested in psychiatry when he entered college, but after working on a psychiatric ward became uncomfortable with the coercion he observed. After law school he went to Mexico to document abuses against indigenous people. He observed the dehumanization of people held naked and in filth in psychiatric facilities and brought this to the attention of international human rights groups, who were uninterested. In response, Rosenthal established Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) in 1993.
MDRI's reports have been the first to bring widespread recognition that the discrimination and abuse of people with disabilities constitutes a violation of international human rights law. The United Nations recently adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in no small part due to Rosenthal's role promoting disability rights as human rights.
In Uruguay, Hungary, Russia, Armenia, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Turkey, Romania, Argentina, and most recently, Serbia, MDRI has drawn international attention to horrendous conditions, helped change government policies, and supported grassroots organizing around disability rights. Rosenthal documents and effectively fights human rights abuses, and has won precedent-setting legal victories before international tribunals and brought support to people with mental disabilities to fight for their own rights in these and more than 23 countries. In Paraguay, for instance, MDRI won a decision from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the release of two boys with autism held naked in isolation cells for years, and Paraguay entered into a settlement with MDRI to deinstitutionalize its national mental health system. Through the leadership of MDRI's Associate Director, Laurie Ahern, MDRI is working with the President of Kosovo to close Shtime Institution, Kosovo's psychiatric facility, and create a community support system built on the leadership of local disability activists. This model reform would make Kosovo the first region in Central/Eastern Europe to end the segregation of people with mental disabilities.
"Eric Rosenthal's work has been revolutionary," says Alison A. Hillman de Vel‡squez, Director of Americas Program at MDRI. "He has labored tirelessly for the recognition and enforcement of the rights of arguably the most marginalized and stigmatized population of persons with disabilities, persons with psychiatric diagnoses and intellectual disabilities, and for the recognition of the rights of persons with disabilities as human rights."
The 2008 Henry B. Betts Award will be presented collaboratively by AAPD and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at the 2008 AAPD Leadership Gala, an awards ceremony and dinner, on March 5, 2008, at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. For additional information about this event, visit the AAPD website: www.aapd.com, or call AAPD at 202-457-0046 (V/TTY).