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Ken Rutherford

Advocating for Disability Rights Through International Engagement

Kenneth R. Rutherford, PhD 
Political Scientist and Disability Rights Activist 
2005 Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Jordan 

Photo of Ken Rutherford in a suit sitting at his desk

In 1993, Dr. Kenneth R. Rutherford was conducting humanitarian work for the International Rescue Committee along the Somalia-Ethiopia border. Suddenly, his Land Rover lurched forward and filled with dust as it hit a landmine, taking both of his legs and nearly killing him.  

Many of the victims of landmines are not as lucky as Dr. Rutherford. He resolved to use his experience to champion the rights of landmine survivors through international cooperation. Named to Action on Armed Violence’s “Top 100: The Most Influential People in Armed Violence Reduction” for his remarkable career, he co-founded the Landmine Survivors Network (LSN); accompanied Diana, Princess of Wales on her final humanitarian mission to visit landmine survivors in Bosnia-Herzegovina; and helped lead the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a group that received The Nobel Peace Prize 1997.  

Dr. Rutherford has also testified to the United States Congress and spearheaded collaborative relationships with the U.S. government and United Nations; delivered presentations in nearly 40 countries; and published on policy and humanitarian efforts in five books and numerous academic and policy journals, including the Journal of International Law and PolicyWorld Politics, and the Journal of International Politics. With a PhD in Government from Georgetown University, he has taught political science at Missouri State University and James Madison University, where he also served for more than a decade as the director of the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery (CISR), a global leader in efforts to combat the effects of landmines.  

Ken Rutherford, in a suit with the legs rolled up to show his prosthetic legs, sitting next to a man in Vietnam who also has prosthetic legs.
Dr. Kenneth R. Rutherford (right) in Quảng Nam Province, Vietnam with a fellow landmine survivor. 

A 2005 Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to the University of Jordan in Amman proved to be a pivotal point in his journey. The experience helped to “crystalize [his] vision for the human rights for persons with disabilities,” and to prepare a course on global disability rights at James Madison University. In addition, Dr. Rutherford’s Fulbright informed his “global advocacy work, including the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006, and the Victim Assistance obligations in the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008.” 

On his Fulbright, Dr. Rutherford researched Jordan’s regional leadership in protecting the rights of the disabled, describing how Jordan’s royal family “leveraged the tradition of openness and generosity coupled with one of the best educational systems in the Arab world to promote disability issues.” His resulting peer-reviewed article, “Jordan and Disability Rights: A Pioneering Leader in the Arab World,” was published in the Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal. For Dr. Rutherford, his Fulbright remains “one of the greatest personal and professional experiences of [his] life […] The experience exceeded my expectations and I was honored to be selected and continue to be humbled to serve in Jordan.”  

Ken Rutherford standing in front of a mural on the Jordan-Syria border.
Dr. Kenneth R. Rutherford on the Jordan-Syria border while traveling to speak at the opening of a new Quneitra Governorate-based hospital in southwestern Syria for landmine victims.

Dr. Rutherford’s impact is keenly felt in Jordan. The Jordan Times wrote of him: “Passionate about the cause is a bit of an understatement when it comes to describing Rutherford’s reaction to the issues he is dealing with. Asked what changes he would like to see for disabled people in Jordan, the list is relatively short but demanding. A nationwide awareness campaign to publicize disability rights, mainstreaming physically challenged children within the education sector and penalizing businesses for not offering disabled access are high on his agenda.” 

He has continued to teach, advise, and speak out on behalf of disabled individuals in the United States and around the world. He discussed disability and exchange in the Muslim world in a 2006 symposium hosted by Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a Fulbright Program partner organization that promotes accessibility in international exchange, on behalf of The National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange (NCDE), a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.