Why we must ratify world rights of disabled
It could happen to you. Whether from a car accident or an injury sustained in service, your life, your mobility and your perspective could be changed in an instant.
Though we are from different ends of the political spectrum, we share much in common: We both became disabled as adults, went on to serve in Congress and share an unwavering support for the national and international rights and protections of persons with disabilities.
Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act was one of the proudest moments in our careers. Twenty-two years later, this important bipartisan legislation continues to support the independence and dignity of millions of Americans living with disabilities.
On Tuesday, Congress has a rare opportunity to share our disability rights commitment with other countries by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This treaty provides a framework for countries to pass legislation that recognizes the rights of all people with disabilities and is based on our own ADA. It adopts the principles we pioneered through passage of the ADA: equal protection of every person, nondiscrimination, the fundamental importance of independent living and the right to make basic choices about our lives.
By ratifying the treaty, the Senate will stand up for the equality and dignity of people with disabilities around the globe ‑ just as Congress did for Americans in 1990.
To date, 126 countries have ratified the treaty. U.S. ratification has strong bipartisan support in the Senate and is backed by more than 300 disability organizations; 21 veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Wounded Warriors Project; and more than 30 religious and interfaith groups. Because the United States has been a leader in ensuring rights for individuals with disabilities, ratification does not require changes to laws in the U.S. and would not require any new budget spending.
Ratification would signal to the world that Washington is committed to international standards for disability rights and will play a leadership role in the implementation of treaty obligations.
Most important, ratification is in the best interests of the United States. It will benefit persons with disabilities in our country and the American business community. The CRPD will encourage the adoption of U.S. businesses innovative technology to improve accessibility around the world. It is no surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports it.
The CRPD promotes an accessible environment for Americans who work, travel and study abroad. Thousands of military service members serve and live overseas with their families, many of which include children and spouses with disabilities. The CRPD promotes greater accessibility and protection from disability discrimination in these countries. Our service members returning from abroad with disabilities should not be denied career opportunities in the global economy.
Some in the Senate have expressed concerns about the treaty. Fortunately, these critics’ misgivings have been addressed by the Senate’s adoption of a series of conditions, called reservations, understanding and declarations. These 13 conditions protect U.S. sovereignty, ensure parental rights and recognize the treaty as a nondiscrimination instrument, similar to our own ADA.
The United States has been a leader in disability rights through bipartisan legislation, including the ADA and its Amendments Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Rosa’s Law and the Developmental Disabilities Act. It must continue this tradition.
The CRPD is the next step in the march toward freedom and dignity of all Americans with disabilities. ADA passage was an honorable moment in U.S. history, when we joined together as a nation to stand up for a worthy cause.
It is essential that the Senate support ratification of the CRPD. We may not have another opportunity in our lifetimes, and we cannot afford to wait for those unconvinced of the treaty’s uniquely American principles. We must reaffirm our common values of equality, access and inclusion for all individuals with disabilities.
PHOTO (TOP):President George H. W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act at the White House, July 26, 1990. White House Archives
PHOTO (INSERT): President Barack Obama signs Executive Order increasing federal employment of individuals with disabilities, during an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act at the White House. July 26, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)