Why we need to pass the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United States Senate is meeting this month to discuss a treaty that would promote access and equality for all people with disabilities around the world.  This pact would extend the same rights that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures for people with disabilities in this country.

To date, 138 countries have ratified the treaty, known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  However, the United States is not among them.

ADVERTISEMENT
The U.S. already has the strictest laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities, so ratifying the treaty wouldn’t require any changes in current policy. The United Nations does not need U.S. support to move ahead with the treaty, but our support would reinforce American leadership in disability rights and encourage adoption by more nations.

An attempt at ratification by the Senate last December fell short by just five votes. Next month, the Senate votes again. Now is the time to ratify the treaty. It is in the best interests of Americans with disabilities, their counterparts around the world, U.S. businesses, and the U.S., the nation that stands for equality and inclusion. .

Consider why the treaty is so important:

  • There are 5.5 million veterans with disabilities who bravely fought for our country. Some veterans have family members with disabilities. They have every right to work, study and travel abroad and be treated with respect and dignity. Our veterans fought for our freedom; it’s up to us to fight for theirs.
  • People with disabilities are the largest minority group in this country, numbering more than 56 million.  In the U.S., we promote inclusion and employment for people with disabilities.  As more and more Americans with disabilities enter the workforce, their need to travel for business increases.  What if they can’t get into a building due to curbs, stairs or lack of elevators?  What if they are denied the chance to contribute based on their disabilities?  Until the treaty is ratified, there are no rules that govern the rights of Americans with disabilities who travel abroad for education, recreation or work. 
  • Internationally, there are one billion people with disabilities, 80 percent of whom live in developing countries. Some are denied the most basic rights such as a birth certificate or a name. This level of discrimination is unacceptable. Support for the CRPD is an important step toward eliminating discriminatory practices against people with disabilities and paving the way for them to lead independent and productive lives.

Support for the treaty also supports U.S. business interests.

  • The U.S. needs to have a seat at the decision-making table as other nations discuss the CRPD.  American businesses make many products that improve accessibility and quality of life for people with disabilities. With an estimated discretionary buying power of more than $200 billion – people with disabilities represent a large market for assistive technology, as well as for consumer products and services.
  • Ratification of the treaty ensures that American products are competitive in the international marketplace. The treaty is likely to open up untapped consumer segments around the globe – and may lead to more employment opportunities for people with disabilities. 

Support for the treaty is bipartisan. Senators on both sides of the aisle – John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) – are on the record as being in favor.  Retired senators, including Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), have also expressed support.  

A broad coalition of American businesses, disability organizations, civil rights advocates, religious organizations and veterans groups also support ratification of the CRPD —including Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Let’s promote the ADA’s values of civil rights, independence, respect and reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities around the world.  We can’t miss another opportunity to be counted among the nations who have adopted this treaty.  The time to ratify is now.

DeRose is president and CEO of Kessler Foundation, a national organization dedicated to improving employment and job training options for Americans with disabilities, including veterans.