Senate should pass ‘Disability Treaty’ in 2014

As I know firsthand, one can become disabled, partially in my case, or completely in the case of many friends. I became disabled during my
Foreign Service career. My spinal injury was frightening and I worried I would never walk again. I can walk but with difficulty.

Twenty-four years ago, I worked with disability rights activists in the political fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act. My late daughter, Alexandra, was born with a cardiac disability and I wanted a free life for her. The ADA gave her that for her brief 17 years.

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While working abroad I witnessed cruel cases of discrimination against disabled children in many countries. In all cases, the eyes of disabled children looking at me from streets, though shop windows and begging at my car window on heavy trafficked city roads, still haunt me and wake me at night.

Life could be different for these children if the Senate ratifies the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Rights of disabled children are addressed in Article 7 of the CRPD, also known as the Disability Treaty. This much-needed treaty will establish an ADA global framework for nations to enact and enforce laws recognizing the rights of the disabled. The U.S. signed the CRPD in 2009 but has yet to ratify it due to politics.

The CRPD would provide the disabled with equal protection under the law and help fight longstanding discrimination. Disabled individuals
would also have access to independent living and personal decision-making in their healthcare decisions.  In many countries, disabled children are still chained to beds and starved of food and compassion.

The U.S. Senate should ratify the CRPD and give the world’s disabled their dignity and equal rights in our global society. Such global rights for the disabled were an objective of the disability leaders of the 1980s and 1990s, like the late human rights leaders Justin W. Dart Jr., Even Kemp Jr., Ed Roberts, Harold Russell, and many others.

Nearly 150 countries, including Bulgaria and Romania, have ratified the CRPD. It is a shame on the U.S. Senate it has failed to do so when the treaty came up for a vote in 2012. Ratification of the CRPD is budget neutral and life affirming for the disabled including children around the world.

The U.S. Senate played a leadership role in passage of the ADA in 1990 with Republicans and Democrats working cooperatively to help their
disabled friends, family members, and supporters gain their civil rights and improve their lives.

CRPD also will aid disabled Americans as we study, worship, work and engage in business opportunities with disabled businesspeople in other
countries. CRPD is essential in creating an international community of disabled professionals working together to advance themselves and
others economically. CRPD is an economic incentive treaty and the Senate would be wise to see it as such.

Hill colleagues tell me the CRPD could not pass in this election season and it is better to hold off. As the Senate stalls, disabled children suffer in streets, slums, institutions and indifference. These children do not understand politics. Sadly, the Senate does not understand the fundamental needs, like compassion, healthcare, housing, food and hope, for disabled children.

My late daughter, Alexandra, loved looking at colorful photographs of eagles in flight. She never tired of imagining herself soaring with them.

The Senate should ratify the CRPD to give disabled children around the world an image of a soaring eagle to inspire them. It is the right thing to. Now is the time to do it.

Patterson is a San Francisco based writer, speaker and blogger at www.JEPHumanRights.blogspot.com