There’s a Disability Rights Treaty. The United States Still Hasn’t Ratified it.
It opened for signature a decade ago. It’s time for the U.S. Senate to act.
On a Friday afternoon in July 2009, President Obama gave remarks in the East Room of the White House about the signing of an international human rights treaty to protect the rights of people with disabilities.
“Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they’re universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world,” Obama said. “And that’s why I’m proud to announce that next week, the United States of America will join 140 other nations in signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.”
The treaty, known as CRPD, was inspired by U.S. leadership on disability rights and is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination in areas such as employment, public accommodations, and transportation.
“This extraordinary treaty calls on all nations to guarantee rights like those afforded under the ADA. It urges equal protection and equal benefits before the law for all citizens; reaffirms the inherent dignity and worth and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide,” Obama said.
CRPD opened for signature 10 years ago today — and as the committee that monitors CRPD implementation meets in Geneva right now to consider reports from eight countries, it’s a good reminder that the United States isn’t one of them. Despite Obama’s signature nearly eight years ago, the treaty — ratified by 172 countries — still awaits U.S. Senate ratification.
In December 2012, a Senate vote (61–38) fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority required to adopt an international treaty. In July 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the treaty (12–6) — but the full Senate never took a vote.
At a time when the United States has a president who mocked (while campaigning) a reporter with a disability, when the U.S. Secretary of Education is a threat to children with disabilities, and when the current U.S. Supreme Court nominee has repeatedly ruled against students with disabilities and who’s demonstrated a troubling approach to the rights of people with disabilities, it’s easy to feel discouraged about the state (and future) of disability rights.
But ratifying CRPD represents an opportunity to take bipartisan action and stand with the rest of the world in advancing the civil and human rights of people with disabilities everywhere. And it’s an opportunity to continue our nation’s tradition of advancing important human rights protections, as we did with the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the ADA, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 — all signed by Republican presidents.
Disability rights are civil and human rights. Now, a decade after the treaty opened for signature, it’s time to finally make a global commitment to protecting disability rights by ratifying it.