Senate delay of UN disability treaty is inexcusable

Senate delay of UN disability treaty is inexcusable

In a country formerly on the vanguard for equality and optimal access for people with disabilities, our failure to ratify the treaty supporting their rights is an affront to one billion around the globe.

Eight years after its completion and five years after the administration’s signature, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) languishes in the United States Senate still unratified.

It is hardly a partisan issue. The treaty was endorsed by Robert Dole, a former Senate Republican Leader and presidential candidate as well as John McCain, currently a Republican Senator and a former presidential nominee. Both sustained life-long impairments while fighting for our country– Dole in World War II and McCain in Vietnam.

Another former Senator, John Kerry, with a distinguished military record who ran for president as well – but as a Democrat – also supports ratification.

“It really isn’t controversial,” said Kerry in an article published in Politico. “What this treaty says is simple. It just says that you can’t discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the American with Disabilities Act.”

But in December of 2012, the only time the treaty has been considered by the Senate, the vote was five shy of the super majority necessary for passage.

Those who voted against it gave three reasons – all spurious and two indicative of suspicion bordering on paranoia which, by the way, is a disabling condition.

“I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), summarizing the concerns of his faction.

Even without the hyperbole, the illogic supporting this statement borders on inconceivable, especially coming from a U.S. Senator. Does this man realize that 57.8 million Americans have one or more disabilities and that, in fact, they are this nation’s and the world’s largest minority? What could possibly be more American – and by definition less un-American – than insuring the rights of people subject to prejudice along with material and social discomforts by a majority frequently indifferent to the conditions and customs bolstering the disadvantages?

The “cumbersome regulations” that Inhofe and others of his ilk allude to are modeled after U.S. stipulations including those in the ADA, Section 504 of the Vocational and Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and a host of Appellate and Supreme Court decisions including Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. 

A second objection to the convention is equally unwarranted and even more revelatory of the disregard for the wellbeing of people with physical, emotional, or mental impairments.

A clause in the CRPD refers to protecting the “sexual and reproductive health” of those who have disabilities. Social conservatives speculate that this protection is an underhanded attempt to advocate for abortions on a global scale.

Surely these senators know that a U.N. convention cannot override national laws so the treaty would have no impact on regulations already in place in any country. But more importantly – and more poignantly – the concern over this phrasing unveils the ignorance (or the utter disregard) these senators have for the plight of individuals with disabilities who are subject to a range of sexual oppressive acts from rape to sterilization in many countries throughout the international community.

Finally, some say the treaty is largely symbolic, unenforceable, and therefore unnecessary particularly in this country where we already have a host of laws assuring accommodations and dignity for those who have disabilities.

Only a character from “Alice and Wonderland” could overlook the fact that this rationale negates the other reasons for opposition. And only an oblivious statesman could discount the impact of symbolism in regard to the actions of the most revered deliberative body on the planet.

Eighty percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries and close to 150 nations have already signed onto the convention. America’s support will highlight the decades of national expertise we have developed for the worldwide effort for disability rights. It won’t cost a dime and it is unquestionably overdue.