This is an important week for people with disabilities, including myself. In fact, it’s important to anyone who supports opening the world to Americans with disabilities, Americans who wish to enjoy the same opportunities as our fellow citizens to study, travel, serve, and work overseas. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin considering the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Treaty), which embodies, at the international level, the principles of non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and inclusion grounded in our own Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
More than 130 countries have ratified the Disabilities Treaty, but the United States has not. The United States set the gold standard for disabilities rights when we passed the ADA in 1990, and we have the opportunity to lead again. By ratifying the Disabilities Treaty, the United States can carry forward its strong leadership on these issues, breaking down barriers, and making a real difference for the one billion people living with a disability, many of whom too often face discrimination, inequality, abuse, or neglect.
Last week, I sat with Vice President Biden and Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett to discuss the treaty with disability leaders, veterans, business leaders, and people of faith from around the country. We reiterated the Administration’s strong support for the Treaty and the fact that ratification will have a direct positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities -- including our wounded warriors and disabled veterans.
Joining treaties is an exercise of our sovereignty. It is an exercise that the Founding Fathers foresaw when they built mechanisms into the Constitution that enable the U.S. Senate to give its advice and consent to international agreements of all types. And the United States has a proud tradition of using treaties to uphold American values and principles, including treaties combating genocide, racial discrimination, and torture, and upholding religious freedom and freedom of expression. Thousands of Americans with disabilities would not support the Disabilities Treaty if we felt it would in any way denigrate these United States of America and our fellow citizens.
There are additional points that are important to know about ratification of the Disabilities Treaty.
First, the Disabilities Treaty upholds family values, promotes families with disabilities staying together, and protects parental rights. U.S. ratification will protect the authority of parents to raise their children as they see fit, including making their own decisions about education and parental discipline. In particular, the Treaty upholds the ability of parents to homeschool their children with disabilities, and joining this treaty will provide the United States with a platform from which to show other countries how homeschooling can be done effectively.
Second, the Disabilities Treaty does not change U.S. law regarding abortion. Indeed, many countries that prohibit or restrict abortion have ratified the treaty.
And finally, U.S. ratification will keep the balance of power between the federal government and the states exactly the same.
Joining the treaty is the best tool we have to promote and export our disability rights gold standard, open markets for U.S. businesses, encourage meaningful systemic improvements in other countries, and open the world to Americans with disabilities wishing to work, travel, study, and serve abroad.
As Secretary Kerry recently said, “[I]n too many countries, what we have come to be able to take for granted here in America hasn't been granted at all.” The time is now for action on the Disabilities Treaty.
To learn more, visit http://www.state.gov/disabilitiestreaty.
About the Author: Judith Heumann serves as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights.