Yesterday, Secretary Kerry testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the importance of a treaty that will help open the world for the millions of disabled Americans wanting to serve and work overseas as well as study and travel abroad. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or the Disabilities Treaty, reinforces American leadership on disability rights and is good for the United States -- both for American citizens and for U.S. businesses.
Ratification of the Disabilities Treaty will provide an integral tool for the United States to promote the advancement of human rights for all people -- human rights that I have defended throughout my career in the Foreign Service. When the United States signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990, this bipartisan measure set the gold-standard for disability inclusion for other nations. Our Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann and American diplomats around the world work tirelessly to extend these rights to people in all nations. Ratification would allow us to work more closely with other countries to help them develop laws and practices like ours. It will help ensure that Americans with disabilities can enjoy the same protections, access, and opportunities they do at home.
Like the ADA, the Disabilities Treaty is about equality of treatment, independent-living and non-discrimination. The United States is committed to the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all people. This includes approximately 5.5 million veterans with disabilities and wounded warriors, over 54 million disabled Americans, and over one billion disabled people worldwide.
After all, people with disabilities have the same rights as all people to non-discrimination, access, inclusion, and full participation in society. And yet, the rights of disabled people are often violated due to prejudice and discrimination. For instance, it is estimated by UNESCO that 90 percent of children with disabilities do not attend school in developing countries. Tragically, many disabled children are killed at birth because of their disability. And basic physical access is still a dream for disabled people in many countries. The list goes on, and we can do more to extend rights and protections for disabled people.
Remaining on the outside of the Disabilities Treaty has consequences. As Secretary Kerry noted in his testimony yesterday, we have no opportunity to speak when the 138 parties to the Treaty convene. He explained, “When other countries come together to discuss issues like education, accessibility, and employment standards for people with disabilities, areas where the United States has developed the greatest expertise, we’ve been excluded because we’re not a party to the treaty. And the bottom line is that when we’re not there, other countries with a different and unfortunately often a lower standard, a lower threshold, wind up filling the void.”
Ratification just makes sense. Good human rights practice is good for business, and joining the Disabilities Treaty is good for American businesses. It would create new markets for innovative American products, and create economic opportunities by promoting accessibility and a level playing field for American businesses and hardworking people with disabilities. That’s why business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of over three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, supports ratification. Increasing opportunities for all Americans, are also why over 800 non-governmental organizations advocate for ratification of the Disabilities Treaty.
Ratifying the Disabilities Treaty carries forward the legacy of American leadership on disability rights, and promotes core American values, including nondiscrimination, inclusion, accessibility, and human dignity.
For more on the Disabilities Treaty, visit www.state.gov/disabilitiestreaty.
About the Author: Uzra Zeya serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.