Human Rights Advocates Urge Senate to Ratify Disability Treaty

Human rights and disability rights advocates packed three rooms and tuned in via social media on Tuesday to watch the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing regarding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The CRPD is an international disability treaty that provides a vital framework for creating legislation and policies around the world that embrace the rights and dignity of all people with disabilities.

The disability treaty was inspired by U.S. leadership on disability rights and is modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which protects individuals with physical and mental disabilities against discrimination in areas such as employment, public accommodations, and transportation. The United States signed the CRPD in 2009, but when the U.S. Senate considered it for ratification on December 4, 2012, it fell 5 votes short of the required 60 votes.

“The CRPD will not change American law, but it is important because it provides access to the most important international forum on the rights of people with disabilities,” said Thomas Ridge, former secretary of homeland security and current chair of the National Organization on Disability, in his testimony before the committee.  “If the U.S. wants to effectively promote access abroad, we must ratify the disability treaty.”

There are 57.8 million Americans with disabilities and approximately 1 billion people with disabilities around the world. Eighty percent of people with disabilities live in developing countries with the majority living in rural areas where services for people with disabilities are often nonexistent or inadequate at best.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D., Ill., testified on what’s at stake for 5.5 million disabled American veterans as the Senate considers ratification. “Many Wounded Warriors are returning to active duty, despite having a disability,” she said, speaking not only as a congresswoman but also as a wounded lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard. “They should not be limited by their disability as to where and how they can leave their impact on this world. We do want to travel, work and yes, serve, abroad.”

A broad coalition of more than 600 U.S. disability, civil rights, faith, business, and veteran organizations support the U.S. ratification of the CRPD and are calling on the Senate to demonstrate American leadership in this arena in order to ensure the international success of the treaty.

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