Disability Treaty CRPD, an Opportunity for American Leadership

Human rights activists filled the room to support Senate ratification of the disability rights treaty at the second hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on November 21.

The CRPD is an international human rights treaty that seeks to provide a framework for nations around the world to fight discrimination against people with disabilities. The CRPD was inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. There are more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide, and about 58 million living in the United States. Currently, 126 nations have ratified the disability treaty, but the United States has yet to do so.  

Sen. Robert Menendez, D. N.J., chairman of the committee, opened the hearing and said “[ratifying the treaty] is simply the right thing to do.” More than once, he quoted I. King Jordan, president emeritus of Gallaudet University, who said, “Nothing is more American than recognizing equal opportunity for all citizens.”

Senate fell five votes short of ratification last year, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was the witness of the first half of the hearing, noted that he thinks some senators regret that certain qualms prevented ratification the first time. He continued to list several concrete examples of how the treaty will not change American law and will protect access to equal opportunity for disabled persons across the world. “I still believe what I believed the first time – that ratification of the Disabilities Treaty will advance core American values, expand opportunities for our citizens and businesses, and strengthen American leadership,” he said. “And I am still convinced that we give up nothing by joining but get everything in return.”

The second panel of witnesses in support of ratification included Frances West, the worldwide director of the Human Ability and Accessibility Center for IBM and Ambassador Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. West and Gray especially discussed how ratification would help expand the role of the international marketplace and help American businesses and their employees, military personnel or veterans and their families, expand their access to resources in an increasingly global economy.

The disability treaty has bipartisan support, from former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R. Kan., to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Menendez, D. N.J. A broad coalition of more than 700 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 order to ensure the international success of the treaty.

“We believe that by ratifying the CRPD, we will continue our bipartisan tradition of advancing human rights globally,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “At the same time, we will reaffirm our respect for those Americans disabled through war and conflict and other incidents. Simply put, ratification will allow us to stand with the rest of the world in advancing the civil and human rights of people with disabilities around the world.”