How the United States Could be a Global Leader on Disability Rights

In 1992, a United Nations General Assembly resolution established December 3 as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in order to “promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.”

Today, 22 years after that initial proclamation, the United States can still do more to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Despite signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) more than five years ago in July 2009, the United States has yet to ratify it.

The CRPD is an international human rights 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. It has been ratified by 138 countries and – though we aren’t one of them – it was inspired by U.S. leadership on disability rights and is modeled after 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.

Two years ago on December 4, 2012, a Senate vote (61-38) on the treaty fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority required to adopt an international treaty, disappointing disability rights advocates and the broader civil and human rights community.

The United States inched closer to ratification this July when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the treaty, a move Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said “sends a signal that the U.S. needs to be a global leader in honoring the dignity of people with disabilities.” Nearing the end of the 113th Congress, the world is still waiting for that global leadership. Now, it’s up to the Senate to finally ratify CRPD.