Way back in May of 2008, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Treaty) became effective. It is intended to protect the rights and the dignity of persons with disabilities all around the world. As of this writing, some 147 nations have ratified the Disabilities Treaty. Sadly, the United States of America is not one of them.
The country that has adopted life-changing laws for people with disabilities such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) has failed to ratify the Disabilities Treaty. Remember, the ADA has been in effect for 24 years, the FHAA for 26 years and the ACAA for 28 years. It makes me believe that our own Senate doesn’t care about what happens to Americans with disabilities who work or travel abroad.
What makes ratification of this treaty so important? I think back to more than 42 years ago when I first started working for United Spinal Association. With others in this company, we began advocating in the 1970s to bring accessible public transportation to our city because we learned that wheelchair-accessible buses were operating in cities like Los Angeles and Detroit, and a new and wheelchair-accessible subway system was under construction in San Francisco. We simply said to each other, “if there, why not here?”
Today, advocates are hopeful that the U.S. Senate will vote by the end of July on the Disabilities Treaty. They did vote on it once before in December of 2012. Ratification of the treaty requires a two-thirds vote for it to be adopted. Regrettably, only 61 of the required two-thirds votes were in favor of ratification. I like to think of this debacle of a vote like this: while a majority of the Senate seem to believe that this treaty is a giant step forwards, just a very small number of Senators were able to squash its adoption by our nation. This just doesn’t seem right to me.
So, where do we go from here? Assuming that the reader knows his/her two U.S. Senators, contact their offices and urge them to support the Disabilities Treaty. You never know if you may be offered a job outside the United States at some point in your future. If you are offered a position in another country and you have a disability, accessibility may become an issue.
On the other hand, the USA is the greatest nation in the world. I believe that many other countries view us in this way, too. What are we saying to the rest of the world if our elected officials squash a treaty again that can help our citizens with disabilities work in other countries if they choose to do so? I say seize the moment and pass the Disabilities Treaty now. America will be a better nation if we do so.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee