Over the course of the first two weeks of November, the Senate will have an important decision to make regarding an international treaty that could have ramifications for the community of people living with disabilities worldwide.
First, on November 5, the Disability Treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) will go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A second round of hearings will occur later in November. Pending the committee’s review, it could go to the Senate for ratification the following month.
The CRPD is inspired by, and based largely upon, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was first passed in the United States in 1990. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation supports ratification of the CRPD by the United States, as the Foundation believes that the treaty can help to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against in many countries across the globe. To date, 132 nations have ratified the treaty, but the United States is not one of them.
Here are some eye-opening statistics, from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the growing international population of persons with disabilities:
One billion people worldwide are living with disabilities today, including 58 million Americans.
80 percent of those are living in developing countries.
One in four of today’s 20 year olds will become disabled before they retire.
Clearly, there is a real and imminent need to establish standardized legislation that ensures opportunity for disabled citizens of all nations, including Americans who may be traveling abroad. The good news is, according to the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), "More than 700 American organizations, including disability groups, 20+ veterans' service organizations (most recently the American Legion), businesses, and faith-based organizations have pledged their support to this treaty."
Still, a two-thirds majority vote is necessary to ratify the treaty in the Senate, and this is far from a foregone conclusion. In fact, in 2012, the Senate voted against ratifying the CRPD.
According to the United States International Council on Disabilities, (USICD) the rationale for ratifying the treaty is strong:
Ratification would provide the U.S. with an opportunity to play an important role in the development of disability rights around the world, without having to change any U.S. laws or add additional costs to its budget.
Not ratifying the disability treaty is currently hindering the United States’ ability to provide expertise to countries seeking to bring their standards of access for persons with disabilities up to those of the United States. This reality directly affects Americans with disabilities living, working, and traveling abroad.
Without laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act abroad, millions of disabled people are housed in institutions without access to some of the most basic standards of care, and often, they lack civil rights. Until it ratifies the CRPD, the U.S. is a bystander on helping to end this discrimination that exists in many parts of the world.
The CRPD has strong bipartisan support.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, is leading the charge with a bipartisan group of his Senate colleagues to ratify the CRPD, but needs help in bringing in the final votes of support.
Send a letter to your Senator now!
To learn more about the CRPD, and how you can help, check out disabilitytreaty.org. You can also sign a petition with the USICD to make sure that your voice is heard.