Disability advocates flooded a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on November 4, 2013, in a push to ratify a treaty that would promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities in more than 150 countries.
That hearing and a subsequent one set to take place on November 21 represent positive steps toward ratifying the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – a treaty modeled after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. But the CRPD still faces an uphill climb in order to be ratified this Congressional session, and Paralyzed Veterans of America encourages members to call their Senators and urge them to vote in support of the treaty.
“Some of the senators still feel there needs to be more process to this issue, meaning talking more about the technical aspects of the treaty and how it relates to U.S. law, the U.N. and sovereignty,” said Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “A lot of the testimony and advocacy is more around ADA compliance and broadening that globally. I think a lot of senators are in agreement with that, and yet a few are reserved based on the sovereignty issue.”
The CRPD has been ratified by 138 countries and was signed by President Obama in 2009. Despite bipartisan support in the Senate, ratification of the treaty failed late last year on a 61-38 vote, with 67 votes needed for ratification.
Page believes bringing the treaty up for a vote in Senate will come at a slower pace than even last year, particularly as some senators want more detail on whether the treaty has the potential to supersede U.S. law. Opponents of the treaty argue that because a treaty is an international obligation, international law would trump state laws and be used as a binding precedent by state and federal judges.
But advocates contend that the CRPD reaffirms the U.S. commitment to international disability rights, allowing the nation to lead the effort to ensure that each disabled person is able to live, work, learn and travel around the world without barriers to access.
“We set the gold standard in disability access, yet our legitimacy to lead other nations is weakened because we have not yet ratified the CRPD,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., testified at the Nov. 4 hearing. “The CRPD will allow veterans with disabilities to have greater opportunities to work, study abroad and travel as countries implement this treaty. Veterans, active service members and their families who are affected by disability will be able to lead active lives around the world.”
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s efforts to advocate for all people with disabilities
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.