As appearing in USA Today:
This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin considering the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which promotes the fairness and equality that people with disabilities enjoy here to countries around the world. This treaty is consistent with our nation’s interests and values. The Senate should ratify it this year.The U.S. set the global gold standard for disabilities rights when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The act not only improved the lives of Americans living with disabilities, but also inspired other nations to upgrade their laws to recognize that these universal values apply to all citizens. The disabilities treaty before the Senate today is an extension of that act, providing a venue for discussions on disabled access policy internationally. That’s a discussion Americans must lead.
Unfortunately, due to a mix of procedural concerns and some objections that were not consistent with the facts about the treaty, the Senate voted it down in December, falling five votes short of ratification.
We understand our colleagues’ concerns about U.S. sovereignty and the primacy of our laws, and we are committed to addressing any legitimate concerns. But if ever there were a treaty tailor-made for the advocates of American sovereignty, it is this one. This treaty would not constrain our sovereignty; it would extend the protection of human rights on which America has proudly led the world for decades. It would demand that the world be more like America.
As the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Here are the facts:
This treaty would do nothing to change America’s domestic laws regarding abortion. Likewise, nothing in the treaty would impact the right of U.S. parents to home-school their children. As a matter of U.S. and international law, this treaty would hand no power to the United Nations or any other international body to change America’s laws. The opposite is true: The treaty would advance America’s high standards for the treatment of people with disabilities to other nations.
Last year, some senators had concerns that the vote was being held during a lame-duck Congress. The hearing this week will begin an open, transparent process, with time for thorough debate and opportunities for amendment.
Assuring basic human rights for the disabled around the world is vitally important to the American people. Nearly 58 million Americans live with a disability, including 5.5 million military veterans. Global accessibility standards — which would be encouraged by the disabilities treaty — are essential for veterans to safely travel, study and work abroad. That is why the most respected veterans organizations in America — including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Wounded Warrior Project — support the treaty’s ratification. Indeed, the foremost champion of this treaty is former senator Bob Dole, who was seriously wounded fighting fascism in the mountains of Italy during World War II and went on to become among the nation’s greatest advocates for people with disabilities.
Worldwide, a billion people live with a disability, 80% of whom are in the developing world. In too many places, those with disabilities are housed in institutions separate from their families, without access to the outside world. In some countries, the disabled are denied the most basic rights such as a birth certificate or a name.
The American approach to disability rights springs from the core of our founding documents. It embodies “equality” and “unalienable rights” in the best tradition of our ideals. The United States has already been the trailblazer for the rights of the disabled around the world. Now is not the time to step away, but the time to step up and continue to lead by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.