About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities

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It's kind of ironic when you think about it. An international human rights treaty that is said to have been inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act exists without ratification by the United States itself. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocols was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on December 13, 2006, and opened for signature on March 30, 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.

The Convention views disability as a socially created problem and moves beyond access to the physical environment to broader issues of equality and elimination of legal and social barriers to participation, opportunity, health, education, employment and personal development. It embraces the key principal of the independent living movement: the right of people with disabilities to have the same options, freedom, control and self-determination in everyday life that people without disabilities have.

The United States didn't sign on immediately. Not until 2009 when President Obama said from the East Wing of the White House, "Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they’re universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world." It takes a 2/3 Senate vote for full ratification, however. And the closes the US has come was in December 2012, when a Senate vote (61–38) fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority required to adopt an international treaty. In July 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced the treaty (12–6) — but the full Senate never took a vote. Shocker!

So the first new human rights convention of the 21st century and one of the most globally inclusive statement affirming disability rights remains officially not ratified by the United States. We are joined by the countries of Chad, Libya and Uzbekistan. Yikes. And yes, while some of the 177 countries who have ratified the CRPD did so with explicit reservations, (policy opt-outs) at least they accepted the treaty enough to ratify.

The articles of the treaty contain some of the most progressive and inclusive language on issues affecting disabled people today. On topics of accessibility to education, but also rights before the law and risks of armed conflict, acknowledge that disabled people live all throughout the world, and deserve equal opportunity, treatment and justice no matter what country they call home. There is also language including voting, rights to live independently, and healthcare access and treatment.

Guiding principles of the Convention

There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention:

  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one's own choices, and independence of persons

  2. Non-discrimination

  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society

  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity

  5. Equality of opportunity

  6. Accessibility

  7. Equality between men and women

  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

The Convention follows decades of work by the United Nations to change attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities. It takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects”  of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free and informed consent as well as being active members of society.

It is unconscionable that the United States has not fully ratified CRPD. Yes, we have the ADA, and many other laws protected the rights of disabled people in the United States. But as a leader in the global community, it is embarrassing and inexcusable that we haven't taken our seat on the global stage. The list is long for things that disabled people need to advocate for today. But fighting to get the US as a member country of CRPD most certainly needs to be near the top of the list.

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