Hundreds of thousands of American parents and disabled people have fought hard to bring about the dramatic changes that have occurred in our country over the decades. Today we have laws that protect our rights, and have enforcement provisions to ensure those rights are not denied. Twenty-three years ago, the United States became the first country in the world to adopt national civil rights legislation, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), banning discrimination against disabled people. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 in cases that involve 14 specified categories of disability. Both of these laws have led to the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life. Internationally, the ADA has long been regarded as the gold standard for disability rights.
But what about the parents and disabled people in other countries who face the same kinds of challenges our families faced? What about Americans with disabilities who wish to enjoy the same opportunities as our fellow citizens to study, travel, serve, and work overseas? What can the United States do to help move other countries forward the way our country has moved forward?
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) recently resumed their consideration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Treaty). This treaty embodies, at the international level, the principles of non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, accessibility, and inclusion grounded in our own ADA.
Almost 140 countries have ratified the Disabilities Treaty, but the United States has not. The treaty fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification a year ago.
The challenge now is to ensure effective implementation and enforcement of the Treaty for the benefit of the world’s one billion disabled people. This includes over 50 million Americans with disabilities, of which approximately 5.5 million are American veterans with disabilities, who wish to serve, study, work and travel overseas. Voting no for this treaty would be saying that the United States does not think the global community deserves an ADA of their own.
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