Senate committee passes disability treaty

Photograph of Capitol building in Washington DC with flag out front
Senate Committee Supports UN Treaty

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 12-6 on July 22 in support of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate for ratification of the treaty.

The treaty, which has been signed and ratified by 146 countries, is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Obama signed the treaty in 2009, but in December 2012, only 61 senators voted in its favor, falling short of the two-thirds needed for ratification.

Passage of the treaty has long been a key priority for disability advocacy groups.

“The CRPD seeks to ensure that every nation provides people with disabilities the same rights as everyone else to live full, satisfying and productive lives,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in a news release. “Our country benefits from a rich history of disability rights legislation, such as the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“These laws have served as models for nations around the world and provided inspiration for the creation of the CRPD. Yet we still lag behind the global community in ratifying this treaty.”

The Committee held hearings on the treaty in November 2013. All the Democrats on the Committee voted in favor of the treaty, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

The treaty is strongly opposed by homeschool advocates, led by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, as well as many anti-abortion groups.

In 2012, the treaty received high-profile support from former Republican presidential nominee and veteran Bob Dole, who observed the vote from the Senate floor. Other veterans organizations strongly support the treaty’s ratification.

“The irony in this debate has been opponents claiming that U.S. ratification of the CRPD would infringe on U.S. sovereignty while we have a coalition of veterans groups representing more than 5 million veterans in full support,” wrote Christopher Neiweem, director of veterans policy at VetsFirst, a program of the United Spinal Association, in an column for The Hill. “Most of us involved in this debate actually defended U.S. sovereignty — rifle in hand — on foreign soil only to bear witness to fellow service members sustaining injuries and wounds.

“Those service members may have a certain level of confidence in the legal protections afforded to them under the ADA; but as we have been trying to explain to the opponents in the course of this debate, no such global standards currently achieve the bar we have set here in the United States for people living with disabilities.”