Senate holds hearings on disability treaty

Photo of Capitol Building and Senate in Washington DC
Senate Hearings on U.N. Treaty

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings November 5 on a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, bringing one of the disability rights movement’s highest priorities back to the forefront.

In December 2012, the Senate voted 61 to 38 in support of the treaty, falling short of two-thirds vote needed for ratification.

The treaty, signed by President Obama in 2009, has been ratified by nearly 140 nations worldwide.

“This treaty is modeled after The Americans with Disabilities Act, which affirms the rights of American citizens with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and services operated by private entities…Today’s hearing is an opportunity for us to fix the wrongs of last year and join more than a hundred other nations, millions of disability advocates, family members, and self-advocates in supporting the human rights for individuals with disabilities internationally,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, in a blog post.

The treaty is strongly opposed by many religious conservatives, such as former presidential contender Rick Santorum, who argue that the treaty imposes new laws against home schooling and promotes abortion.

In addition to support from most of the Democratic Party, the treaty also received high-profile support from some prominent Republicans, such as 1996 Presidential Nominee Bob Dole, who appeared in a wheelchair on the Senate floor for the 2012 vote on the treaty.

“We understand our colleagues’ concerns about U.S. sovereignty and the primacy of our laws, and we are committed to addressing any legitimate concerns,” Senators John McCain (R-Arizona) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in USA Today on November 4. “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.”