Disabilities Advocate and Expert on Why Equality Matters

Publication Date: 
18 Dec 2013

The U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) promotes the rights and full participation of persons with disabilities through global engagement and U.S. foreign affairs. USICD is currently advocating for the U.S. to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). 

Executive Director of USICD David Morrissey answers some questions on what ratifying the CRPD would mean for persons with disabilities in the U.S. and reminds us why equality matters.

Would you please give us an update on what is happening with the push to ratify the CRPD in the U.S.?

Ratification of the CRPD is currently under consideration by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC). Advocates are pleased that under the leadership of Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, the committee held two hearings on the treaty in November 2013.

Expert witnesses and robust exploration of the issues characterized these hearings, as well as a strong turn-out from the disability and veteran communities and allies. We had lines out the door to get into these hearings. This broad community of support – calls to Senators and letters to local newspapers around the country – and support of the American business sector, have been key to our progress.

The next step for the committee is to mark-up and pass a resolution for ratification that will be considered by the full Senate and receive a super-majority vote, or two-thirds of the Senate. I believe the bipartisanship that has always been at the heart of disability lawmaking can lead to a solidly bipartisan committee vote, and ultimately a successful vote in the full Senate.

We hope 2014 will be the year we cross the finish line!

What would ratification mean for persons with disabilities in the United States?

America has been a world leader on disability rights for a long time, particularly in passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The package for ratification now before the U.S. Senate does not require any changes to U.S. law, but the CRPD can be a new tool in advocates’ toolkits to foster greater inclusion and reduce discrimination and stigma here at home.

At the global level, ratification is critical to maintaining our leadership role and eliminating disability discrimination throughout the world. By ratifying the CRPD, the U.S. will offer decades of honed technical expertise to reduce barriers globally and ensure Americans who study and travel abroad have the same access they enjoy here. Four out of 10 American travelers are people with disabilities and their companions, yet they still face obstacles and discrimination abroad. Students with disabilities also represent nearly 4 percent of students who travel abroad. 

We must remember the case for humane, moral treatment of people with disabilities. Until this country ratifies the CRPD, the U.S. is a bystander on these critical matters. U.S. leadership can make an immense difference in fighting discrimination against persons with disabilities. The coalition of Americans with disabilities supporting the CRPD want our nation to be a force for the good for our brothers and sisters with disabilities around the world.

What does implementation of the CRPD look like in countries where it is applied fully, and what countries provide the best examples of societies where persons with disabilities are equal citizens?

Every country is at their own unique place within the larger journey to build a society that is free from discrimination and supports equality and opportunity. No country is perfect. More than 20 years after the passage of the ADA, the U.S. is still improving employment rates for people with disabilities, for example.

The CRPD provides a guide star for countries to follow, and also facilitates international knowledge sharing. As countries implement, we can collectively work toward a world where the rights of persons with disabilities are protected and advanced; where the capacities and talents of persons with disabilities are celebrated and elevated; and where people with disabilities come together across borders as a global disability community.

How does respecting the rights of persons with disabilities help build more democratic societies?

Article 29 of the CRPD calls on nations to assure persons with disabilities can effectively, fully participate in political and public life. I believe the right of all citizens to participate in the democratic process advances broader awareness of equality and non-discrimination. The act of people with disabilities casting votes is a sign to our fellow citizens of our equality. Respecting the rights of the most marginalized members of our societies is at the heart of human rights.

The CRPD’s preamble reminds us of principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations: the inherent dignity and worth and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world. The vision for the equality and full participation of people with disabilities is integral to building a more just world.

I believe that hope for improving the status of people with disabilities in society is hope for our societies at large.