Ratify convention to break down global barriers for the disabled
and Tom Ridge
are former governors of Pennsylvania
U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is an important and necessary step toward protecting the rights and freedoms of people across the world.
At the state and federal level, in public and private roles, we have advocated on behalf of people with disabilities and have witnessed first-hand the progress that has been made in this country. The United States is home to 57.8 million people with disabilities, including 5.5 million disabled veterans.
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the world's most comprehensive and progressive legislation of its kind, Americans with disabilities are afforded the same rights and opportunities as all others in our nation. The same cannot be said across much of the rest of the world.
We are acutely aware that the international community looks to the United States as an exemplar, providing a way forward for protecting individual rights. The CRPD builds on the framework of the ADA and exports the protections given to citizens in the United States to the rest of the world. By ratifying this treaty, the Senate will signal that America remains a leader and pioneer in protecting the freedoms of people with disabilities.
Not only does ratification allow the United States to frame the standards for disability rights globally, but it protects American citizens and veterans with disabilities from discrimination and onerous restrictions abroad. Though protected from discrimination at home, our veterans with disabilities who want to travel and work abroad may be subject to unjust travel restrictions and face limitations in employment.
Ratification of the CRPD by the United States would help remove barriers faced by disabled Americans active within the global community, and protect the liberty of service members who have sacrificed to protect our freedom. In addition, ratification would allow the United States to share our expertise in science and technology to further enhance economic opportunity for all.
Critics of the CRPD suggest that ratification would undermine American sovereignty and force changes to existing U.S. law. Those claims are unfounded. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has adopted a series of reservations, understandings, and declarations making clear that ratification of the CRPD will not force any change in federal or state law or have any impact on the federal budget.
Disability does not know political, racial, religious, or other barriers. It is an experience that has or will touch us all at some point in our lives. As our Declaration of Independence asserts, it is up to us to ensure that the concepts of equality for which our country stands are everlasting.
U.S. ratification of the disability treaty will validate the notion that all men and women are indeed created equal and will have a resounding impact on the one billion persons with disabilities in the United States and around the world.
Richard Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general, played a major role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Tom Ridge was the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and is currently chairman of the National Organization on Disability (www.nod.org).