By Verena Borton
When it comes to rights of the disabled, the United States has set an example for the world. With the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, passed more than 20 years ago, this nation has proudly ensured more equitable and dignified treatment of 57 million Americans — including many local residents.
But a notable blemish remains on our record: The United States has failed to step up to the plate as a true global leader on the issue, and help ensure the rights of disabled Americans as they work and travel overseas.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a treaty that enshrines the fundamental rights of people with disabilities the world over. For years, the U.S. has failed to join 147 other nations in ratifying the international guideline, which, in fact, is largely modeled after our own ADA.
At this very moment, we have a chance to make it right. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is debating the treaty again right now. And it’s up to every senator, including our own Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to make sure it gets to the floor and passes.
As the global population continues to grow and people live longer, many of us will live with a disability for about eight years of our lives. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, already have some form of disability. What’s more, 80 percent of people with disabilities live in developing nations that are the least equipped to address their needs.
The disabilities treaty calls upon countries to ensure equal treatment and equal access to justice, health care, education and employment for all people with disabilities. Many countries still do not have laws on disability, including laws that would protect against discrimination. But this convention sets a standard, one that resembles our own standards here in the United States, which will prompt governments worldwide to create legislation or improve upon current laws.
The treaty is a common-sense document, yet the United States is among a minority of nations that have not signed it, keeping company with countries like North Korea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, many of our key allies — like the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Australia, Italy and South Korea — already have formally joined the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Americans with disabilities deserve to have their government fully engaged in advancing their rights globally. That can happen only if the United States joins this U.N. treaty. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities promotes, protects and ensures the rights of the disabled, mirroring our own American values of equity and dignity for all.
The Senate should take the next step and support the equality of people with disabilities worldwide.
— Verena Borton is a longtime Davis resident and a leader of the United Nations Association, Davis chapter.