Earlier this week, the Senate voted 61-38 to pass the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, falling short of the two-thirds (66) needed to ratify the treaty. The treaty would not have changed any U.S. laws, but instead would encourage other nations to develop the kind of protections the United States adopted 22 years ago with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Although there had been bipartisan support for the treaty (including Bob Dole, John Kerry, and John McCain), the issue came under extreme opposition from some conservatives, providing a highly charged and at times emotional debate. Opponents to the treaty claimed that international standards could erode U.S. sovereignty and threaten the rights of parents in the United States to homeschool their children. Former Senator Rick Santorum even suggested that language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive health care could lead to abortions. John Kerry dismissed these concerns and asked, “how is it possible that a treaty that according to our Supreme Court offers no recourse, no change in American law, no access to American courts, how is it possible that such a treaty could threaten anybody in our country? The answer is simple, it doesn’t, and it can’t.”
Disability and poverty are linked in many countries; discriminatory practices continue to deny persons with disabilities, as well as workers who become disabled, access to work. Although the treaty would have had no effect on U.S. law, it would have symbolically taken a stand on the treatment of disabled people and defended democratic ideals of equality on a global scale.