This year’s recognition of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3, marks the end of yet another year of efforts to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Disabilities Treaty). As time runs out in the congressional calendar, it is clear that the treaty won’t likely be considered in the remaining weeks of Congress’s lame duck session.
The last two years mark truly amazing efforts by the disability, veterans, business, faith, and civil rights communities to secure the votes needed to ratify the treaty. Advocates have worked tirelessly to dispel the myths spun by opponents and gain the votes of six additional Republican Senators. Through press conferences, rallies, and meetings, advocates from a variety of communities came together to fight for the protections of people with disabilities everywhere.
In July, United Spinal Association’s VetsFirst program played a key role in pro-treaty events. The first event was a press conference with former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Senator John McCain, Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Mark Kirk, and other leading veterans organizations in support of ratifying the Disabilities Treaty.
This event was a critical show of support from the veterans community and created a lot of energy in support of ratification. The following week VetsFirst spoke to disability advocates from around the country at a rally on Capitol Hill.
Despite these efforts, ratification of the treaty has remained just out of reach. However, advocates have done an amazing job of telling their Senators why we need to extend the types of protections and freedoms found in the ADA to the world. We also have raised significant awareness about why advocacy on the world stage is important for Americans with disabilities who travel, work, and live abroad.
Next year will bring a new Senate with new members who don’t know about the treaty. With the retirement of our champion Senator Harkin, we will be losing a valiant fighter for the disability community. The fight for the treaty has shown us, however, new supporters in the Senate from both sides of the aisle who have championed our efforts.
With changes in the Senate, any further efforts to ratify the treaty remain uncertain. At the end of the session, it will return to the jurisdiction of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where it will remain until acted on by the committee. We hope that we will be able to find ways in the coming year to pursue the ideals of the Disabilities Treaty, and if possible, ratification of the treaty itself.
We remain hopeful that new champions will lead us down new paths that create access to opportunities for all people living with disabilities.