I wonder what our descendents 150 years from now will think about this day when they read in the history books that the Senate rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled, a treaty that is actually modeled after the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed by the U.S. Senate some 22 years ago. Falling just five votes short of achieving ratification designed to protect equal rights (worldwide)for those of us who live with disabilities, every Democrat (along with 8 Republicans) made up the 61 votes that went in favor of the ratification. Sadly, 38 Republicans disgraced the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by voting against it. For many of those Republicans, the controversy began when they saw the proposal as a threat to American "sovereignty," which they believed could endanger the rights of parents to determine the best education, treatment and care for their disabled children. Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts explained,
It really isn't controversial! What this treaty says is very simple. It just says that you can't discriminate against the disabled. It says that other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Ironically enough, I think the 38 Senate Republicans who voted against the treaty are the ones who are endangering rights.
The rights of people like me.
Just 22 years ago, I had to navigate my wheelchair through the streets of Hollywood because there were no curb cuts. The same protection and privileges sidewalks provided for others, were unknown to me.
I was even once cited by an Los Angeles police officer for using my wheelchair in traffic. When I explained there were no accessible sidewalks, he handed me the ticket.
"It's for your own safety."
A few years later, the first time I saw a curb cut, I cried.
I remember the look on the face of the manager at Security Pacific National Bank after going to apply for a job. It was the fall of 1987. Dumbfounded that my wheelchair wouldn't fit through the doorway of his office, the manager looked at me and said, "Well, I guess this isn't going to work out now is it?"
I guess not....
The countless back alleys, entrances through kitchens and backdoors I've had to maneuver over the years, have often left me feeling both frustrated and isolated. Getting mail or meeting friends at a restaurant are challenges most people never have to deal with.
These however, were the daily trappings of my life before ADA.
Today I live with profound gratitude to every person responsible for allowing me to live the accessible life I now enjoy. For me, passing the ADA was as powerful as the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863, and equally as life-changing as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Can you imagine how different life would be without these laws?
I now experience my life in ways I never dreamed of. The liberation and freedom I feel by something as simple as a wheelchair lift at my local Starbucks is monumental.
Those few steps many take for granted, can keep someone like me from the simple pleasure of ordering a Grande or Venti latte.
I am saddened by Tuesday's defeat for many reasons, but mostly it has to do with the way I think the world looks at us now. I wonder if we aren't allowing a broken institution to desecrate the reputation of a nation so great that it once inspired the rest of the world to re-think and re-shape their views on everything from science to humanity.
When I look back at the history books of 150 years ago, I proudly see how far we have come as a Great Nation ... and yet, after a day like yesterday in the U.S. Senate, I sadly see how far we have to go.