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Obama's Chance to Lead: Sign the Disability Treaty

07/01/2009 12:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

President Obama has made it a priority to re-position the United States as a leader in the global arena. One area where we are conspicuously silent--and could lead or at least participate more fully--is disability rights.

Over all, according to the U.N., 650 million people, 10% of the world population, live with a disability. This makes them the world's largest minority. Worse yet, the World Bank reports that 20% of the world's poorest people have some kind of disability. They tend to be regarded in their own communities as the most disadvantaged.

On December 13th, 2006, The UN General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD). At the time of its adoption, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the CRPD a "remarkable and forward-looking document... The first human rights treaty to be adopted in the twenty-first century." The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect, and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities. A staggering 139 countries having signed the Convention and 58 have ratified it, including the United Kingdom this past month. What are we waiting for?

Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of The American Public Health Association, sent a letter in March asking our government to sign the CRPD. And last year (2008), the National Disability Council found the CRPD and the ADA to be legally compatible.

Frankly, these are rights we already hold dear and protect through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which will soon mark its 19th anniversary on July 26th.

Not signing and ratifying the CRPD sends the message that while we protect our disabled, we don't care if the rest of the world does too. If we feel strongly enough that our own citizens living with disabilities should be protected, shouldn't we feel that those living in countries without such laws are entitled to rights and protection as well?

I encourage everyone reading this article to learn more about the CRPD at the U.N.'s website.

By signing and ratifying the CRPD the US will send a message to the world: Disability rights are essential for a fair and just world...and the United States wants to be a leader in protecting those ideals.

Written with James C. Elbaor and Julia Steers

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