In what many are calling one of the most disgraceful days in the United States Senate in recent memory, 38 Republican senators joined to reject the UN treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
The treaty was negotiated and first signed by President George W. Bush and then again signed by President Obama in 2009. More than 153 other countries have signed it. Ill and sitting in a wheelchair in the chamber, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan) watched as a treaty that symbolized so much of his life's work was voted down by 38 of his fellow Republicans. My suggestion to Dole would be to walk away from the party that has clearly walked away from him.
In 1978 I moved to Washington D.C. to direct the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals/Implementation Unit. The conference itself was held under the auspices of President Gerald R. Ford and President Jimmy Carter committed to carry out its recommendations. The work of ensuring that people with disabilities would have an equal chance at living a full and productive life was a non-partisan issue. People from both parties believed that we must ensure they had a chance to succeed and the opportunity to use all of their abilities. Men like Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan) and Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) fought together to ensure equal access to places and programs.
This vote against the treaty brings shame on those who voted to reject it. How they will look their disabled constituents in the eye ever again one can't imagine. Senator McConnell should feel the most shame for leading his party in the Senate to the point that they would do this to the nearly 40 million disabled people in the nation.
This treaty didn't change any American laws. It merely asked that all other nations move toward laws for people with disabilities that would equal the Americans with Disabilities Act that we first passed in 1990. By passing the treaty we would sit on the Commission that would look to implement it. Some ultra-conservative senators actually misrepresented the law in order to encourage people to oppose it by telling many who home-school their children that it would in some way impact them.
The time has come for the 40 million Americans who are disabled and their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children and friends to tell these 38 Republican senators that not only should they be ashamed of themselves but that they will never be forgiven for this vote. We cannot continue to let a group of ultra-conservative senators with no interest in anyone but themselves keep people from across the nation and across the world from having the where-with-all to live full lives and be able to reach their full potential.
As an American I am embarrassed by the action our Senate took. I hope that others feel the same and will let these senators know.