As we approach the 24th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, our nation has seen great advancement in opportunities for millions of Americans with disabilities to lead fruitful, productive lives as a result of this law. The ADA has also served as a standard for disability rights movements worldwide and as a framework for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty which seeks to ensure the rights of people with disabilities worldwide.
The idea to draft the CRPD and to bring nations together to ensure people with disabilities around the world live with dignity and have equality of opportunity was inspired by American leadership in recognizing the rights of people with disabilities. And America’s own disability rights law is the framework for this international treaty.
So why is the United States not among the more than 140 nations to ratify this treaty?
The United States Senate is currently deliberating a second opportunity to ratify. In 2012, the Senate failed to ratify the CRPD by five votes. Since that vote, advocates supporting the treaty, including the Jewish Disability Network, have been working with supportive senators to educate their colleagues about why ratification is so important.
By ratifying this treaty, the Senate will reaffirm America’s position as a world leader on disability rights. Ratification will provide increased accessibility and opportunity for Americans traveling and working abroad, including military veterans with disabilities from their service. It will allow American disability advocates, the trailblazers of the disability rights movement, to join efforts at the United Nations to advance the developments of disability rights laws in other countries. And it will allow American businesses the opportunity to develop new markets for cutting edge technologies that will improve the way of life of millions.
There are many great reasons to ratify, and plainly, it’s just the right thing to do. As Jews, our faith informs us that every person has dignity, having been created in the image of God, so it is our obligation to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live as a self-sufficient, contributing member of society. This is why many national and local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America, are making the inclusion of people with disabilities a priority.
The nation built on the principles of freedom, justice, and equality of opportunity should not lead from behind in the effort to promote these values abroad. Just as Jewish organizations are leading efforts in the United States, Israel, and elsewhere to ensure people with disabilities are fully included in their communities, the United States should be leading the international community to follow the example our leaders set a generation ago.
A second opportunity for the Senate to ratify the CRPD is approaching. Millions of advocates representing the disability community, veterans’ organizations, faith groups and business interests agree that ratification is the right thing to do. The Senate should take the opportunity to reassert American leadership of the global disability rights movement and ratify a treaty that embodies our values.
William Daroff is the senior vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.