The premiere of HBO’s hit series “The Newsroom” begins with a spellbinding soliloquy by Jeff Daniels on whether the United States is still exceptional. Whether America remains exceptional remains a matter of debate; even Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in with his view that even preaching exceptionalism in America is harmful.
The United States’ global reputation for doing great things has been hurt in recent months, thanks to our government shutdown, rocky Obamacare launch and revelations of unfettered U.S. spying. Yet in one area, the United States leads the world: We have made America a place where people with disabilities can share in the bounty of our success.
Twenty-three years ago, with bipartisan support, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark civil rights law allowed millions of Americans to enjoy greater equality of opportunity, social and professional mobility and independent living.
Now the Senate is considering the ratification of a U.N. treaty that would require all signatories to provide the same opportunities to people with disabilities that the United States already provides. It imposes no new requirements on us; it simply encourages others in the world to follow America’s lead.
Inspired by the ADA, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), more commonly known as the disabilities treaty, is an easy treaty for the United States to ratify. Yet based on a mistaken view that it will impose new requirements on the current U.S. law, the Senate failed to ratify it last December. It is due to come up for vote again soon, and this time we must make sure our leaders do what’s right.
To me, what distinguishes us from other countries is that we strive to be that “shining city on the hill,” where we give every citizen the opportunity to succeed. We do not mandate equal outcomes, nor do we redistribute income. Instead, we respect every life of every American by giving them tools to create their own success. Simply having access for people with disabilities is a huge enabler.
While we have shown an unwavering commitment to improve life for people with disabilities, far too many countries have not made it a priority. The disabilities treaty tracks the U.S. model and encourages accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Thus bathrooms will be accessible, sidewalks will get cuts for street crossings, parking will be made available and discrimination will be illegal in the countries that sign the treaty.
We must pass the disabilities treaty to reaffirm our global leadership in setting an example and promoting principles and rights for people everywhere. Our exceptionalism requires us to be leaders. Being a true leader necessarily involves supporting your own example worldwide — that’s a no-brainer.
Ratification of the U.N. disabilities treaty will not change existing U.S. federal, state or local laws or budgets. It will not usurp parents’ authority to choose what is best for their children. More, it will not hinder American sovereignty. But it will encourage other nations around the world to embrace the protections we guarantee with the ADA. It will say to our neighbors around the world that our disabled sons and daughters are not second-class citizens. And it will set an example for other countries that those living with disabilities will no longer be denied the equality, access and independence they deserve.
The treaty’s benefits would also extend beyond the disabled community. American businesses and innovators are poised to gain significant new market demand once the treaty is ratified. The United States is the world leader in accessible technologies and innovation. We lead the world in manufacturing unique and highly specialized products, services and software applications that raise the standard of living for those with disabilities.
Many consumer electronics products are used and appreciated by people with disabilities. With the rapid development of mobile networks in emerging economies, the industry is more capable than ever before of meeting international demand for technologies that help people with disabilities.
The disabilities treaty will not only raise people with disabilities, but also it will create opportunities and markets for innovative solutions, services and products for people with disabilities. The treaty will help promote inclusion, economic self-reliance and educational opportunities for millions of disabled citizens worldwide.
Congress must not stand in the way of global rights for people with disabilities. The benefits for people with disabilities and for the global economy are too big to pass up. Ratifying the disabilities treaty requires American leadership and a continued commitment from our nation’s leaders to enhance our faltering position. We can show the world that we stand behind our principles and value real liberty, equality and opportunity for all. I think we have what it takes.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association and author of the New York Times best-selling books “Ninja Innovation” and “The Comeback.”