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.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.