There has been a lot of chatter about this question by those who support ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) by the Senate this fall and those who oppose it. Neither side, however, has made its case clearly. Perhaps, in part, because this topic is hard to cover in a 30 second sound bite.
The opposition says the U.S. ratifying the CRPD will have no impact on accessibility for Americans going overseas. The proponents of ratification say that the U.S. ratifying the treaty will lead to more accessibility for Americans with disabilities vacationing, studying, or working abroad. Both sides could be correct in their assertions. It depends on the time frame you assume. It depends on whether you believe in the power of political leverage among countries.
A treaty is an agreement between or among countries. The CRPD describes what countries must do. The WHAT in the CRPD – countries that ratify it agree not to discriminate on the basis of disability. The CRPD allows flexibility on HOW a country chooses to demonstrate it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. The HOW has taken and will take many different forms, but most countries comply with the CRPD through laws. Some countries, like the U.S., have done what is required. Other countries have a way to go.
So? A treaty means that parties to it, that is, countries that ratify it, agree to follow the same standards. If country A and country B ratify the treaty, either can put pressure on the other to get moving! Both could join forces to urge other countries to ratify the treaty. However, if one country has ratified the treaty and one has not (like the U.S.), the country that has not, has no political clout in international circles to urge other countries to do anything. With ratification a country’s political capital goes way up. It can comment, formally complain, and take other measures, such as offer technical assistance, to push other countries in the right direction.
Accessibility is covered in the CRPD. If the U.S. were to ratify the CRPD, when Americans with disabilities go to another country that has ratified the CRPD, they could expect accessibility as they move about and communicate within that country. If they encounter barriers, they could tell our government and our government could raise the barriers with the government of that country. Accessibility will improve everywhere overtime in countries that have ratified the treaty, because one-by-one and in groups barriers will be made known and resolved in the spirit of cooperation and in the name of doing business.
Opponents of ratification are right about one thing. Worldwide accessibility will not happen as the result of Senate ratification. It will take time. Senate ratification of the CRPD is a spark. Worldwide implementation will take hard work, patience, cooperation, collaboration, and good will. The world could use a dose of these things.