Do we need to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)? That is the bottom line question.
Supporters of the CRPD say that U.S. laws are the foundation for the CRPD, so we should ratify it. We won’t need to change any U.S. laws. The opponents of ratification say U.S. was the leader in disability rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the model for others. It is strong. It works. We have no need to ratify the CRPD.
Both sides are saying the same thing. Differences surface when we look at how the two sides view the consequences of ratification. Proponents see no changes occurring here, but many changes overseas. Opponents project undesirable consequences – the CRPD replacing U.S. disability laws and the U.N. dictating how children with disabilities are to be educated, when educated at home.
I disagree with both sides on the consequences – opponents project hypothetical situations that won’t happen, but raise fear; proponents view social consequences of the CRPD as static rather than dynamic forces. Ratification will not upend our system of government, nor tell parents who home school their children what and how to teach them. But it will bring about change abroad and here, good change. Consider these three points.
First, it will give us a reason to start talking more energetically about the rights and opportunities available here for people with disabilities. We will have a chance to celebrate what we are doing well, give more visibility to it, and encourage more people here and abroad to embrace our successes. The timing is perfect. The 25th anniversary of the ADA is just two years away.
Second, the CRPD covers rights in a more topical manner than the ADA, let’s take a look at Article 8 of the CRPD:
1. States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures:
(a) To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;
(b) To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;
(c) To promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.
2. Measures to this end include:
(a) Initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns designed:
(i) To nurture receptiveness to the rights of persons with disabilities;
(ii) To promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities;
(iii) To promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to the workplace and the labour market;
(b) Fostering at all levels of the education system, including in all children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities;
(c) Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention;
(d) Promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.
All these provisions are positive and worth doing. They do not require changes in U.S. law, but do require commitment, cooperation, and yes, effort. If they were not included in the CRPD, would we as a nation ever considered addressing what they call for in some systematic way? And think of the pay off, affirmative, positive perceptions of people with disabilities permeating all elements of culture and society in the U.S.
Finally, we all know and see evidence every day of how the ADA has impacted life and business in the past 23 years – curb cuts, ramps, automatic doors, clearer and bigger signs, wider aisles, more straightforward directions in text, more reasonable business hours, longer times for walking through major intersections, people who can translate, contract and grant terms that promote disability rights and accessibility requirements. These very things will begin to surface or be more readily apparent in the 133 countries that have ratified the CRPD. If the U.S. does not ratify the CRPD, that fact may become a barrier to us doing business overseas.
So ratifying or not ratifying the CRPD has consequences. It’s just that the consequences mentioned here have had less traction or visibility then they should have had.