Supporters of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) emphasize the great advantages that U.S. business would have overseas if ratification happens. Opponents of ratification say there is no connection. U.S. business will do just fine without ratification. As with so many things, the devil is in the details. Let’s look at some things that would happen if we were to ratify the CRPD.
First off, U.S. business would have a seat at the table when international standards are being set on all types of products that affect its bottom line. That would happen as soon as we ratify the CRPD. Other benefits may emerge over time. When potential international customers of U.S. products and services start putting CRPD stipulations in their requests for bids, and that will happen, U.S. business would be given a fair, and perhaps, a favored position. This especially would be true in the area of assistive technology, where the U.S. is the most prolific and successful. When challenges emerge overseas on how to address accessibility issues, and that will happen, it will be easier for foreign governments of countries that have ratified the CRPD to request U.S. assistance without fear of negative political fallout. When U.S. business operating overseas encounters barriers for its employees or customers with disabilities, resolution or removal of barriers will occur more quickly and amicably.
Let’s drill down a bit. Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, U.S. business has adopted a solid appreciation of the skill, expertise, and dependability of employees with disabilities. This appreciation has extended into all segments of our economy from the service sectors to all types of manufacturing. Hiring and retaining employees with disabilities has been accompanied by increased recognition of the need to be well versed in how to ensure basic accessibility and maximum productivity. A common sense approach to reasonable accommodation, which includes openness to diverse forms of assistive technology, has resulted in workplaces that are more user-friendly to employees with and without disabilities. Many foreign countries have not had the same wealth of experience. Thus, when those countries, with new mandates driven by the CRPD, are looking for answers they may well turn to U.S. business. A whole new technical assistance market for U.S. business may emerge.
A similar point could be made when we consider U.S. business’ experience with customers with disabilities. In the U.S. people with mobility impairments have access to scooters in many stores. Retailer websites are accessible to potential customers who cannot see. The hospitality industry provides rooms and activities that incorporate universal design – that is accessibility for all. Foreign retailers of all kinds may turn to their U.S. counterparts for tested solutions for expanding their markets to customers with disabilities. These disability-related exchanges between U.S. business and foreign markets may lead to the discovery of foreign approaches to things that could be marketed in the U.S.
These opportunities will come about because of the U.S. joining the international community committed to the CRPD –new markets for U.S. services and products overseas and new services and products for the U.S. market here. With an estimated one billion people with disabilities worldwide in need of accessibility, assistive technology, and products of daily living, I see a bright future for the U.S. business community if the U.S. ratifies of the CRPD.