To be honest I was very disappointed when President Obama failed to mention people with disabilities or the need to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in his State of the Union speech. During the drafting of the State of the Union, I imagine the discussion about whether to mention either of these topics went something like this:
“On people with disabilities we’re covered because the President will end the speech by introducing everyone to the disabled vet. And the CRPD is a Senate matter. To mention it would take too much space.”
Well, the speech people were wrong on both counts. And, the President was wrong for not demanding both items be included in his speech.
Nothing would have been lost or diminished by referencing people with disabilities and the CRPD in the President’s speech and so much could have been gained.
People with disabilities are a substantial block of the U.S. population. Does it make political sense not to mention them in a speech? People with disabilities care about a thriving middle class, economic opportunities, and a descent minimum wage. In the President’s speech all they were looking for was a brief acknowledgement, a sense that they count. In the Republican response to the President’s speech, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers was willing to go for some heartstrings in her several references to her son with Down Syndrome. Republicans recognized the tactical value, even if only on an emotional level, of including people with disabilities in their response.
People with disabilities understand empowerment. They are willing to work with elected officials to broaden and strengthen our country’s economic prosperity. But, unlike elected officials, they see ratification of the CRPD as something of strategic value, at home and abroad – an enhanced position for the U.S. worldwide; increased opportunities for U.S. businesses across the globe; the right of Americans to expect, and if not available, promote greater accessibility around the world; and a seat at the table for the U.S. when CRPD standards are being reviewed and revised.
If the ratification of the CRPD had been mentioned by the President in his speech, Senators may have sensed they needed to assume greater personal responsibility to make ratification happen. Since he didn’t, Senators may think ratification is not a priority for 2014. It is a vital key to restoring our leadership in the international arena. In today’s Washington Post, Brian Katulis, a senior fellow for national security at the Center for American Progress in his opinion piece “Some Work to Do on Foreign Policy”, said – “At the start of its sixth year, the Obama administration runs the risk of remaining intellectually stuck…Yet major global changes, including the rise of other powers and widespread social protests for dignity, require a forward-looking moral framework for U.S. engagement.”(emphasis added)
Ratifying the CRPD would contribute to the framework Katulis identifies. We have and will continue to advocate for ratification of the CRPD. But it’s time for the President and Senate to appreciate the full weight and value of ratification and to lead.