Sometimes when an idea pops in my head that is so clear and simple, I rush to share it. The Americans with Disability Act does not apply to the federal government, but section 504 of the Rehabilitation does. So if we amended section 504 by deleting the phrase “in the United States” from section 504 (a), all federal financial assistance spent overseas could not discriminate against individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability. Take a look.
(a) Promulgation of rules and regulations
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability
in the United States, as defined
in section 705 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his
disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of,
or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving
Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any
Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service….
This change in section 504 would mean qualified individuals with disabilities overseas would have the opportunity to participate in or benefit from U.S funded programs, services, or other benefits, conducted directly by the U.S. or through others, in a wide range of areas such as education, health, housing, transportation, and disaster preparedness or recovery. For example, if this amendment were enacted, when the U.S. government gave money to a foreign government or nongovernmental agency to build a school, the school would need to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
As we know most Republican Senators opposed the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the 112th and 113th Congresses. However, we also know, most expressed support for people with disabilities, described the Americans with Disabilities as the gold standard, and endorsed bi-lateral international agreements on disability-related initiatives. If they would consider the extension of section 504 to international platforms, this would be consistent with previous Republican statements. Democrats would support the intent. A bi-partisan window of collaboration would be opened. An exciting idea I think.
In March I am heading to Istanbul to provide a little history on U.S. disability laws. Many countries are challenged and struggling with responding to the CRPD. Countries recognize and welcome U.S. technical assistance. If this amendment to section 504 were enacted, U.S. companies, especially those that manufacture assistive technology, more quickly would see expanded market opportunities. The U.S. standing on disability rights would have a new shot of credibility. The Obama administration would have the obligation and incentive to be proactive and concrete in ensuring that federal agencies, especially the Department of State and U.S. AID, focus on, promote, and monitor this change in law.
Let the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions know what you think. It’s time to get engaged with the new Congress and reaffirm our sustained interest in the international arena.