Thursday, January 9, 2014

Senator Corker, the CRPD, and Probabilities

If you visit Senator Corker’s home page you will learn many things. Two stood out for me – his success in getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to reverse its decision not to support innovative support classes for Tennessee veterans at Tennessee community colleges and his current position, not to support the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The first is forward leaning, a reflection of his belief in the value of higher education and helping American veterans prepare for it. The second is a reflection of a fear that our Constitution MIGHT be unraveled in the future by U.S. ratification of ONE treaty – the CRPD – a treaty which addresses how people with disabilities should treated.

In the statement released on December 20, 2013 it read:

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, today announced he cannot support Senate approval of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), citing concerns that U.S. ratification could undermine the constitutional balance between the state and federal governments and the legitimacy of our democratic processes.  In doing so, Corker urged the U.S. to pursue different means of advocating for the rights of the disabled throughout the world.  Corker also commended the efforts of the Obama Administration to work with him to address a range of legal concerns raised by the CRPD, but noted that he was unable to resolve his concerns through clarifying language – known as reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs) – that would be adopted in a resolution of ratification.

“I also greatly appreciate the efforts of the administration and Senator Menendez in working with us for several weeks.  However, through the process of attempting to resolve concerns about the treaty being used inappropriately to expand federal power beyond constitutional limits, I remain uncertain that even the strongest RUDs would stand the test of time, and I believe any uncertainty on this issue is not acceptable….”

Uncertainty? We face uncertainty every day and we deal with it. Our founding fathers and the rest of us have given us a government, a system of checks and balances, that works. In order for the dismal view of the future, if the CRPD were ratified, to work as Senator Corker now perceives it would work, extensive legislation replacing existing laws would need to be enacted and the courts would need to agree, BEFORE things would change. And, given the productivity level of Congress and the speed level in the courts, I just don’t see the CRPD taking over how we protect the rights of persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws related to persons with disabilities are the ways we, do now and will continue in the future, respond to the CRPD. Senator Corker has nothing to fear.

At the end of the statement on Senator Corker’s home page it says:

In the United States, the rights of Americans are governed by the Constitution, and decisions about how the government should assist those with disabilities to be full participants in our society are typically made through the democratic process.

On that point Senator Corker is so right. Here’s hoping he returns to the negotiating table with this point in mind.

Thank you.

Common Grounder


Sunday, January 5, 2014

The CRPD and People with Disabilities

In 2004-2005 I was a member of the U.S. delegation when the U.N. was developing the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). It was a special time for me for four reasons. First, the U.N. debates reminded me of the debates that took place when the Americans with Disabilities Act was being developed in 1990. There were many amazing substantive parallels. Second, sessions on the CRPD occurred in two-week periods in January and August, the coldest and hottest times of the year in New York City – and over the sessions the number of persons with disabilities from around the world, who attended these sessions, doubled or tripled with each session. In addition, the number of persons with disabilities, who were members of official delegations, increased every session. Third, the chairs of the working group, which was writing the CRPD, allowed persons with disabilities to speak to 190 plus delegations directly on each article of the CRPD as it was being debated and written. That was an unprecedented. Fourth, words being debated and edited were displayed on wide screens so that delegations and observers saw text agreed to and edited as it was happening. God bless transparency and technology!

What these points illustrate is that people with disabilities, just as with the ADA, played a central role in shaping the words that made it into the CRPD. The strength of words in the CRPD, the broad scope of the CRPD, and degree of detail in the CRPD are there because persons with disabilities from across the globe knew what was needed to change their lives and their friends’ lives for the better. Treatment of people with disabilities warranted universal standards based on equality, nondiscrimination, accessibility, freedom, independence, participation, and opportunity. In a clear voice, through the CRPD, these people declared their expectations, expectations that would touch any space, time in a day, or activity, such as – home, school, the workplace, choices in places to live, doctors’ offices and hospitals, leisure, shopping, transit, safety, and participation in every other aspects of community life.

Our Constitution is strong. Our government has checks and balances that preserve our sovereignty. Parents, who home school, must consider the lives of their children with disabilities, when they leave home and experience the wider world without them.

The inherent validity in the words in the CRPD reflects the will of persons with disabilities. We must emphasize this point to every Senators and every home schooling parent. Concerns about sovereignty and parents rights can be addressed in a CRPD resolution. We cannot let these concerns derail this very special opportunity the U.S. has to join the rest of the world and embrace the CRPD through ratification.

Thank you.
Common Grounder